SAN FRANCISCO – In his 1957 classic “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac wrote that he “stayed in San Francisco a week and had the beatest time” of his life.
Decades after the novelists and poets who became known as the Beat Generation inspired a literary and cultural revolution, a museum celebrating the era with rare books, photos and memorabilia opened this weekend in the city that entranced Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
“I see the Beat Generation as an enlightening movement,” said founder Jerry Cimino, 51, who kept his collection of Beat artifacts at his Monterey home while working in the computer industry. “Because they followed their dreams they changed the world.”
The opening of The Beat Museum coincides with the arrival of the original scroll manuscript of “On the Road” at the San Francisco Public Library and the naming of renegade poet Jack Hirschman as the city’s poet laureate.
The one-room museum is housed in a former art gallery on a narrow street in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. Art and Beat photos line the walls, including signed photos of poets Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti.
Display cases house rarities such as a signed, annotated copy of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” one of only 250 copies, as well as the second paperback edition of the controversial work confiscated before an obscenity trial. There’s a first edition of Kerouac’s novel “Tristessa,” and a $10.08 check Kerouac wrote to a liquor store.
Cimino said he believes Kerouac and Ginsberg, both of whom meticulously saved and chronicled their work, would be excited to see a record of their contributions.
“I think they’d be pleased to know their works live on,” said Cimino, who often tours the country in a “Beatmobile” with John Cassady, son of Beat icon Neal Cassady, the inspiration behind the free-spirited hero of “On the Road.”
Carolyn Cassady, 82, who married Neal Cassady, said she’s still amazed at how Beat literature resonates with younger readers.
“There’s something powerful that speaks to every new generation,” said Cassady, who lives in London but was in San Francisco to see the Kerouac scroll and visit her children.