Woodstock: Three days of Peace, Music, and Toilets

Woodstock was a three-day music festival held in Bethel, New York, August 15–18, 1969. Plagued by poor planning and bad weather, the expected audience of 100,000 ballooned to over 400,000. There wasn’t enough food, water, or bathrooms, and frequent rains turned the festival’s picturesque farmland into a field of knee-deep mud. Though a logistical and literal mess, Woodstock’s “3-days of Peace and Music” is celebrated as a pivotal moment in popular music history and the high point of 1960s youth culture. 

Photo from Life magazine’s special edition “Woodstock Music Festival,” 1969. (National Archives, Records of the U.S. Courts of Appeals)

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the festival, the National Archives has a special document display in the East Rotunda Gallery until October 9, 2019. One document on display is Life magazine’s special edition “Woodstock Music Festival,” which contains articles and photographs that reflect the concert’s message of peace, unity, and freedom.

The magazine was offered as evidence in Taggart v. Wadleigh-Maurice, Ltd. (1973) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Thomas Taggart was an employee of Port-O-San, a company that provided and serviced portable toilets. He was sent to Bethel, New York, to service the portable toilets at the Woodstock music festival. While he was emptying latrines, a film crew associated with Wadleigh-Maurice, Ltd., who were filming the festival, engaged Taggart in conversation. 

Cover of Life magazine special edition “Woodstock Music Festival,” 1969. (National Archives, Records of the U.S. Courts of Appeals)

After the festival, the film was compiled into a full-length documentary, Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music, and was released by Warner Bros. Inc. for commercial viewing. The documentary included a little over two minutes of Taggart emptying and cleaning toilets while the filmmakers talked to him. 

When Taggart learned that he had been included in the documentary, he asked the filmmakers to edit him out. They refused and proceeded to distribute it. As a result, according to Taggart, he suffered “mental anguish, embarrassment, public ridicule, and invasion of his right to privacy which has detrimentally affected his social and family life and his employment.” 

The 57-year old Taggart sued Wadleigh-Maurice, Ltd. in Federal district court, claiming an invasion of his privacy had occurred, and sought damages and an injunction against continued distribution of the “offending scene.” The district court ruled that Taggart was a participant in a “newsworthy” event and therefore the state’s privacy statute was not applicable.

The court of appeals, however, reversed the district court’s ruling. They argued that Taggart was not a professional musician—he was just an ordinary guy simply doing his job, and furthermore, his appearance made “a significant and memorable contribution to the film’s overall impact.” 

The court went on to say that it would be one thing to include a photo of Taggart working as a factual description of the event, but it was another thing to deliberately engage him in conversation for the purpose of making him an “inadvertent performer in a sequence intended to be exploited for its artistic effect,” without compensation.

It is unclear if Taggart was ever compensated, and the portion in which he appeared remains in the documentary. Taggart passed away in 1994. The film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, and even though Taggart expressed embarrassment over his part, reviewers tout Taggart as one of the “real heroes” of the Woodstock festival. 

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