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Mystery of Woodstock baby lives on after all these years

Mystery of Woodstock baby lives on after all these years

Michael Hill Associated Press

Welcome to middle age, Woodstock Baby – if you’re really out there.

The babies reportedly born at the Woodstock festival 40 years ago remain the most enduring mystery from that chaotic weekend that defined a generation.

Depending on the source, there was one birth on that patch of upstate New York farmland that weekend. Or two. Or three. Or none.

There is some tantalizing evidence. Singer John Sebastian is captured on film announcing that some cat’s old lady just had a baby, a kid destined to be far out. A couple of surviving eyewitnesses say there were births.

The concert’s medical director told reporters at the scene there were two births: one at a local hospital after the mother was flown out by helicopter, the other in a car caught in the epic traffic jam outside the site crowded with more than 400,000 people.

But no one has come forward with a credible public claim of giving birth to a Woodstock baby or being born there.

If babies were born at Woodstock, they have lived their lives ignoring – or unaware of – the fact that reporters and researchers have been on their trail for decades.

“I’ve searched, I’ve spoken to the doctors and nurses from the main hospitals that were there,” says Myron Gittell, who wrote the new medical history, “Woodstock ’69: Three Days of Peace, Music, and Medical Care” (Load N Go Press, 184 pages, $15.95).

Like many before him, he found nothing.

“Almost statistically, you’d think if there are a half-million people, and half of them were women, and 95 percent of them were of childbearing age, and fertile, and active … just statistically, someone would have had to pop a baby,” Gittell says,.

Still, no one has been able to dig up a birth record.

Rita Sheehan, town clerk for Bethel, N.Y., which hosted the concert, said there is no local birth certificate on record. Still, it’s possible the birth was recorded in one of the surrounding towns.

Gittell says there were births recorded in neighboring towns in that period, but the records are sealed under state privacy laws. There’s no way to check whether the birth mothers were locals or out-of-towners (the likely pool of Woodstock Moms).

That leaves a few eyewitness accounts, like that of Gladys Devaney, who was a member of the volunteer ambulance corps in nearby Liberty.

She answered an ambulance call to a tent at the festival and saw a young woman in labor. Her overriding concern then was that other medical workers took her stretcher as they rushed the woman away. But Devaney knew labor when she saw it.

“I heard her screaming,” Devaney said. “I didn’t get a good look at her, she was thrashing.”

Devaney never found out whether they took the young woman to a waiting helicopter or somewhere else.

Concert organizer Elliot Tiber, the subject of Ang Lee’s new movie, “Taking Woodstock,” tops Devaney. He says he helped deliver a baby that weekend.

Tiber, who has a reputation for being a raconteur, says the woman gave birth at his parent’s hotel near the site, which – like the entire area that weekend – was mobbed. The woman wore a leather jacket, came in on a motorcycle and just flopped down.

“It was like the quote from ‘Gone With the Wind’: ‘I don’t know nothing about birthing no babies, Miss Scarlett,’ ” Tiber recalls.

“I was screaming, just screaming. Everybody was standing around stoned saying, ‘Yeah, groovy!’ They thought it was cool.”

Tiber says the baby was taken away, though the mother came by in a cab a few weeks later with her baby in a blanket. He didn’t get any names, and never heard from them again.

After four decades, the Woodstock baby trail has gotten colder. The young people who packed into Max Yasgur’s farm are retirement age now. A number of the emergency and medical workers involved, including the concert’s medical director, Dr. William Abruzzi, are dead.

Abruzzi wrote an exhaustive account of the event in which he tallied six pages of medical incidents over the three days (11 rat bites, 16 peptic ulcers, 707 drug overdoses, among them). The paper, now in the collection of the Museum at Bethel Woods, the onsite museum, does not mention a single childbirth.

“It could be one of those myths that grow out of major events,” says museum director Wade Lawrence. “It could be like the story of the New York State Thruway being closed. It wasn’t.”

Maybe the best argument against a Woodstock baby is that no one in the past four decades has stepped forward to publicly and credibly claim they were born or gave birth at Woodstock.

But there is a theory that neither mother nor child particularly want Woodstock to define their lives, and have chosen to keep their distinction a private matter.

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