The Hill: A Thieves Theatre Podcast
Artist/activists Nick Fracaro and Gabriele Schafer tell the story of their three years living in the “tipi on the hill,” by way of their radical alternative theater work leading up to it, their 42+ year creative partnership, and reflections on a life lived together at the intersection of art, culture, politics, and spirituality.
In the middle of the night in 1990, Nick and Gabriele covertly erected a replica of a Lakota tipi in the center of New York City’s longest-existing homeless encampment known as The Hill. The tipi was dedicated on the centenary of the Wounded Knee Massacre “in remembrance of the lives lost in 1890 and in recognition of the sovereignty and dignity of the most disenfranchised and forgotten members of our society a century later.”
The Hill traces the steps of how a shantytown went from the anonymity of waist-high huts hidden in the weeds to becoming a tour bus and celebrity stop; from addicts just getting by to a drug supermarket at the height of the AIDS crisis; from a close-knit community to a crime scene that entangles everyone when an arson fire kills the most innocent of them all.
Thieves Theatre has been described as conceptual, guerilla, site-specific, experimental, avant-garde… Gabriele and Nick mostly describe their work as paratheatrical.
In 2007, Thieves Theatre was renamed International Culture Lab to more accurately reflect their evolved mission.
Contact Nick and Gabriele: podcast@thievestheatre.org
Follow on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook: @tipionthehill
An Untamed Network Original Podcast: www.untamedriver.com Podcast Management: bfisher@untamedriver.com

Trailer — The Hill: A Thieves Theatre Podcast

The year 1990 marked the centenary of the Wounded Knee Massacre. In commemoration, Gabriele and Nick installed a replica of a Lakota tipi in the center of a Manhattan homeless encampment known as The Hill and moved in on Thanksgiving Day. 

In her journal Gabriele details their day-to-day lives as they navigate one of New York’s largest-ever police corruption scandals, city politics in the Dinkins era (elected to solve the homeless problem), drug dealers, the AIDS crisis, and the media. It traces the steps of how a shantytown went from the anonymity of waist-high huts hidden in the weeds, to a tour-bus, school-group and celebrity stop; from addicts and recluses just getting by, to a drug supermarket; from a close-knit community, to a crime scene that entangles everyone from drug dealers, to users, to cops, to the artists themselves, when one day the tragedy strikes. 

#alternativetheater #indietheater #paratheater #homelessencampment #guerrillaart #conceptualart  


Ep 1: The origin story of a historic tipi in New York City  (4/20/23)

The opening episode of The Hill elucidates the driving force behind Thieves Theatre and, in particular, the inspiration for the tipi that graced the shantytown. It also sets the scene by painting a vivid backdrop of New York City in 1990, capturing the zeitgeist of that era. 

The tipi in the shantytown was a remarkable symbol of hope and perseverance amidst the dire circumstances of homelessness in New York during the 1990s. Thieves Theatre, an avant-garde theatre company, was founded to shed light on social issues and injustices through its performances. The debut episode of “The Hill” is an ode to the origins of Thieves Theatre and how it came to be. 

The bustling streets of Manhattan, the iconic Manhattan Bridge, and the shantytowns in Canal Street and Tompkins Square Park were a testament to the grim reality of homelessness that prevailed in New York during the 1990s. This was the zeitgeist of that era, a reflection of the socio-economic and political upheaval that gripped the city. 

“The Hill” is a journal, published by Autonomedia, that captures the essence of the tipi in the shantytown and the impact it had on the city’s cultural and social fabric. The Margaret Morton Archive, Andreas Sterzing, and Jean Genet’s books, “Prisoner of Love” and “The Thief’s Journal,” provide an invaluable source of inspiration and insight into the world of Thieves Theatre. 

Interestingly, the opening day of the tipi coincided with the release of “Dances with Wolves,” a Hollywood movie that mirrored the plight of Native Americans and their struggle for survival. The tipi on the hill was a beacon of hope that transcended cultural and social barriers and united people from all walks of life. 

#alternativetheater #indietheater #paratheater #homelessencampment #guerrillaart #conceptualart 


Ep 2: Who are Nick and Gabriele?  (4/27/23)

Trying to reckon with the tragic fallout from The Hill project, Nick and Gabriele contemplate the big picture, which includes their 42-year history together. They recount the series of personal biographical and theatre-related events that engendered Thieves Theatre. They also consider the “American success story” versus the alternative ways to “make one’s mark” in the world; bravery versus bravado; and what the trajectory of their life and art was that led up to “the tipi on the hill.” 

Thieves Theatre has its inaugural production and workshops with the “Con Artistes,” an inmate theatre group at Illinois State Penitentiary. Simultaneously, Gabriele applies to arguably the most prestigious graduate theatre acting program (Yale School of Drama) with the most competitive admission criteria in the country. When she is accepted, Nick decides that in order to continue with this fledgling relationship and move to the East Coast, he must first apply for admission and be accepted into the one of the most prestigious playwriting programs (NYU Tisch). 

The magnetic pull of the two theatre poles – mainstream/commercial and alternative/fringe – is strong and ever-present. 

#lenjenkin #richardschechner #abcnorio #josephbeuys #amiribaraka #stateville #universityofillinois #thebalcony #deathwatch #aviewfromthebridge #aliceinwonderland #summerstock #amidsummernightsdream #jeangenet #alternativetheater #indietheater #paratheater 


Ep 3: The Marat/Sade, Theater as Asylum  (5/4/23)

This episode highlights Thieves Theatre’s 1983/84 production “The Marat/Sade” in Toronto and how it crystalized the paratheater aesthetic that would lead to The Hill. 

The project began as a theater workshop, led by Gabriele and Nick, with members of an activist anti-psychiatry group of mental patients called On Our Own. The Peter Weiss’s play with the 17-word title – “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade” – was then adapted, site-specifically, to Toronto’s nightlife scene.   

Some of the On Our Own members were also in the punk rock music scene, and after Thieves Theatre put out a call for actors, a motley crew of punks, psychiatric survivors, and actors began a six-month-long rehearsal and production process that placed theater and real life into the same performance kettle. As such, the production can be seen as a precursor to Thieves Theatre’s project six years later involving the “tipi on the hill.”  

This episode also explains how “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show in the 1880’s was the ultimate paratheatrical work informing both The Marat/Sade and “The Living Museum of the Nomad Monad” (The Hill) in that it seamlessly intertwined performance and real life into a single fictive reality.  

#TheCameronHouse, #TorontoFilmFestival, #PaulKelman, #MyBloodyValentine, #MadMax #NedBuntline, #AstorPlaceRiot, #BuntlineSpecial, #SittingBull, #PineRidge, #WoundedKneeMassacre, #GhostDance, #YellowHandIncident, #TheatrePasseMureille, #PeterBrook #kultur, #counterculture #alternativetheater #indietheater 


Ep 4: The World Premiere of Trash, the City and Death, Theater of Scandal  (5/11/23)

Thieves Theatre’s final significant production before the #tipionthehill was the controversial R. W. Fassbinder play, “Trash, the City and Death.” 

Seven productions of the play were attempted, including by Fassbinder himself, each time unsuccessfully, succumbing to protest and scandal. Fassbinder had stipulated that the play needed to premiere in either Frankfurt or New York, where the play’s theme of rampant, destructive real estate speculation was part of the zeitgeist. In 1987 Thieves Theatre secured the rights and presented the world premiere of the play at ABC No Rio. 

Scores of articles, books and critical analyses have been written about this play and its significance to post-WWII German/Jewish relations, but in this episode, Nick and Gabriele encapsulate both the controversy in Germany, as well as their production in NYC. Together with The Marat/Sade in the previous episode, Trash, the City and Death displays clearly the trajectory leading to how Nick and Gabriele came to erect a tipi in a shantytown. 

Some links that help explain the controversy: 

Der Spiegel, March 1987 – about Thieves’ production 

New German Critique, Spring/Summer 1986 – about the controversy 

#Rothschild #WilburRoss #RockefellerCenter #FrancesMcDormand #Querelle #JeanGenet #CoenBrothers #ErikEhn #Mainhattan #Frankfurt #IgnatzBubis #OperationPressurePoint #BonnieMarranca #JimLeverett #antitheater #JDL #JewishDefenseLeague #NewYorkTimes #JeremyGerard #TheTunnelNightclub #counterculture 


Ep 5: Ascetics, Thieves, Foragers, Citizens – Part 1  (5/18/23)

Nick and Gabriele profile their neighbors on The Hill, beginning with Ali, Red, and “the Chinese man in the back,” aka the Geomancer. 

Ali was the “keeper of the wrench,” and opened the corner fire hydrant daily every morning to take his public shower. Red was an inventive thief and scavenger supreme, who often served as the moral center in disputes. The Geomancer was an ascetic who carved a mystifying home into the back slope of the Hill. 

When Gabriele and Nick first arrived on The Hill with their tipi, a friendly, optimistic community greeted them with housewarming presents and aspirations to upgrade their own dwellings. 

They began to learn the lay of the land, both literally (the view from The Hill) and figuratively – who controlled the community water supply; who the addicts were and the nature of their addictions; how the residents supported themselves; and, in general, who their neighbors were. They also began to gain insight into the relationship between The Hill and the police. 

#Thoreau #ManhattanBridge #homelessencampment #homeless #conceptualart #guerrillaart  


Ep 6: Ascetics, Thieves, Foragers, Citizens – Part 2  (5/25/23)

Nick and Gabriele continue to profile their neighbors on The Hill, highlighting Louie, Indian Jim, Ace, Juan, Sammy, and Lisa.  

Running partners Louie and Jim were the last of the “Bowery bums.” They had used the weed-covered Hill to sleep off their binge nights on the Bowery years before any huts were built there. Louie had become almost the mascot of the “homeless man,” featured in numerous articles centered on homelessness.  

Juan was the hardworking, guileless 40-year-old child, and supplier of “good wood.”  

Enterprising Sammy was the first to bring electricity to the encampment when he siphoned it from city streetlights. He built the largest hut on the Hill, dubbing it “La Ponderosa” in large letters on its outside wall. 

#homelessencampment #homeless #conceptualart #guerrillaart #counterculture  


Ep 7: Ascetics, Thieves, Foragers, Citizens – Part 3  (6/1/23)

Nick and Gabriele continue to profile their neighbors on The Hill, highlighting the four brothers – Billy, Mike, Donald and Eddie – as well as Billy Toyota. 

The hierarchy on the Hill was never really fixed, but the four brothers from Jersey always factored into whatever authority structure existed on The Hill. They were referred to as the “James Gang.” Billy and Mike, with their jailhouse tattoos and accompanying demeanor, gave off a “silent, but deadly” aura. Eddie, aka “the washerwoman,” resembled in look and manner the bully Bluto of the Popeye cartoon. Donald was proud of his competence in his profession, but he was held somewhat in disdain, even by his brothers, because he made his money by begging. Theft was the honorable trade on The Hill.  

Billy Toyota had earned his moniker from his juvenile delinquency years in the same suburban Jersey neighborhoods where Red and the James Gang had grown up. Back then, Billy stole cars for their joyrides, many of which were Toyotas. Smart and knowledgeable in many subjects, Billy used his theft expertise, breaking into cars, for most of his income.  

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #outlaws  


Ep 8: Ascetics, Thieves, Foragers, Citizens – Part 4  (6/8/23)

Nick and Gabriele continue to profile their neighbors on The Hill, highlighting “Chinese Jimmy,” Larry and Elaine. 

Jimmy was Chinese mob connected. The gangs extorting money from Chinatown business owners have their roots in the tong wars of the 19th century, a history that Nick encapsulates in this episode. 

Larry was pimping a young woman named Elaine, by far the saddest case of all the residents on The Hill. She was an artist but too haunted by her past, too strung out and utterly devoid of self-esteem to take refuge in her talent. Her family couldn’t get through to her and her mother, part of the problem, was desperate. 

To what degree do all couples “pimp” each other to get what they need? 

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #tongs #tongwars 


Ep 9: Ascetics, Thieves, Foragers, Citizens – Part 5  (6/15/23)

Nick and Gabriele continue to profile their neighbors on The Hill, highlighting Tito and Woodsman Tony. They come to understand how the tipi has become a site where routines and everyday conversations become ritualized through intention. 

At approximately sixty years old, Tito was the oldest heroin addict on The Hill. In his former life he was a bartender/waiter and the proud inventor of the “vodka ice block” at Sammy’s Steak House. He now proudly displays his inventiveness and “tools of the trade” in his present-day occupation as thief.  Tito has a serious life-threatening medical condition. Despite encouragement and pleas from neighbors, he delays treatment. 

Tony loves the tipi and spends more time inside visiting than anyone else. He is well read, elucidating and philosophizing on various subjects while sitting next to his “cruel and kind lady fire.” 

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #outlaws 


Ep 10: The Geomancer and Mister Lee, Hermit and Ragman (6/22/23)

The final two original core residents that greeted Nick and Gabriele when they arrived at The Hill were “The Chinese Man in the Back,” or as Nick referred to him, the Geomancer, and Mister Lee. They built the two most ingenious dwellings on The Hill.

The Hill is part of a rich history of the landscape, which Nick had researched not long after arriving at The Hill. It includes the Lenape tribe that lived at “Werpoes,” meaning “little hill,” located east of Collect Pond.

In 1802 when Collect Pond was drained through a canal (which is how Canal Street got its name), the surrounding hills began to be leveled to fill it in, until the homeless man, Captain Dundas, living in Bayard’s vault was discovered. Operations were halted, and this “frightful specimen” was allowed to live out his life before the leveling operations were resumed.

Nick felt that the metaphysics of the “little hill” made it a site for the eternal recurrence of history and saw the reincarnation of “Captain Dundas” in the two odd men out on the Hill: The Chinese geomancer was the Hermit living in his underground hermitage; Mister Lee was the Ragman living in his tied-together patchwork hut. 

Bayard’s Vault
Yellow Ribbons

#homelessencampment #homeless #outlaws #MelChin #collectpond #bayardsvault #geomancy



Ep 11: Nick is arrested amid a high-profile NYC police corruption scandal (6/29/23)

One week after erecting the tipi, cops “Frick and Frack Fury” arrest Nick for taking a roll of linoleum from the edge of a construction site and charge him with burglary and criminal possession of stolen property. It took over 36 hours for him to be arraigned and appear before a judge.

The Chinese Assistant District Attorney, under pressure to clean up Chinatown, is determined to make an example of Nick and digs in. Lawyer friends Richard and Matty argue that Nick is a solid citizen trying to help the homeless and that the linoleum had very little value, and the judge, whose church group also works to address homelessness, barely convinces the ADA to let Nick go.

Frick and Frack arrested Nick for one reason: They wanted to know who he was. Why?

Because the cops were dirty and paranoid. Beginning in the mid-80s, police officer Michael Dowd began running a drug ring and recruiting his fellow officers to shake down merchants in East New York, Brooklyn, and selling narcotics, precipitating one of NYC’s largest ever police corruption scandals. By 1992, the FBI began investigating, implicating 10 precincts, including the 5th, which The Hill was in. In 1993, Dowd was sentenced to 14 years in prison, of which he served 12 and a half.

On a side note, the night before Nick’s arrest, a photograph randomly blows up on his feet on Canal Street that shocks and confounds him and Gabriele to this day. It will figure prominently in the next episode.

You can read more about Nick’s arrest in his “Arrest and Seizure” chapter of his Serialized Narrative of The Hill.

The Seven Five
Michael Dowd

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #outlaws #policecorruption #mollencommission #thesevenfive #thetombs #truecrime #chinatown #nychistory



Ep 12: The War for Self-Representation: The Media and The Hill  (7/6/23)

In going through the journal gathering entries concerning The Hill’s relationship to the media, G & N also discovered evidence on how life on The Hill went from light to dark without them noticing.  

The New York Post arrived first, followed almost simultaneously by The New Yorker. In an effort to control the representation, G & N decided to give access to the New Yorker. Writer Jim Lardner – grandson of Ring Lardner and a former cop, now a journalist – agreed to spend a minimum of six weeks getting to know everyone on The Hill. After securing the residents’ permission, he eventually spent six months before writing an in-depth, well-fact-checked, accurate portrayal of The Hill.  

A parade of reporters, film crews, and especially photographers attempted to make The Hill their subject. Photographers had long been chased away, even before the tipi arrived. In an effort control the onslaught, G & N decided to arm the residents with – instead of the rocks they were used to throwing – disposable cameras to catch the culprits in the act in a project they called Counting Coup. 

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”  
― Susan Sontag, On Photography 

Because G & N were constantly asked at the time what they would do to solve the homeless situation, from a journal entry, Gabriele offers her reflections. 

New York Post (4 months before G & N arrive on The Hill) — “Squatter War Coming to ‘The Hill’”

The New Yorker (7 months after G & N arrive on The Hill):  

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #media #nychistory #photography #mediarepresentation #activism



Ep 13: The War for Self-Representation Meets the Drug War  (7/13/23)

Four months before G & N arrived on The Hill, the New York Post came out with an article about the community entitled, “Squatter War Coming to ‘The Hill’.” The article turned out to be prescient. 

The initial war to be fought was one for self-representation. As scores of print media, films, commercials, music videos, photographers and others mostly looking to exploit the encampment descended, G & N fought back by arming the residents themselves with disposable cameras to sneak up on and capture clandestine photographers.

They also sought to make their own film and planned a theatrical performance that would take place in the tipi. While the ideal was to facilitate unmediated, personal interactions – “to build a bridge between us and them” (the tipi’s mission) – the extent to which that wasn’t possible required at least controlling the narrative through self-representation. 

Yet there were, in fact, numerous fruitful personal interactions. The tipi made it easier for people to enter The Hill and get to know their fellow citizens. Even school groups visited with their teachers to meet the residents, to learn about tipis, and about the history of the landscape. Celebrities such as Peter Jennings, a long-time supporter of the Coalition for the Homeless, visited often, sometimes bringing other celebrities like his boss Roone Arledge, and Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, to sit inside the tipi and chat. 

But there was a second war developing. It began on a specific date on which The Hill changed irrevocably. On June 16, 1991, nearly seven months after G & N arrived with their tipi, drugs began to be sold on The Hill. Until then there was a hard and fast rule that you could use but you could absolutely not sell drugs on the Hill. 

G & N highlight a few of the incidents of violence. These types of events were now to become commonplace on The Hill. The question was, how do you fight back? 

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #home #media #mediarepresentation #nychistory #addiction



Ep 14: Appropriation or Appreciation (7/20/23)

Gabriele and Nick place their work on The Hill in a historical context of popular culture’s use of the terms “woke” and “cultural appropriation.” 

They relate personal stories of growing up in their respective cultures (the US and Germany) and reflect on society’s movement toward cultural awareness. 

They discuss the ground-breaking film Dances with Wolves – which coincidentally opened the same weekend the tipi was erected and won the Oscar in 1991.  

They also discuss the highly controversial 1991 Smithsonian exhibition, The West as America, which recontextualized treasured American artworks created between 1820 and 1920 that depicted the American West and bolstered “manifest destiny.” The curators wanted the audience to question standard interpretations of familiar works of art, to see past the art works themselves to the historical conditions and patronage that created them, displeasing conservative audiences that resented revisionist history: 

“For historians and artists, the “winning of the West” was a glorious achievement that heralded the triumph of “civilization” over “savagery.” Indeed, by the conventional scholarly wisdom and orthodox artistic vision, the vanquishing of Indians and the march of manifest destiny made America great and made Americans special.” Smithsonian Magazine 

Tracking the term cultural appropriation through Google ngram

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #woundedkneememorial #activism #manifestdestiny #KarlMay #Winnetou #mascots



Ep 15: The American Indian Movement (AIM) Visits the Tipi (7/27/23)

Nick and Gabriele talk about how split the Native American reaction was on them having erected a tipi as a memorial to the Wounded Knee Massacre. There were those who told them they had no right, and others who claimed they wanted to adopt them into their tribe.   

Before erecting the tipi, Gabriele and Nick, together with Ace who said he was part Cherokee (people on The Hill sometimes referred to him as “high yellow”), talked to artist John Cutnose at the American Indian Community House. N & G discover the fascinating history between the Cherokee tribe and African Americans. 

About two months after the tipi was up, two members from AIM visited them. This was a highly meaningful visit for Nick and Gabriele. They relate their affinity and admiration for AIM by outlining significant events in the movement’s history: the occupation of Alcatraz Island, the Wounded Knee Occupation, the Marlon Brando/Sacheen Littlefeather Oscar scandal.  

Sacheen Littlefeather was born Marie Louise Cruz. After her death, her estranged sisters claimed that she had not Native American blood but was of Mexican heritage. In the 60s and 70s there was a rise in “pretendians” – pretend Indians – in part because of the AIM media coverage. 

A history of AIM: https://youtu.be/fY5Wbduzl2Y   

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #activism #manifestdestiny #NativeActivism #CherokeeCulture #cherokeehistory #AIMhistory #WoundedKneeOccupation #WoundedKneeMemorial #RememberWoundedKnee #MarlonBrando #AcademyAwards #TheOscars #SacheenLittlefeather



Ep 16: The Drug Lord Brings Violence to The Hill (8/3/23)

By the summer of ‘91, less than seven months after putting up the tipi, The Hill’s character had changed dramatically. A drug dealer had infiltrated the tight-knit community that until then had felt like family.  

The racial makeup of The Hill was changing. Whereas once the community was a model of diversity, now racial and ethnic tensions were developing.  

The drug trade brought violence and a constant parade of people. Total strangers began asserting themselves and claiming a stake to The Hill. Once someone even walked up to Nick and said, “Can I help you?” 

The drug dealer Spencer and his crew – collectively known as Panama – were now King of The Hill. Spencer was a soft-spoken, middle-class looking, athletic and drug-free Black man who presented himself as a caretaker, a guardian… a doctor. And to a degree his gaslighting worked on Nick and Gabriele.  

There were now two conflicting beacons on The Hill – the tipi and the Panama hut. But did the former give cover to the latter? And why didn’t Gabriele and Nick just leave? 

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #activism #drugs #addiction 



Ep 17: Nick Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (8/10/23)

Many years later, Nick begins to understand what motivated him – both to erect the tipi and to stay on The Hill after it became dangerous. 

He recounts a mental health crisis experienced upon returning home from the Army and precipitated by childhood memories of his brother Steve. 

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #activism #addiction #drugs #mentalhealth #trauma #military #familytrauma



Ep 18: Until Death Call My Name (8/17/23)

Gabriele and Nick examine the nature of memorials and gravesites. The tipi on The Hill was both a memorial commemorating the centenary of the Wounded Knee Massacre and a political statement about homelessness. But it was also a deeply personal endeavor, especially for Nick, whose deceased brother had struggled with heroin addiction.  

Harriet Cohen, from her official capacity in the office of Ruth Messinger, the Manhattan Borough President, phoned Nick regularly querying about the nature and condition of The Hill and discussing the politics of homelessness. The conversations sometimes turned personal. “Nick, I am trying to understand what your motive is in all this, is it political or spiritual?” 

With the prevalence of drug sales and the violence that now defined The Hill, the question was, Why stay? Part of the answer had to do with not abandoning your chosen family, but a stronger unconscious drive steered their (non)action. In naming their project “Thieves Theatre’s Last Stand,” Nick and Gabriele were subconsciously signaling that they were willing “to die on this hill.”  Their three-week road trip to Nevada and Pine Ridge was an attempt to escape this fate. 

With their trip out west, they wanted not just to visit the Wounded Knee site; they hoped to gift the tipi to the Lakota tribe who would be better able to represent the dead that it memorialized. And most importantly, they wanted to bring the memorial to the land, to the earth, where it truly belonged: the land of the Lakota. 

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #activism #woundedknee #pineridge #memorials #gravesites #wovoka #ghostdance #ghostshirt #leolaonefeather



Ep 19: The Lost Cause (8/24/23)

On the 101st anniversary Gabriele and Nick explore the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre and the adjacent landscape –– the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota –– seeking to find acceptance and support for the tipi memorial they had erected.  

In their exploration of the Black Hills, they happen upon the Crazy Horse Memorial. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a Polish American sculptor named Korczak Ziolkowski, had won first prize. The resulting fame, as well as his familiarity with the Black Hills, prompted a few Lakota Chiefs to petition the sculptor to create a monument to their renowned hero Crazy Horse. 

What will be the world’s largest monument will also be one of the world’s slowest to build. Korczak knew when he started chiseling away at the mountain that it would take at least three generations to complete. When he died in 1982, his family, headed by his wife Ruth and oldest daughter Dawn, carried on with the project. N & G are befriended by Dawn and her partner Jay. They find kinship in devotion and intent of each of their missions, and, of course in the incongruity of being white people dedicated to honoring the Lakota.  

N & G examine the history in the carving of the three largest memorial sculptures in America — Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Confederate Memorial Carving at Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta.   

When Gutzon Borglum was hired as sculptor for Mount Rushmore it was through his fame in what today is the largest high relief sculpture in the world. He was the original sculptor of this ode to the Confederacy that was initiated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and funded by the Ku Klux Klan. Throughout his work on Stone Mountain, from 1915 until 1923, Borglum was intensely involved in Klan politics related to Stone Mountain, and on a national scale as well. In 1924 he accepted the offer to be the sculptor of Rushmore, and it was his vision that turned it into what it is today. Amazingly, the original design of Rushmore was to include depictions of Native Americans before it was transformed into what Borglum envisioned, “an unambiguous symbol of male manifest destiny.” 

Nick, Gabriele, Dawn and Jay discussed the principle of Seventh Generation, which is based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy, where our actions should not be judged by their immediate effect on the world, but by their effect on seven generations in the future.  

How will Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Confederate Memorial Carving be viewed by the Seventh Generation? 

And what does it mean for the Tipi on The Hill when the offer to gift the memorial to the Lakota is rejected by Leola One Feather?   

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #activism #woundedknee #pineridge #memorials #gravesites #wovoka #ghostdance #ghostshirt #leolaonefeather 



Ep 20: Search for Absolution (8/31/23)

We are coming toward the end of this story. A few more episodes and the events of the tipi in the shantytown will have been told. This episode will end with the murder of Mister Lee, followed by the chaotic aftermath and the eventual demise of The Hill itself (albeit over a year later).  

But is not the events, the facts, that are difficult to narrate. It is the painful task of trying to make sense of it all, to analyze and reconcile what it is we did, our actions as well as our non-actions, that caused us to bury the archives in our basement for 30 years. 

In this episode, we examine the motivation behind our road trip to the Wounded Knee site and Pine Ridge, and then recount the heartwarming, absurd, frightening, foolish, metaphysical events that led up to the tragic day that marked the beginning of the end of the tipi on The Hill. 

#conceptualart #guerrillaart #homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #woundedknee #pineridge #memorials #leolaonefeather #percywhiteplume #danceswithwolves #drugaddiction #policecorruption



Ep 21: Aftermath of the Arson/Murder 

Nick and Gabriele knew from all the articles written about it that the fire was designated as arson, but neither the press nor they were privy to any information as to how that was determined.  

Who committed the arson and why? Dan Hays from the New York Daily News wrote five articles trying to get to the bottom of the cops’ involvement before his editor pulled the plug. At the same time, Nick was doing his own investigation around the blue wall of silence until grief and guilt at not having been there to save Mister Lee overtook him. 

The fire was started at around 5am on a morning when Nick was sleeping comfortably in his Brooklyn bed, which drove him literally crazy. When he got to the Hill that morning, he walked into a crime scene investigation, with Mister Lee uncovered, frozen manikin-like, unrecognizable, and, most eerily, upright in a kind of kneeling tai-chi position that looked like he faced the smoke, the fire — death — head on, with acceptance and courage, like a warrior. 

The next day, it was front-page news in the New York Daily News: “Shanty Inferno – arsonists target poorest of the poor; one killed.”  

“Residents of the modern-day Hooverville, on the Manhattan side of the bridge, said the blaze was set by two pistol-carrying drug dealers from a nearby public housing complex who bore a grudge against a resident who survived.” 

But that wasn’t the full story. And now the circus began: Rev. Melvin Walker (an Al Sharpton wannabe), Dan Hays (Daily News reporter), the city medical examiner, the cops, ADA Greenbaum, Spencer, the Hill’s drug lord… all had agendas that N & G needed to navigate. 

Gabriele and Margaret Morton were taking care of business – getting the body released from the medical examiner to the funeral home, going to the funeral, planning the memorial at The Hill, etc., while Nick was wandering the streets getting more and more lost, both within himself and from Gabriele. 

#homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #drugwars #policecorruption #truecrime #shantytown



Ep 22: Psychotic Break/Hero’s Journey – Red Pill/Blue Pill? 

Plagued by grief and guilt, and estranged from everyone, including Gabriele, Nick wanders the streets hunting for Mister Lee’s murderer.  Wearing his ghost shirt, he dances himself into trance-like states, and starts receiving visions, signs… directives for what he needs to do to complete his mission. On his journey into the world of mysticism and magic, he is given comfort and direction from fellow travelers, “mentally ill” street people in the East Village. 

Someone may be ‘out of touch’ with consensus reality, but they’re actually ‘in touch’ with mythic/mystic realms, which other cultures, like Hindu and Native American cultures have long recognized – two different paradigms. In The Matrix terms, it’s the difference between taking the blue pill and the red pill. 

Nick talks about growing up on a farm, hunting and trapping, including snapping turtles… “tortuga.”  

Nick reads part of the narration of their film “Tortuga Crawl.” Gabriele reads her tribute to Mister Lee that was read on the day of his memorial service on The Hill. 

Tortuga Crawl

#homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #truecrime #shantytown #thematrix #josephcampbell #mentalillness #theherosjourney  


Ep 23: Goodbye… Until Timeless Spring 

The end of the story. The story that never ends. 

Nick and Gabriele narrate their final days on The Hill, leading up to the day it was finally razed, and tell what they know about what happened to their neighbors and friends in the aftermath. 

They bring together their past and present research but are unable to discover the true story behind the arson/murder of Mister Lee.  

In this final episode, N & G reflect on how creating The Hill: A Thieves Theatre Podcast has intertwined their past and present lives on a metaphysical level. In their search for meaning, uncanny synchronicities tease and taunt. 

“Other animals do not need a purpose in life. …the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?” John Gray, “Straw Dogs” 

“I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” — John Keats 

People v. Fossett

Greenbaum obituary 

#homelessencampment #homeless #nychistory #1990s #truecrime #shantytown #johnkeats #johnkeatsquote #johngray