If Peter Whitehouse had written a humorous song about his youthful clashes with the late-’60s establishment, he might have followed Arlo Guthrie into the national lore.
As it developed, Whitehouse became somewhat legendary on a more local scale. The former altar boy and Catholic school kid, who dropped out of Scotia-Glenville High School rather than have some football players jump him and cut his flagrantly long hair, may have been as Scotia’s first “flower child.” As a 17-year-old he was playing in psychedelic bands, taking acid and traveling regularly to Greenwich Village for the latest clothing and gear.
“I wasn’t really trying to be anything … I just was,” Whitehouse said recently of his rebellious years — a period that evolved into something radically different.
The head shops he opened on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady and on North Main Street in Gloversville, both called The Ox, became magnets for his fellow teenagers — and the cops. He was raided and busted three times before he was 20 — the last time in early 1970 in Gloversville where police came up empty on drug evidence and decided to make a case for desecration of the flag.
If Whitehouse hadn’t already been slipping into depression, he might have seen the humor in it and, like Guthrie who was busted for littering, written his song.
Under a headline, “City Police Arrest Five Teens on Drug Counts After Raid,” the local newspaper quoted the late Gloversville Police Chief Mario DiMaio expressing some outrage. Officers raiding the store “were greeted with the sight of American flags being used as furniture coverings, lamp shades, draperies and also as a throw rug,” the chief told a reporter. The Ox in Gloversville was at the site of what is now a parking lot, adjacent to the former Argersinger’s Department Store.
Whitehouse, 19 at the time, had been warned of the raid and was back in Scotia when it occurred. In addition to flag desecration, he was charged with possession of a dangerous drug.
But the three capsules of medicine that police found in the store turned out to be legal, over-the-counter products.
The four other teens arrested were accused of selling LSD, marijuana and hashish, apparently to an informant who frequented The Ox.
The now-late district attorney Thomas Persico pursued the flag case, though, indicting Whitehouse that April on the misdemeanor. A year later, and before the Supreme Court found alternative uses of the flag to be free speech, Whitehouse pleaded guilty and paid a $100 fine.
“I considered it pop art,” Whitehouse said of his use of the flag 41 years ago.
remembers the ox
Gloversville native Jeff Smith, now an official with an ARC in Utica, said he visited The Ox numerous times and remembers Whitehouse.
“If you saw Jimi Hendrix wearing some outrageous clothing, you could find a close approximation of it at The Ox,” said Smith, a longtime area musician.
The Ox was such an innovation in Gloversville that Smith and others retain a vivid recollection of it, from the strings of beads hanging in the doorway to the black-light posters and the poster of rock legend Frank Zappa sitting on a toilet. That collectible, known as “Zappa on the Crappa,” had a conspicuous place in the shop.
It was during a visit at The Ox that Smith said he heard the Rolling Stones’ “Let it Bleed” for the first time. Loud music and incense wafted into the street.
“Parents were terrified of the place,” said Dan Rooney, another musician and the owner of Rooney Signs in Gloversville. “I thought that was a cool place.”
Condemnation of The Ox was a frequent topic of letters to the editor in the local paper, Smith said, with parents asking “why do we have this store in our town?”
The police were listening.
Smith, clearly amused by the memories, said, “It was an interesting passage in my teen years.”
Shelly Stoddard, who still lives in Gloversville, recalls Whitehouse as a “calm, peaceful guy” with long blond hair descending to the middle of his back. She said she does not recall any drug use at the store, which she said was well stocked with what the newspaper called “mod” fashions.
Stoddard said she accompanied Whitehouse more than once to Greenwich Village to restock the store.
The Ox in Gloversville lasted less than a year. As in Schenectady, Whitehouse said, “it didn’t take long before they were very anxious to get me out.”
Despite what authorities believed, Whitehouse said he never sold drugs, although he did sell some paraphernalia.
After the Gloversville case, Whitehouse seemed to disappear. “Things started going downhill fast,” he said, citing continuing drug use and a growing depression that left him contemplating suicide.
The Vietnam War was winding down, McGovern was trounced by Nixon, national chains were setting up sanitized head shops in malls, and Whitehouse was suffering from LSD flashbacks and under psychiatric care.
And then began a second chapter in his life.
Whitehouse became a nurse, a clergyman and then a missionary, traveling to 40 countries and working in some of the most remote areas on earth. He’s married and has five children. He and Lori and the children play together in a Christian rock band.
Perhaps his greatest local achievement occurred in 2001 when he and his co-founder, the award-winning and nationally recognized health care provider to the poor, Dr. Robert Paeglow, bought an old nursing home at the corner of Clinton Avenue and North Lake Avenue in one of the most depressed neighborhoods of Albany.
The Capital Region Prayer and Healing Center, which houses Dr. Paeglow’s medical/psychiatric practice, Koininia Health Care, is the place where former state health Commissioner Antonia Novello performed her 250 hours of community service after admitting to misuse of public funds and staff.
Paeglow and Whitehouse met when they served together on a mission to Mozambique.
The turning point for Whitehouse occurred when a patient he was tending invited him to a Christian event. He connected almost immediately, he said. “The Lord filled me with his holy spirit, great joy and peace like I’d never known in my life.”
Whitehouse joined Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Albany, where he attended for 28 years when not serving on missions.
He is an ordained minister in Resurrection Ministries and, since opening the interdenominational Prayer and Healing Center, he said he simply considers himself a Christian.
Whitehouse has “done a lot of good in a lot of places,” said Judy Alvis, a colleague of Whitehouse’s when he was associated with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. She said Whitehouse has “a real calling.”
And the Rev. Patrick Avery, of Kingdom Reigning Workshop Center, said the Prayer and Healing Center has become a place “that emanates the word of God” as it strives to help individuals in need both medically and spiritually.
Whitehouse attributes some of his early adjustment problems to the departure of his father, Jack, when he was 8.
“I loved him as a father, but I hated him for leaving,” Whitehouse said of his late father, a machinist at General Electric.
“I hardly saw him, for many years,” said Whitehouse, who relates the story of how he finally reached out one day, called his father and the two reconciled.
“I was 30 years old when I did all the things with my dad I had longed to do when I was a kid,” he said of the fishing trips they took and Yankees games they attended.
Whitehouse freely talks about his troubled years and is not so kind on himself. “I made a lot of mistakes, caused a lot of hurt, a lot of pain.”
He regrets his drug use. “Although it may seem like fun or bring a measure of relief at first, I can assure you there will be a price to pay … Some drugs will steal your ambition, others your health … Addiction, whether prescription or illegal, will eventually cause you to make some very bad decisions.”