Peter Eichenberger, a Tribute in Words and Images

Peter Eichenberger, a Tribute in Words and Images

December, 01, 2010, by Jedidiah

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Photo by Dave Brainard

Peter Eichenberger, destined to become one of Raleigh’s most remembered Downtowners, thinkers and writers, died reading the newspaper and drinking his tea on Thanksgiving Day. We received the news around lunch time and were immediately saddened and shocked. We at New Raleigh each came to know Peter over the past few years through personal relationships and his writings that he contributed to the site.

After hearing the news, we noticed all of the outpouring of words that were posted to Peter’s Facebook page and we teared up a bit. We then decided to compile some thoughts from a handful of locals that knew Peter well, and some of our own thoughts about Peter’s commitment to life and love of Downtown Raleigh, a place we are all very fond of. There is no way to sum up Peter’s life in a simple blog post but we think Peter would have liked to have read through and seen the way that others remember him. Godspeed Peter, we will miss you, your words and thoughts.

A remembrance ceremony will be held on Saturday at Burning Coal Theatre and like I said before, I’m not so sure the space will handle the crowd.

art by Robert Olason

Robert Olason (artist and friend): Peter had a happy soul. That’s why I think women were so attracted to him. He took from everyone around him but he gave in good measure.

Photo by Natalie Ross

Peter’s last Facebook quote: “I remember now courtesy of the radio on the Fury, permanently frozen on the local Negro radio station until the honky christian bought the frequency. I had to pull the fuse.”

David Eichenberger (Peter’s son): “On behalf of myself and my family, we would like to thank everyone for the warm wishes.”

Adam Eckhardt (Singer of A Rooster for the Masses who played a benefit for Peter after his biking accident): “Peter was always an interesting conversation, he was Raleigh’s gonzo reporter.”

Victor Lytvinenko (Raleigh Denim):  “Raleigh will not be the same without Peter. We will miss him.”

John Morris (Goodnight, Raleigh! a blog where Peter has contributed in the past):
“The few times I’ve had the pleasure of conversation with Peter, afterward, it felt like my brain was hurting. I just couldn’t process and store all of the information he shared. He made topics that I am usually uninterested in (global economics, politics, conspiracies) seem fascinating and he left me captivated as I struggled to comprehend what he shared. A meeting with Peter was an exercise in mental gymnastics that few others have ever caused.  He was likely Raleigh’s most eloquent and prolific writer.”

photo from Karl Larson

Dave Brainard (Friend): “The first time I met Peter he was in deep discussion with a retired nuclear physicist about the events at Los Alamos that led to the death of Louis Slotin.  The questions Peter asked were as pertinant and relevant as they would have been in 1946.    I really only met him in person a few times but we had some great conversations.  He was one of those people you just remember.  I’ve always liked this photograph of Peter from 2007 and I thought I’d like to share it.  If you have more to say about Peter and want to use it, please do.”

Karl Larson (Friend): “We used to meet there (at Sidestreet Cafe) to down a few beers before heading over to the Confederate Cemetery. Peter helped me promote the legend of Lieut Walsh and was involved with the first celebration in 1990. My favorite Peter story is the time he climbed the controversial public art work, Time and Light Tower, on Cap Boulevard (in the late 80’s) and attached the trucker girl mud-flap silhouettes.”

Photo by Natalie Ross

Steven Waters (Friend, Smart Growth Advocate and occasional writer for New Raleigh)

“I didn’t agree with Peter about every issue, but I did learn an awful lot from him. In between all the conspiracy theories, there was a spirit and wit incredibly attuned to that which is very real, yet way off the beaten track. (Did you know the term “public relations” wasn’t coined until the Germans gave “propaganda” a bad name, and crowd psychologist Edward Bernays needed a more PC way to describe exploiting hidden desires to program the masses into becoming consumers?)  Peter took being “unique” to such a level that he didn’t remind me of anyone I’ve ever met, and I will miss him greatly.”

Greg Barbera (Friend and Former Editor at the Spectator w/ Peter):

I got to know him when I worked as an editor at the Spectator in Raleigh. I pushed hard to get Peter into the newspaper on a regular basis. He was an institution in Raleigh - he was, is and always will be the embodiment of Raleigh to me.

He would bring in his columns scribbled on some cryptic computer that was compatible with nothing. We would have to hand-key in his columns. His stories were endless and his spirit infectious. It was an honor to not only know him but to work with him.

I sure he’s raisin’ hell and cracking jokes wherever he is.

The Dude abides…

Photo by Natalie Ross

Thomas G. Crowder (Raleigh City Council | District D)

“I am stunned and saddened to hear of Peter’s untimely passing.  Through his writings Peter served the much needed role of social conscience for the Capital City.  As a fellow Raleigh native, he was able to substantiate many of his thoughts and findings in his articles based on an institutional knowledge and historical perspective gained only by growing up here.
While rightly critical of many injustices he saw taking place in Raleigh, it was painfully obvious that Peter deeply loved his hometown, which he tirelessly fought to improve byway of public awareness.  More importantly, those who even remotely knew Peter witnessed him carrying out his beliefs, each and every day.
He will be truly missed, however his passionate thoughts and words will continue to live on!”

Carol Vargo (Friend): I met Peter at a benefit in his honor at Kings after his bicycle accident.  I had read his story in the Independent and was so affected by it that I decided to head on down to meet him. I hung around, by myself, waiting patiently for an opportunity to introduce myself to him.  After watching me periodically, watching him and standing all be myself, he made his way over.

We spent the next 3 years in and out of something neither one of us could explain..but we kept coming back to each other for more. I have so many memories of adventures taken with him..led by him into swamps, forrests, creeks, freaky hippie compounds, Oaklana Plantation, and the list goes on. Being with him was like being 12 years old all over again: my favorite age of all times. I miss him so much. I am grateful for the time we had together, and for the times we shared with his wonderful family. I love you Peter.

Photo by Natalie Ross

Mark Kuykendall (friend of Peter and former Editor of New Raleigh)

“The time I spent with Peter was truly a second education for me, a thought that may seem frightening to some. As a continuous questioner of convention, and an explorer of all things ‘stuff, he was a brilliant thinker who chopped up life and served it right back to the world, whether it liked it or not. 
Peter, I love you man, and I sure do miss you.” Read Mark’s full tribute to Peter, In the Pursuit of Fun, HERE.

Charlene Suggs (Longtime friend):

I have a picture of the way I most remember Peter Eichenberger from the time during 1988 when we went most everywhere together. Being with Peter was a fairly constant adventure of new thoughts, joyous glee and wild thrills.

Peter was not only clever and brainy but he readily offered passionate commentary on most every subject (not always true) on a fascinating variety of interrelated subjects. Peter understood correspondences and painstakingly explained his theories eagerly and with animated gesturing—natural exuberance, sadly all too rare and rarer now.

We were talking recently about the way Peter pushed things to the breaking edge—he ached to know the exact point of speed and angle where the car actually left the pavement. He was tickled with his newfound mental tinkering with the workings of the biological world. As he had spent so much of his life probing the mechanically produced world, he easily and naturally spanned both these schools of thought.  He was always investigating whatever he touched or what touched him.  He was an exhaustive researcher and had a spot-on memory.  I don’t know how his brain had enough room for all the thoughts that whirred around.

Peter was also studying processes of the brain as his head healed. He valued his own head much more than before. Occurrence of odd phenomenon was not something Peter would or could ignore—it was intriguing to him to push beyond common boundaries of thought. He was unafraid to talk about his recurring visual phenomenon and experiences with the (usually) unseen worlds. Peter had uncanny timing and just had a great style of carefree independent thought that I admired.

He was fascinated with the rewiring of his traumatized brain as it healed and left him a happier man. Peter was following out a lot of threads and he could hold very complex thoughts and make connections where none had been previously apparent. He was mapping consciousness and was unusually content, ever the searching guy. For a person who complained often and colorfully about the great injustices of life, Peter seemed to me to be, quite oddly, an unflappable optimist.

Peter talked often about his son David who was smart and artistic like Peter and he was proud of him. Sometimes we rode around together. Peter’s family is a distinguished family of highly educated, very intelligent, artistic, creative and also civic-minded. Needless to say, the Eichenbergers are quite respected in the area. Peter loved his family and also treasured his own place within it as the exasperatingly feral man that he was. He delighted in being uniquely himself.

Traveling with Peter was a blast. His most favorite thing ever, I believe, was his boat-like green convertible Fury Plymouth. Once we roadtripped to Washington, D.C. with friend Terry in a late spring.  We navigated that entire weekend with a bent and creased paper map of DC from the 1950s. That was Peter’s idea of fun—navigating from an old map that had landmarks that no longer existed. We never found the War Department.

Once I saw Peter sitting cross-legged in front of the Plymouth staring at a dead bird that had been caught in the grinning grate. He was happily thumbing through a birding book in order to identify the unfortunate individual. After peering back and forth from bird to book and satisfying himself that he knew what it was, he gave it a tender burial. Peter found so many things to learn and savor in most every moment and incident. He was always noticing the edges between edges, the fine and subtle lines along the various realities of things. He was always looking for things overlooked.
Peter and I spent time in the summer of 1988 at the Farm, a famous local hippie crashpad outside of Raleigh. The owner decided to have the local fire department burn down this farmhouse to train firefighters and probably to clear out the riffraff. Come to think of it, I think I remember that it was being leveled because the owner sold the property for planned new construction in the area.  It had to go.
So the house closing was a forced change for the local hippie population who kept the place going. Whenever the Grateful Dead played through, they let a yardful of vans stay there. I loved seeing the sweet hippy girls in gauzy skirts squatting beside their vans replacing shocks and other mechanical maintenance work to keep their ancient VWs going to the shows.  Everybody shared water and food and resources.  We helped each other strengthen alternative currency.

On a warm spring equinox night 1988, Peter and I stayed up all night with our friends for an memorable last night keeping watch at the Farm. A moment I will always remember is he and I exploring a rotting old shed on the property. As usual, he was ecstatic and animated to unearth relics that he saw as historical treasures. I found a piece of sheet music entitled “Lady in the Low-Backed Car.” Peter held the sheets up to the sun and the light came through—sang through—all the holes where the darkly-inked half-notes had been. We shared a singular moment of perfect beauty. Peter!
I remember being so very happy sitting on the porch drinking coffee with some of the folks the next morning. Peter and I filmed the burning the next day as we watched furniture burn in the flames and heard the slate roof fall. The hot fire singed the big spreading trees that had grown around the house. I figure they would be bulldozed next. The hippies regrouped as the sturdy and kind people that they are and we found other places to congregate. Loved these folk.

Peter had a wide range of friends and introduced me to lots of good people. In 1988, I first talked with people who had been in various co-owned utopian experimental communities. It was thrilling to learn of more affordable ways to live from the cultural creatives who were on the frontier edge.  I was already thinking about community life so they were helpful to my quest by giving me materials, advice and stories of their community experiences. They were inspiring in so many ways and helped me understand more models of how to structure such a venture.  A decade later, I helped found our on-going community venture in southeastern Ohio called Wisteria.  This summer with Peter was crucial for me to practice how people can operate living ventures cooperatively rather than competitively.
I was with him the evening that Peter first understood and explained to me that money and artificial structures in the world are so falsely inflated—“like so much puffed rice”—he was very exasperated as he keep windmilling his arms while looking up to the stars. I more understood through time what he meant. Now, years later we are all watching a blowout of a puffed-up economy that was many, many years in the making.

Those of us who knew each other then and lived in the hub of what passed for hip in Raleigh remember an ever-changing configuration of personalities who passed through Raleigh to other places.  Students swarmed regularly along with seasoned locals who left and often cycled back with stories of other places. Hard to imagine but Raleigh was not overflowing with the range of frufu that is available these days.

The town still had a sleepy grandness like a wealthy old lady who needed to hire some help to keep her big house painted and the weedy garden manicured. I remember passing many a humid summer day among friends all a-wonder.  We gathered outside under trees and on porches in the dying southern tradition of managing the heat without the sterility of air conditioning.  Novel. Raleigh was full of languid beauty and forgotten mysterious happenings and Peter showed me many of these delightful places.
In the 80’s, the Char-grill was a greasily delicious legend downtown (still is) and vegetarians were still an exotic breed. If you dared, you could still order scrambled brains and eggs downtown.  When a small-chain ice cream shop opened on Hillsborough, we found it delicious but half-dreaded the other franchises we knew weren’t far behind.  Next came bagels and chocolates and good beer. The sprawling Breakfast House on Hillsborough Street fed and watered us all through moments of angst, camaraderie and light wallets.
So, I miss Peter already. After the summer of 1988 when we probably walked through most abandoned buildings in the warehouse district of Raleigh and other soft underbelly thrill-seeking, he moved to Gainesville for awhile and I moved on from Raleigh for my new life. Peter never strayed too long from Raleigh.  He truly loved the town and worried a lot about her old soul—he railed against sloppy caretaking of people whether it was because of incompetent government or short-sighted controlling interests. He remained curious about everything and never ran out of plans or ideas or something that made me laugh out loud. We kept in touch for over 20 years through many phases of adventures and we both appreciated our long-lasting companionship and understanding of each other.
When I last saw Peter in Raleigh, we spent hours walking all over downtown Raleigh along the rusty tracks and cutting across secret places. We spent a couple of hours exploring Dix Hospital and discussing mental illness, treatments, prejudice and such. We were both thrilled to be walking the grounds freely on this side of things.

Basically, I appreciated and loved Peter and had great joy laughing with him. He was a favorite pal and friend of mine as we explored the curiosities of things. I forgot he was dead and started to dial him today because I was thinking about him. I ached when I remembered that I couldn’t talk with him anymore.  Strange, this life we think we have figured out.

Peter was hilariously tenacious and loved to laugh with others. He had a highly refined sense of aesthetics that were a mixture of grit and grunge with highly intellectual incongruence.  He delighted in repurposing objects in unusual ways.  One of his guiding ideals was to “make do” and work with what is at hand.  Peter was like an artistic city boy turned southern educated hillbilly and he lived being alive for the experience of the experience.  Good grief!

And probably the oddest thing of all about him was that while he excelled at playing bad boy for far more time than prudent, in some complex ways, he was one of the most moral and thoughtful and caring persons that I have known. I am grateful and enriched to have Peter Eichenberger as a friend.

Acree Graham (Friend and New Raleigh Editor):

The night I first met Peter we were warming up at Helios over beer and coffee. I suppose I had come with some agenda for how the meeting would proceed, but Peter changed all that when he pulled a handful of rocks from his pocket. He’d been walking along Rocky Branch Creek or someplace when he found them, and now he wanted to share a geology lesson with me, a stranger.

I was Peter Eichenberger’s editor at New Raleigh from late 2008 to 2009. The position was both an immense honor and a hilarious adventure; I always knew to set aside several hours to delve into one of his articles. On topics from the dismantling of print media to the hypocrisy of the prescription drug industry, each piece was an education. In fact, I recently channeled Peter by launching into a tirade about the nuisance and ecological terror of leaf blowers, a topic that I didn’t realize was up for debate until I edited “Bad Blow Job.”

I can’t say that I knew Peter long or even well. But I hope to one day be remembered for the traits I best remember in him: a constant, minute curiosity; a dogmatic unwillingness to accept assumptions; and an impatience for bullshit that challenged the rest of us toward real dialog.

Not to mention a fucking insane sense of humor.

Both photos by Natalie Ross

Crash Gregg (Publisher for Downtowner Magazine and Peter Eichenberger colleague, fan and friend)

Having had the honor of working with Peter at the Downtowner Magazine office – on almost a daily basis for the past several years – hearing of his passing was particularly painful news for us.

I can say without hesitation that I have never met anyone like Peter. He was truly a one-of-a-kind, modern Renaissance man. He was not only an extremely talented and prolific writer, but a true champion for the “everyman,” an avid reader, resurrector of discarded and donated bicycles, advocate of local history, and proponent of green transportation. He had long-since abandoned his four-wheeled gas-powered behemoth years ago, always riding one of his many bicycles or walking the 1.8 miles from his apartment in Boylan Heights to our office in Oakwood.

I’ll always be reminded of three things when I think of Peter:

•His beat up reading glasses. More than not, there was an arm missing or bent, causing his glasses to sit slightly askew on his face, adding to that disheveled writer persona that he fit all too well.

•The USB thumbdrive he wore around his neck on an old lanyard, containing many of his writings and notes. He didn’t trust saving them on a computer and felt more at ease knowing they were there with him, hanging close to his heart. It was also the one computer device that he didn’t cuss at on a daily basis; his computer usually being the main source of constant aggravation. He often talked about how he missed the click-clack of a typewriter; feeling the keys under his fingers and smelling the ink ribbon as it unrolled with each new line. The finality of the ink directly applied to paper had a certain feel of permanence, forcing him to think even more succinctly before committing to the keys that formed each word.

•And his silver police-issue handcuffs. He seemed to relish in the irony of locking his bicycle with handcuffs, having worn them a few times on occasion in his life, usually during a protest or when protecting what he thought was right. I’ll miss walking up our office steps and seeing his bike locked up with those handcuffs, looking less like it was for the safety of the bike and more like it had been caught for committing some petty crime. The sight of his cuffs put to non-civil use brought a smile to my face every time.

Peter, we can only hope to try and carry on the good fight in your honor: to help the wronged, shed light on the hidden and promote the green. Your desk and chair sit quietly now, waiting for their familiar friend to come home, your warmth and passion sadly missed. While it will never be the same without you, our lives are all richer for sharing paths with yours, even if just for a while.

Photo by Natalie Ross

Jedidiah Gant (Downtown Editor, New Raleigh)

As for me, I only came to know Peter over the past few years through our connection to New Raleigh and mutual friends (Mark K and crew). I had always read his work before then, his names was one of the first that sparked my interest in reading through Raleigh independent news sources before deciding to move to the city in 2005. His passion for putting his opinion on the table within his article sparked something in me. Reading his articles, whether or not I agreed with his point of view, always made me want to write with this type of passion. But, it wasn’t until meeting Peter and having a discussion (topics on which I can’t completely recall) in the second floor apartment in Boylan Heights that I realized why those articles had so much flare.

My grandfathers died early in my life so I missed a lot of the typical ‘back in the war’ stories so listening to Peter tell story after story with so much clarity and detail made me understand that he believed so much in the information and knowledge and wanted to pass it on to the next generation. The New Raleigh crew are all in that next generation and he has made an impact on each one of us in varying levels of impact. Maybe Peter is part of the reason I became involved with New Raleigh and have continued to want to put our opinion on the table like Peter so eloquently did. It’s a Raleigh tradition, the Peter Eichenberger tradition, that we like to think we are keeping alive. Peter will be missed around these parts, but it’s amazing to se one man make such a strong impact on so many lives that can last forever.

If anyone would like to add any words or images, email them to us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Full Peter Eichenberger Obituary from the News and Observer.

Photo by Natalie Ross

Photo by Natalie Ross

If anyone would like to add any words or images, email them to us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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  • Ladye Jane
    12/01 04:13 PM

    Acree, I have you stored in my phone as “Acee” because of that meeting with Peter.

  • Kurt
    12/01 05:00 PM

    Thanks all for the nice words and images. We are wanting to put together a slide show for the remembrance event at Burning Coal. Would there be any ob jection if we use some of these great pictures?


    Kurt Eichenberger

  • Jedidiah
    12/01 05:07 PM

    Feel free Kurt. All photos are credited to their photographer. We had lots of respect for Peter and are very sorry for your loss. If you’d like to email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) I can send you high versions of some of the photos.

  • Jennifer Eichenberger
    12/01 08:18 PM

    Thank you so much for this compilation of photos and remembrances. Peter was such a unique person, and it’s hard to describe him to people who didn’t know him. You have captured his spirit. We miss him terribly.
    Thanks, David and Jennifer Eichenberger

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