The Commune & The Castle: An Unraveling
They called it “The Castle.” Most people did, its crenellated, Roman-esque tower standing vigil over Lincoln’s Near South Neighborhood, the Colorado redstone august and unshakable. Finished in 1890, the three-story mansion boasted 15 fireplaces, oak floors, a veranda above the tower and a matching carriage house, too, in case any doubts remained as to the eminence of its owner, the Pennsylvania-born Rollo Phillips, a representative for the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, later a state senator.
By the late 1960s, however, Phillips and his Shakespearean goatee were long gone. The castle and its carriage house had been converted into nine separate apartments. The times, as Bob Dylan so keenly observed, were a-changing. American troops had flooded the shores of Vietnam, waging a war against the North that seemed to grow more suspect each year. Buoyed by the Civil Rights Movement of a decade prior, a new counterculture was brewing, opposed to the draft, to the war itself, to an “establishment” that continually undercut women and minorities and the lower class. Musicians were protesting with song, poets with verse. Fingers snapped. Hair grew long. Fists shot up in solidarity. And a band of existentially fraught students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln moved into Phillips’ old castle, searching for answers together. They called themselves “The Communards.”
“It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time,” says Paul Canarksy, one of the castle’s mainstays. “There were lots of very spirited discussions: would there or would there not be a revolution? And if there was, which side of the barricades would you be on?”