For the last four years, Abbie Hoffman, the "Yippie" radical of the 1960s and fugitive from the law, lived as a respectable middle- class citizen on one of the scenic Thousand Islands in upstake New York. He shared a modest frame home with friends and, like many other islanders, left every year when cold weather arrived.
But now, after several previous false indications that he was ready to turn himself in to federal authorities, Hoffman finally has chosen to end his fugitive status and surrendered in New York City. He had been using the alias Barry Freed and had worked on behalf of environmental causes, specifically to keep the St. Lawrence River closed to shipping during the winter months.
Since 1976 Hoffman had lived in Fineview, N.Y., a small town on Wellesley Island. This correspondent's family owns an island next to Wellesley and, from having spend many summers there, is acquainted with some people who knew Hoffman best in his years of hiding.
One of these is Tom Englehart, head of the Save the River Committee on which Hoffman served. "I never met Abbie Hoffman," he says. "I met a very aggressive Barry Freed." He was, adds Mr. Englehart, "very friendly and had lots of energy."
Hoffman could perhaps have found no better place to hide. A "live-and-let-live" attitude is prevalent in the islands, which, during Prohibition, were a major staging area for smuggling liquor into the United States.
Another resident of the islands who knew Hoffman only as Freed was asked if she was aware that Hoffman had surrendered. Yes, she replied, she had heard that Abbie Hoffman had turned "herself" in, not realizing the person authorities sought was a man.
Some local people, apparently suspecting that the ex-Yippie leader was hiding in the area, used to joke about Freed being Hoffman, but few seem to have realized that he was -- until a few days ago when stories of the latest surrender proposal surfaced. "Abbie Hoffman," says Englehart, "was something to just throw out of people. You could call almost anyone with a beard and curly hair Abbie Hoffman."
Hoffman, whose past had been marked by violent confrontations with the law and who fled rather than face prosecution for selling illegal drugs to undercover policemen, learned from his efforts on behalf of the St. Lawrence that "he could work with politicians, . . . " says Englehart.
Hoffman apparently fooled more than just the local people. US Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York, before whom Hoffman once testified at a hearing on winter navigation, said through an aide that he had no idea the environmental posing as Freed was Hoffman -- "and no one else did either."
And after a 1978 meeting on the same topic New York Gov. Hugh Carey commended him for his "keen public spirit in providing leadership" on environmental matters.