Monday, February 6, 2023

Abigail Folger: It Happened In Monterey

Abigail Folger was born in San Francisco, but spent much of her childhood at her family ancestral home in Woodside, about 32 miles south of downtown San Francisco. This area of California is known as the Peninsula, and the first 18 years of Abigail's life take shape in this vicinity.

Folger Estate Woodside, CA

Very little is known about Abigail's earliest years, but when she was old enough, she was enrolled at the Santa Catalina School for her four years of high school(1957-1961), which is located about 85 miles south of Woodside in Monterey.

Students of TLB will know that prior to just a few years ago, there were but a handful of available photographs of Abigail, and not one of them in color. The single largest contribution of photos of Abigail come from the recently digitized yearbooks of Santa Catalina, the Catalinan. Although she could have lived in Woodside and commuted to school, it is now known that Abigail did live in dorms at the school and that she had roommates.

Santa Catalina School Yearbook Cover, 1961

Santa Catalina School

Santa Catalina School Campus

Abigail Folger Senior Yearbook Photo

The Catalinan

The Catalinan

Abigail was a member of the graduating class of 1961. One notable girl from that class--and a roommate of Abigail's--was actress Sharon Gless, who played police woman Christine Cagney in the TV drama, Cagney and Lacey, which ran from 1981 to 1988. Sharon was from Los Angeles, and like Abigail, eventually became a debutante in 1961, and was presented at the Las Madrinas Ball.

Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless in Cagney and Lacey

Sharon wrote a memoir of her life, Apparently There Were Complaints. In it she recalls being paired up with Abigail as roommates at Santa Catalina. After completing her freshman year at the school, Sharon returned home for the summer, and returned to begin the next academic year in the fall. As she tells it, "[T]hat autumn I returned to Santa Catalina. I was housed in what was known as "the Cottage". It was a very small old house on the school property. It had two regular bedrooms and then two very tiny rooms that were open to each other. I was given one of the little rooms and another classmate was given the other. Her name was Gibbie.

We were nothing alike. She was San Francisco and I was LA. She was dark-haired and had an angular face, defined by a Roman nose. She was very bright. She graduated summa cum laude. She excelled at classical piano. I was fair and blonde and was considered well-rounded. I excelled at nothing.

One night I asked Gibbie why she thought the nuns had paired the two of us as roommates. She assumed it was because both of our parents were going through divorces. Divorce was very rare then, especially among Catholic families. Since I was so traumatized by my parents' divorce, the nuns may have thought being near Gibbie would bring me comfort.

We were in Peter Pan together. Gibbie was Captain Hook, and I played Hook's flunky, Smee. In addition to piano, she could sing, dance, and triumphed in sports. Though she was heiress to a massive coffee fortune, she never mentioned it. We were just kids with similar pain.

Gibbie was always kind to everyone. It was later reported that she even looked up from the book she was reading and smiled and said hello to the young stranger who paused by her bedroom door at Sharon Tate's house in 1969, where Gibbie was a guest.

My high school roommate, Abigail "Gibbie" Folger, ran the farthest away, almost making it to the edge of the yard before falling victim to the Charles Manson murderers. I'm still not over it." (Sharon Gless, Apparently There Were Complaints: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster, 2021 p. 47-48).

Sharon Gless book cover

After graduating high school in June 1961, Abigail finalized plans to move to college at Radcliffe, from which she graduated in 1965. But she returned to the Peninsula again upon graduation, and in the Summer of Love of 1967, attended the Monterey Pop Festival, held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds on between June 16-18, 1967. Interestingly, the fairgrounds are only a few hundred yards east of the Santa Catalina campus. Abigail would have left Monterey six years earlier, but these would be familiar environs for her to be sure.

Aerial photo of Santa Catalina area of Monterey

Abigail attended the show, in the company of her then boyfriend, photographer Jim Marshall, and several others, including photographer Elaine Mayes. Elaine took countless photographs of the festival, employing three cameras. In 2002 she published her book on the festival, complete with many of her amazing photos, entitled, It Happened In Monterey; Classic Photographs by Elaine Mayes.

Jim Marshall

Elaine Mayes book cover

Elaine remembers Monterey Pop well, and provided a forward to it in her book. "For most of us the Festival was a spectacular tribal weekend, a pinnacle celebration of a vision for a way of life. But I also sensed that Monterey Pop meant an end to an era. Maybe this inkling was because my sleeping bag was stolen from Gibbie Folger's car in the parking lot of our motel on the last day of the festival. Apparently not everyone in Monterey was sympathetic with the kindness practiced by most hippies." (Elaine Mayes, It Happened In Monterey: Classic Photographs by Elaine Mayes. Britannia Press, 2002. p. 5).

Crowd at Monterey Pop Festival

Elaine Mayes

After Monterey Pop, Elaine Mayes would go on to teach photography at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis from 1968 to 1970. She subsequently taught at other colleges, including New York University, before retiring from teaching in 2001.

John Luce, another friend of Elaine, accompanied Abigail and Elaine's friends to the festival. He too factors into Elaine's book. Quoted in 1997, then doctor Luce said, [W]e spent the weekend in one of the few available local motel rooms with other Bay Area photographers, including Elaine Mayes and Suki Teipel. Also with us was Abigail (Gibby) Folger, Jim's (Jim Marshall's) girlfriend at the time, whom I had known since childhood and who was becoming involved in the rock music scene." (Mayes, p. 20).

Luce continues: "The other person I remember most from Monterey was Gibby. She had lived a rather mild life in the Bay Area as a member of a pioneer California family that owned a coffee company. I have always thought of her as a quiet and intellectual woman. Jim Marshall, by contrast, was in those days a fast driving and dirty talking man whos photography was as well served by his aggressiveness as it was by his artistic sensibilities. Seeing Jim and Gibby together made me wonder about how rock music, and perhaps the drugs that were so much a part of rock, produced bedfellows I could not have anticipated. Gibby went further into the rock scene after the Pop Festival, and by report she turned her attention to southern California. In 1969, she was murdered, along with Sharon Tate, by some of the followers of Charles Manson. In retrospect, I don't mean to draw too close a parallel between the Pop Festival and Charles Manson, but they will always be linked thru Gibby Folger in my mind." (Mayes, p. 121).

It is unclear how Abigail was becoming involved in the rock scene from Luce's comment. In New York, she apparently surrounded herself with the literary scene and took an interest in film production and screenwriting. This would have been between August of 1967 and August of 1968. It is well known, however, that Abigail spent much time at the home of Cass Elliot in Los Angeles between August of 1968 and August of 1969, where she was surrounded by many rock musicians. To date, only one photo of Abigail has emerged of her at Cass' house, in a world so very different from the Peninsula.