By Hailey Strickon
In 1967, Vietnam, the Beatles, and interracial marriages graced the covers of Time magazine. The Velvet Underground released their first album. So did Jimi Hendrix. Psychedelia bloomed. 1967 was also the year of the long hot summer when many cities, including Milwaukee, experienced rioting and civil unrest.
This was the scene at the time of Kaleidoscope‘s premiere in October of that year. Milwaukee’s underground newspaper sparked to life via its founders, editor John Kois, radio DJ Bob Reitman, and designer and rock musician John Sahli, and at the hands of its writers and the tinder of a borrowed $250. It published to instant notoriety—and excellent sales. A first issue of 3,500 sold out in two days. Articles were written on the whim of the staff and ranged across a multitude of topics, giving an alternative liberal voice to national politics, civil rights, gender and sexuality, city crime and police action, as well as the more standard fare of art, music, and literature.
The writing was unrepentant, explicit, and readers couldn’t get enough — unless they loathed it, of course. Censorship dogged the newspaper from its birth until after its end in 1971, going as far as the Supreme Court over obscenity charges (where the Court ruled in favor of Kaleidoscope and the First Amendment, much to the chagrin of the publication’s challengers). By the time the newspaper folded it had published 105 biweekly issues, of which a complete run was donated to UWM Special Collections in 2014, forming the basis of this digital collection.
Kaleidoscope offers a wealth of information about life and culture in Milwaukee during the late sixties and early seventies that is already being utilized by researchers in Special Collections on a regular basis. We are excited to be able to put this material online and to see the research that comes from making it widely available.