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Peter Yarrow is Geek On Left

Piggy, Retardo & Leopard Boy in the Temple of Doom

Peter Yarrow, a sensitive man in his late 80s with a beard, believes he can end school bullying with a song and a lecture. You know the type. Perhaps not someone you want to be stuck next to on a long flight, but if you’re selling the family lemon or the Brooklyn Bridge a day brightener. That’s not, however, how the New York City’s Board of Education views him, sad to report. They think his program Operation Respect:  Don’t Laugh at Me is just splendid and plan to spend many tax dollars putting it into action.

          For anyone born after the continental shift, it should be explained that Mr. Yarrow was a 1/3 member of Peter, Paul and Mary, a folk singing group of some fame in the early 60’s. They sang uncommonly sweet songs about how everything will be okay if we all squeeze our hands together and really believe in magic dragons and unicorns. It is a worldview that is easier to accept if you take the medications the nurse gives you.

          Since then, Mr. Yarrow has been only a minor irritant, singing his empowering messages to tiny, older audiences with minds to match. Until that is, he heard the following lyrics at a folk concert.:

                                       “I’m a little boy with glasses

                                            the one they call a geek

                                         A little girl who never smiles

                                       cause I got braces on my teeth.”

          Heartbreaking, of course. Especially when you think of the poor sap performing this in the New York City school where, recently, some kids tied another kid to a hydrant and set fire to him. But that wasn’t my first thought upon reading Mr. Yarrow’s press release  

          No, I thought of the Tiller brothers and my own young heroics, recounted briefly here to the accompaniment of The Battle Hymn of the Republic on tuba and bass.

          Entering the Fifth Grade, I noticed a few things were not going in my favor. It was a new school. I was tall, weighed nothing, had curly hair, and, of course, wore braces. Also, my mother wanted me dead. Seriously. Why else would anyone not homicidal make me wear on my first day a red bow tie,  seersucker suit with shorts, knee socks, and two-toned shoes? Tell me!

          The neighborhood was owned and operated by the Tiller brothers. They were big, ugly, wore leather jackets, and there seemed to be about 30 of them. The older ones helped their father in the family business, which was rumored to have been armed robbery and mob hits. The Tiller brothers in my class were identical twins –no foreheads, one eyebrow between them, the size of pro-line backers. My voice was changing. They shaved. They called themselves Ape and Spike, which may or may not have been their given names. They were fond of nicknames. My only two friends, Geoff and Walter, they called Piggy and Retardo.

         As so often happens, the greatest tragedies occur from not reading the fine print.   Two months passed, and I’d been able to stay under the Tiller radar– bacteria in the class kept higher profiles. Then fate intervened. One morning, my mother laid out what she proposed I wear for the day: A Leopard Costume! I laughed at her tiny joke.  It was not a joke.  She was serious. Had she gone completely insane?   Not at all, she explained. It was Halloween.  She’d received a note from the school, and all the kids were wearing costumes. Well, you can fold that five ways and put it where the sun doesn’t shine, I said a bit too adamantly. My father had had enough. Put it on and shut up. It was all one piece tied up the back. Underneath, my underwear.

         The bus ride told me all I needed to know. The Halloween party was for the last 15 minutes of the day, and most kids knew nothing about it.

          Leopard Boy was born.

          After Ape and Spike got a load of me, the nightmare that was to become my life could be roughly titled: Piggy, Retardo, and Leopard Boy in the Temple of Doom, aka Mrs. Cherry’s Day School.

         Couldn’t we have told a higher authority, say, a kindly teacher, about the never-ending wedgies, the poundings, the midday loss of pants? They knew what was up, and no. It would’ve been suicide.  This was life, not a Hallmark movie with a life-affirming message at the end.   

          And that’s the point. In a recent phone conversation asking experts if the Don’t Laugh At Me program had a chance, the replies were not encouraging. “Not in a pig’s eye,” said Piggy, who’d become an investment banker. “You’re joking, ” said Retardo, a DC think tank economist. “We didn’t have it so bad,” added Piggy, who works with crippled children, “you don’t know pluck ’til you see a kid with no legs trying to walk. Bone marrow cancer is a real bully.” After a silence, Retardo said, ” No, getting laughed at isn’t the worst. Teaching kids that their lives are going to be fair is a crime. Unfortunately, developing the character to cope with all the bullies in life can’t be taught.  But successful people somehow learn.”

          Then we all agreed that the only thing really annoying is how out-of-touch boards of education—and too many moms—remain, even to this day.

  BUT NO, THAT’ S NOT THE END OF THE STORY

William Benson Huber

A famed folk singer won a presidential pardon after molesting a child. Did he prey on others?

 

By Gillian Brockell

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/05/17/peter-yarrow-carter-pardon-assault/

 

May 17, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. EDT

 

From left to right: Barbara Winter at 15 years old; Peter Yarrow poses for a portrait in 1975; and President Jimmy Carter before an Oval Office address in 1980. (Courtesy of Barbara Winter; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Barry Thumma/AP)

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No one from the government notified Barbara Winter about the pardon. Not the White House, not the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, not the prosecutor who handled her case.

She found out from her mother, who read in the newspaper that one of the country’s most famous folk singers, who had admitted to and been convicted of molesting her when she was barely 14, had been pardoned by President Jimmy Carter on his final full day in office in 1981.

It felt, Winter says now, “like you got sucker-punched in the gut. It’s telling him, ‘It’s okay what you did, just don’t get caught next time,’ if that makes sense.”

Presidential pardons often kick up controversy, from Gerald Ford’s pardon of his disgraced predecessor Richard M. Nixon, to Bill Clinton’s clemency for fugitive financier Marc Rich, who had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List alongside Osama bin Laden. Donald Trump, who repeatedly extended mercy to friends and political allies, pardoned or commuted the sentences of 144 people in his final hours as president, including former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

All the people President Trump pardoned on his way out of office

But this pardon by Carter — perhaps the only one in U.S. history wiping away a conviction for a sexual offense against a child — escaped scrutiny when it happened. It was granted just hours before the American hostages in Iran were freed, which captured headlines for weeks.

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The Washington Post didn’t write about the pardon until Feb. 7, 1981. Even then, it was buried in the back of the Metro section, and only seemed notable because of who the recipient was: renowned folk singer Peter Yarrow of the group Peter, Paul and Mary, who co-wrote the beloved children’s song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

While Winter, now 66, has lived with the aftermath of the 1969 incident for decades, Yarrow’s crime was mostly forgotten after he served less than three months in jail.

 

Peter Yarrow performs in New York in 2014 during a memorial tribute concert for folk icon and civil rights activist Pete Seeger. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Then, 40 years after Carter’s pardon, another woman stepped forward with an accusation of her own. In a lawsuit filed in New York on Feb. 24, 2021, she alleged that Yarrow lured her to a Manhattan hotel when she was a minor in 1969 and raped her.

Through an attorney, Yarrow, who turns 83 this month, declined to respond to questions about how he acquired his pardon or the new allegation against him.

Winter, who agreed to speak publicly about her case for the first time as long as The Post identified her by her maiden name, said learning about the lawsuit was another reminder of what she endured more than a half century ago.

“It breaks my heart to know that he was still doing it. It’s just horrible,” she said. “And I know what she’s going through. I do. And at least she had the courage to now come forward.”

‘An innocent child’

The first time Yarrow publicly apologized for assaulting Winter he did not include her in the list of people to whom he was sorry. The day he was sentenced for taking indecent liberties with a child, he said, “I am deeply sorry. I have hurt myself deeply. I hurt my wife and the people who love me. It was the worst mistake I have ever made.”

Until then, Yarrow had been riding high professionally for a decade. Born and raised in New York City, he assembled his folk trio with Mary Travers and Noel Paul Stookey in 1961. Success came quickly. Their first album, released in 1962, sold more than 2 million copies.

“Puff the Magic Dragon,” which Yarrow wrote based on a college acquaintance’s poem, became a hit single in 1963. The politically active trio sang Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the 1963 March on Washington.

‘Racial Hate’: A famed folk singer, Trump’s dad and angry lyrics at a Tulsa landmark

Peter Yarrow on singing at the march

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Peter Yarrow, a member of the singing group Peter, Paul and Mary, described performing ‘Blowing in the Wind’ at the March on Washington. (Video: The Washington Post)

By the time of the incident with Winter, Yarrow was engaged to Mary Beth McCarthy, the niece of Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy. They’d met while both were campaigning for the senator’s 1968 presidential bid. Yarrow was 31. McCarthy was 20.

Winter, one of four kids whose parents divorced when she was 5, was not a fan of Peter, Paul and Mary. But her eldest sister was the president of Washington’s Peter Yarrow fan club. On Aug. 31, 1969, their mother dropped the girls off at church, Winter said. But instead of staying for the service, her sister, then 17, invited her to meet Yarrow, who was in the nation’s capital for a series of concerts at the Carter Barron Amphitheater. They walked several blocks to the Shoreham Hotel (now the Omni Shoreham Hotel) and called his room from the lobby. He invited them upstairs.

In the sworn statement she gave to police more than 50 years ago, the 14-year-old Winter said that when she and her sister arrived at his hotel room door, he was nude. Within minutes, she told police, Yarrow made her masturbate him until he ejaculated while her sister watched — an allegation her sister denies.

“I can’t say for sure [what happened],” Winter’s sister, Kathie Berkel, said in a phone interview, “because I wasn’t in the room … she was in the room by herself with him for five minutes, and I was right outside.”

Winter told police she resisted but did not shout or try to escape the hotel room.

“It happened when I was just an innocent child,” Winter says now. “I didn’t know anything. I was just a little girl that liked to play with her friends.”

She was terrified afterward, she said, and Yarrow told her “not to tell anybody except for, because I was a Catholic, I could tell the priest in confession.”

Winter kept the secret for six months before she confided in a friend in the spring of 1970. Soon afterward, Winter’s mother and stepfather sat her down at the dining room table and asked her what had happened with Yarrow. As she told them, her mother cried, Winter said. Then her mother called the police.

 

Barbara Winter at 15 years old, a little more than a year after she was molested by Peter Yarrow. (Courtesy of Barbara Winter)

Before he was indicted by a grand jury, Yarrow pleaded guilty to taking “immoral and improper liberties” with a child, which carried a sentence of up to 10 years.

At a hearing, Yarrow contended Winter was a willing participant — a claim she denied then and continues to deny now. The judge also took issue with the claim, rereading aloud Winter’s statement that she had resisted.

At his sentencing in September 1970, Yarrow’s attorney argued “the sisters were ‘groupies’ whom he defined as young women and girls who deliberately provoke sexual relationships with music stars,” according to a United Press International report. He told the judge Yarrow had been seeing a psychiatrist since 1964 and that his condition had improved since marrying, and that after this, Yarrow’s career was clearly finished.

The judge sentenced him to one-to-three years in prison but suspended all of it save for three months. On Nov. 25, 1970, Yarrow was released three days early so he could be home in time for Thanksgiving.

Before Yarrow was sentenced, Winter’s mother had filed a $1.25 million lawsuit against him, alleging that not only had there been other incidents of abuse between Yarrow and Winter but that Yarrow had also seduced her eldest daughter into performing indecent acts over a four-year period starting when she was 14. Yarrow had encouraged her to run away from her home when she was still a minor and join him in New York, the lawsuit alleged. Berkel calls these allegations “lies.”

“He’s a very nice man, very intelligent,” said Berkel, now 69. “He had a problem. He went and got help with it. He moved on. I would love to see everyone else move on too.”

Winter confirmed her mother’s claim that while the hotel incident was the worst incident, it was not the only one. In the six-month period before she told her mother what had happened, she saw Yarrow with her sister several more times, during which Yarrow held her close to his body and placed her hand over his clothed genitals, she said.

When the press reported on the lawsuit, there were identifying details that made it clear to Winter’s classmates at school that she was the victim. Some of them felt sorry for her, she said, while others mocked her, asking, “Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you run away?” She began having severe pains in her abdomen, which a doctor diagnosed as a “nervous stomach,” she said, and put her on medication.

Winter said she doesn’t know how much money the lawsuit was settled for, but it was enough that the family soon relocated to New Hampshire, to a big house on a large property with horses and a swimming pool, she said.

She saw a psychiatrist for a year “to get my feelings out,” which didn’t really work, she said. “For the most part, I try to put it in the back of my mind in a place that I don’t think about it. Because if I think about it, it just gets me upset, gets me nervous.”

 

Barbara Winter with her dog in early 2021. (Courtesy of Barbara Winter)

More than 50 years later, she is still dealing with it.

“It just really does affect me as a person, where I’m extremely shy. And I was always so outgoing,” she said, her voice trailing off.

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‘Grooming her’

The teenager had seen Peter, Paul and Mary perform throughout her childhood and had met members of the band before. “Yarrow acted in a way [the girl] perceived as paternal toward her,” her lawsuit alleged. “In fact, he was grooming her.”

The suit was filed on Feb. 24, 2021, in New York, where the state’s 2019 Child Victims Act granted a one-year window for children who’d suffered abuse to sue their alleged attackers no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. The window was later extended to two years because of the pandemic.

According to the lawsuit, the girl ran away from her home in St. Paul, Minn., in 1969 when she was still a minor. She went to New York, where Yarrow told her to meet him at a hotel. When she arrived, he brought her up to a room and raped her, the lawsuit said. The next morning, he bought her a plane ticket back to St. Paul and told her to go home.

The girl — now a woman in her 60s — suffered “severe and permanent physical and psychological injury,” the lawsuit said. She has flashbacks, anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping and has continuing medical expenses to deal with the consequences of the assault.

The lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages, also named the band Peter, Paul and Mary as co-defendants, alleging that Travers and Stookey “knew that Yarrow liked to have sexual intercourse with and perform other sex acts on minor children.”

Travers died in 2009. “This is all a surprise to me,” Stookey told The Post. “It’s not in his character. If anything he’s over solicitous in making people comfortable.”

Court records indicate the woman reached a settlement with Yarrow and the band in April. She and her attorneys did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

‘He got away with it!’

At Yarrow’s 1970 sentencing, his lawyer claimed the folk singer’s career was ruined. But within two years, he and the band were singing on the campaign trail for South Dakota Sen. George McGovern’s (D) failed presidential bid.

Throughout the 1970s, Yarrow performed at celebrity-studded events for the Equal Rights Amendment, nuclear disarmament and abolition of the death penalty. He released four solo albums and produced CBS children’s specials based on “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

In an interview promoting the cartoon, there were no questions about his conviction, but he did tell the press, “It’s a sad day when the innocence of childhood departs, and this is what Puff represents to me” — an observation eerily similar to what Winter said happened to her as a result of the assault.

Yarrow and his wife had two children before separating around 1979, according to a 2018 interview McCarthy Yarrow did with Minnesota’s West Central Tribune. They divorced in 1991.

It was concern for his children that Yarrow cited in seeking a pardon, according to the pardon application quoted by The Post in 1981. They were coming of age, he said, and he wanted to lessen “the sense of shame they will inevitably feel” by knowing “society had forgiven their father.”

 

President Jimmy Carter prepares to announce a deal to release the American hostages held in Iran on Jan. 19, 1981, the same day he pardoned Peter Yarrow. (Schwarz/AP)

The application included letters of recommendation from McGovern and former New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay (D). Both men are now dead.

Though the pardon power is one of the broadest handed to the president in the Constitution, it applies only to federal crimes, or “offences against the United States,” as Article II puts it. A president cannot pardon someone running a red light in Illinois or getting into a fistfight in Arizona because those are state crimes.

But since D.C. is not a state, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia prosecutes crimes in the city, opening convictions up to the president’s pardon power.

Or as Yarrow told the Baltimore Jewish Times in 2006: “In Washington, it was considered a felony. In New York, it would have been a class B misdemeanor.” But if he had molested Winter anywhere else but Washington, he would not have been eligible for a pardon.

Carter, a born-again Christian and longtime Sunday school teacher, pardoned Yarrow on Jan. 19, 1981. A spokeswoman for the former president, now 96, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The next day, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, and scores of Americans who had been held hostage in Iran were headed back to the United States.

We were covering the Iranian revolution. A single gunshot still haunts me.

 

 

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