O Captain! My Captain! Inside America’s Oldest Operating Head Shop

The first products carried were lifestyle goods like long colored leather straps for braiding into belts, stamped keychains, perfume oils, patchouli, black lights, posters, stickers, patches, wood pipes, carburetor pipes, rolling papers, roach clips, and a full underground comics book collection featuring Zap comix and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Longer pipes started to evolve as bamboo bongs began to come out of Vietnam. It was in vogue to get lead out of rifles and guns and smoke weed in the chamber. “I remember there was no acrylic, no glass. I don’t even think there was metal yet, because metal pipes were made out of lamp parts,” Dee said.

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Bob’s’s friend Maury Karp started Glasshead, a bong manufacturer in Vernon, Ca. Dee recalled visiting with his dad and pushing a shopping cart through “towering aisles of paraphernalia.” Karp’s dad, an immigrant with a thick accent, would total them up. Glasshead was a combination of glass and acrylic, and dominated the market until Graffix came along.

“You had the face of the shop as this true real authentic hippie soul, but you had the backbone of the shop as an authentic businessman…”

Dee Silverman, Current owner of Capt. Ed’s

In those golden days of the San Fernando Valley, Bob’s business sense guided the store while Ed’s heart attracted the community. “Ed was a really benevolent, loving, welcoming person, had an amazing laugh, loved to get high obviously, loved to take acid, and loved the Grateful Dead. He was like exactly what you’d think he was, and then some. He was impossible not to like,” Dee shared.

Ed’s generosity earned him the name Captain Ed, in virtue of “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman. A giving, selfless man, he believed passionately in the miracle of marijuana for medicine and industry. One day, Jack Herer walked in, just back from the Korean War where he was a military policeman. A super conservative, he had just smoked weed for the first time with a friend and had a transformational experience. Of course, he needed more papers and went to the local head shop. Ed was behind the counter.

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A kismet moment, they connected immediately as Ed shared his views and struck Jack politically. They made a pact they would die trying to make pot legal, a milestone Jack witnessed but Ed did not, as the latter passed away first–but he had to feel the ripple in the universe. They were inseparable, and Jack went on to research and write The Emperor Wears No Clothes, the “seminal pro marijuana legalization manifesto,” as Dee called it.

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“Jack was a linguist who was well educated and did really extensive research to break the anti-pot mythology, to set the record straight,” he explained. “He was the one who started to talk about George Bush having hemp strings on his parachute in World War II. He talked about the founding fathers growing hemp, and the first time I ever heard those things were in Jack’s book.”

The men worked hard circulating petitions and made their mark in 1975 by working tirelessly campaigning to help lower penalties for pot possession.

captain-ed-smoke-shop-3Capt. Ed holding up an issue of The Herald Examiner. (Courtesy of Captain Ed’s)

All kinds of people hung out at the store, and the back room became an infamous hangout. “There was a waterbed in the blacklight room almost from the start and I mean, need I say more, I mean a lot of people got crabs in there back when venereal disease was incurable,” Dee said with a laugh.“It was like 24/7. I mean, the store was often not even closed at night, so there was a blacklight room with a waterbed in it, owned by dope smoking hippies. There you go, it’s exactly what you think.” The Reseda location opened in 1969, with a pinball arcade next door.

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