Utah’s countercultural movement in the 1960s and 70s was fairly tame compared to the social movements of larger cities. However, the small but mighty presence of nonconformists was felt intensely in Salt Lake City’s first headshop that is remembered for fostering an intensely creative and political energy among its patrons. Cosmic Aeroplane was the unofficial center of Salt Lake’s emerging youth movement and offered a community space for outsiders who rebelled against societal norms.
Founded by Stephen Jones and Sherm Clow in 1967, Cosmic Aeroplane opened in Salt Lake's 9th and 9th neighborhood. The psychedelic shop quickly became a gathering place for members of the antiwar movement and other countercultural groups. Although Salt Lake was no San Francisco, shops like the Cosmic Aeroplane provided a safe space for queer Utahns. The store sold everything from underground comics and used records to drug paraphernalia and books on metaphysics.
In 1969, Cosmic Aeroplane moved to 3rd West on South Temple and earnestly engaged in the antiwar movement. The shop offered counseling on the military draft during the Vietnam War and was a place for activists to gather -- a fact that was not lost on the FBI. When the University of Utah's ROTC building was firebombed in 1970, the Cosmic Aeroplane was immediately added to the list of suspects. The store’s payphone was reportedly tapped by the FBI and regulars remember a list of topics they could allude to in their conversations to ensure the FBI would keep listening -- and paying the phone bill!
The shop moved locations twice more and dedicated customers followed. Two decades of successful business preceded some years of financial woe, and in 1991 the Cosmic Aeroplane went under for good. Its legacy, however, lives on in many of Salt Lake’s cultural institutions, including the Blue Boutique, Catalyst Magazine, Ken Sanders Rare Books, and Salt Lake Acting Company -- to name just a few. At a time when the world seemed tumultuous and the future uncertain, the Cosmic Aeroplane drew together people of all backgrounds, races, and sexual orientations -- an admirable feat for Salt Lake City’s first headshop.
See Christopher Smart, “Whatever Happened to Cosmic Aeroplane?” The Salt Lake Tribune; John Pecorelli, “Feelin’ Groovy: The 60s Counterculture in Utah”, SLUG Magazine, April 2001; Joe Stohel, “A History of Cosmic Aeroplane,” The Cosmic Aeroplane - Memorabilia and Links; James Taylor, “Cosmic Aeroplane: A Love Story,” Catalyst Magazine, July 1, 2014; Michael Evans, “In Memoriam: Homage to Cosmic Creator Stephen Jones,” Catalyst Magazine, December 31, 2016; Brent Israelsen, “High-Flying Days Finished for Cosmic Aeroplane,” Deseret News, January 29, 1991; Connie Lewis, “A Look Back at Cosmic Aeroplane,” Utah Stories, July 30, 2015; Rob DeBirk, “Oral History with Ken Sanders,” Utah Environmentalist Oral History Project, American West Center, Environmental Humanities Program, June 2008.