THE HYDER STORY, 1986-1987:
An illustrated retrospective

Dr. Charles Hyder, 1987


Photo Album

On May Day, l987 Charles Hyder, Ph.D., ex-NASA astrogeophysicist, University of New Mexico professor, and 56-year-old father of five, called a press conference at his "END WAR" signs which he had maintained since spring, l986, in Lafayette Park, outside the White House. He announced that he had decided to live.

Seven months earlier (September 23, l986), Hyder had begun a fast for global nuclear disarmament which, with a few notable exceptions, was largely ignored by the U.S. press. He had declared he would not eat unless the U.S. government, in the persons of either President or Congress, committed to banning all nuclear weapons on the planet by the year 2000 and not replacing them, and to working with all other nations to end war as an international policy.

There were many who doubted Hyder's sincerity. But as the pounds peeled away, so did some of the skepticism - for a time - and he rattled the gates of scientific and political power. Before the fast ended Hyder had received mail from all over the world -- including a personal letter from Mikhail Gorbachev -- begging him to eat and occasionally promising to help.


In December, l985, weighing well over 300 pounds, Charles Hyder arrived in Washington DC to begin what he thought would be a solitary vigil outside the White House protesting the U.S. government's war and weapons policies.

He found a handful of determined individuals who since l98l had, for varying lengths of time, maintained antinuclear vigils in Lafayette Park, which was dubbed "Peace Park" by demonstrators in l985, a "nuclear-free zone governed by compassion." The name has stuck.

Hyder stayed a month, helping to tend existing signs in the cold, wet, windy, dirty solitude of wintry D.C.

Then he went home -- home to a mountaintop cabin in New Mexico -- home to a series of loving people -- to give away his last possessions and inform his family and friends of his plan to begin fasting on September 23, l986.

The astronomer characteristically chose the date carefully. September 23 is Autumn Solstice. By the time the Great Peace March from Los Angeles was due to arrive in Peace Park -- on November l5 -- he would have fasted 54 days, a substantial stretch of time.

On Easter Sunday, l986, Hyder returned to the Park. He was in time to observe the National Park Service take down his friends' large signs, which had just been outlawed.

He found a compatible alley, where he built two signs that fit the specifications of the Department of Interior's new regulation: 4' x 4' x l/4", no more than six feet off the ground, no more than two per demonstrator.


He studied the terrain, and mounted his signs on the curb of Pennsylvania Avenue, in a spot unsplashed by either rain puddles or midnight sprinklers, and protected from the afternoon sun by a big tree.

He remained, day and night, continually tending his signs under the repressively-enforced regulations, until he began his fast. Usually he slept sitting up.

To street dwellers he was "Doc Hyder" or "Big Man," crusty, humorous, informative, sometimes embarrassingly honest. He slept little, listened to all at least once, wasted no words, and shared wisdom and humor with the community of peace workers, and with the drifters passing through, who populate America's First Amendment front line.

Once a week he left for a few hours to take a bath, making sure he left someone reliable to guard his signs. He cooked Lebanese feasts for friendly bath-providers while his clothes washed.

On April 23, l987, Chernobyl blasted radioactive waste into the atmosphere. Hyder surprised Park visitors with his knowledge about radioactivity. It turned out that in the l970's he had spent most of his time fighting U.S. burial of nuclear waste in the Carlsbad salt caverns of his home state, New Mexico.

He reissued his drawing of a "China Melt Well" which he'd offered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a relatively inexpensive method for containing meltdowns.

"The NRC buried it in some file drawer," Hyder explained to the Soviet Peace Mission in Geneva during his fast, when he was asked if he hadn't offered his concept to the U.S.


Seven months later, Hyder was an international hero ... but still virtually unknown in the United States. He had traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to present his demands to the U.S. and USSR Peace Missions. The Delhi Six leaders had issued a statement of support for his goals; U.S. Representative Ron Dellums (D-CA) wrote a press release on his behalf. He was visited by activist/comedian Dick Gregory, D.C. City Councilperson Hilda Mason, Congressperson Barbara Boxer (D-CA), homeless advocate Mitch Snyder, actor Martin Sheen, singer Peter Yarrow, DC Councilwoman Hilda Mason, columnist Colman McCarthy....

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Ohio) wrote a typical appeal: "I was very impressed and moved by his obvious commitment to the cause of world peace. However, I am not convinced that his death will advance the cause of peace as much as his continued presence and work could. His impressive academic background and experience would be invaluable to the many organizations working to end the nuclear arms race."

Perhaps sensing his many years as a professor, youngsters flocked to Hyder instinctively. Women in furs, and often tears, sat at his feet. Scientists with high foreheads flew to his side from universities and research laboratories around the country -- students; former colleagues from NASA or the University of New Mexico, where Hyder once taught; fellow activists who shared his successful struggle to educate the public and the government about the dangers of nuclear waste for l8 years.

Yet at the signs in Lafayette (Peace) Park -- past which some 3 million world tourists trek each year -- it was apparent that the vast majority of the American public remained unaware that a scientist had fasted l00 days ... l50 days ... 200 days.

However, by March, l987, it became clear that the White House mail room was aware of the "fasting physicist," as packages of mail addressed to Hyder care of the White House were delivered, first by courier and then to Hyder's post office address in D.C.

Yet when Helen Thomas, UPI's veteran White House reporter, was asked about the Administration's reaction to Hyder's fast across the street, she replied, "They say they don't know anything about it."

Washington POST columnists Mary McGrory and Colman McCarthy both interviewed Hyder, yet printed nothing. The few brief articles published in the POST's Metro and Style sections showed precious little research.

In the Soviet Union a mountain pass was named after him. Yet the Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal was quoted by an employee as saying Charles Hyder was "local news."

In the words of City Paper's Jon Cohen, Hyder was too controversial for comfort -- "He's holding the press hostage," Cohen charged.


While fasting, Hyder was nobody's idea of a saint. He had no time for what he considered foolishness.

"From this moment onward I am not going to do anything I don't want to do," he told his supporters when he began his fast.

Dr. James L. Evans, a psychologist who has known Hyder 34 years -- since their student days at University of New Mexico -- arrived September 22 from Marin County, California to stand watch at his friend's signs during rest periods indoors.

Evans called himself Hyder's "life guard." He expertly fielded questions about his friend's sanity, credibility, and purpose. He sought exchange of information with anyone who was fasting or had fasted -- their experiences, reasons, and conditions.

Evans brought a bouncing creativity to a dreary deathwatch. In part inspired by his optimism, a "Great American Fastival" grew up around the flock of 4' x 4' anti-nuke, anti-war signs along Pennsylvania Avenue.


For months Hyder stuck to his life-coddling experiment strictly.

He drank tepid water from a thermos to conserve energy. "He can't really be fasting," whispered the incredulous, or those wounded by his sharp tongue. "No one could live this long without eating."

However, Science Magazine (February l987) and Scientific American (October l972) gave credibility to the mounting numbers, which were changed daily on the bright yellow "FAST FOR WORLD PEACE" sign tended 24 hours a day by Peace Park vigilers who supported Hyder's goals.

And in January Saundra Saperstein of the Washington POST quoted a physician that it was possible for someone weighing 3l0 pounds to survive without eating as long as Charles Hyder apparently had been fasting.

Amid the skepticism, national and international coverage grew. The Great Peace March arrived on schedule November l5, bringing the press with it.

Articles appeared in the New York TIMES, TIME magazine, ROLLING STONE, SCIENCE Magazine, Miami HERALD, AP and UPI; Japan, Germany, USSR, Poland, Saudi Arabia. CHINA TIMES*, when reporting on Dr. Hyder and the 5-l/2 year old anti-nuclear vigils outside the White House, analyzed the American peace movement:

"Of course, the American people are a very complex people; many ... seem to support Reagan's arms build-up, but more and more the tide is turning against him and his warlike stance.

"The peace movement is the largest since the anti-Vietnam war protests in the '60's, including the opposition movements against South Africa's apartheid system and America's involvement in Nicaragua. The movement is growing into a strong domestic force of opposition that the government has to contend with." [* translated by Swedish resident of Peking]


Letters and petitions began pouring in from all over the world, but most heavily from Japan and the USSR. Children sent drawings, paintings, and songs.

By April, the pressure was mounting. The "fasting physicist" was receiving nightly TV coverage in the USSR, and saturating the major papers of the Eastern Bloc.

Gorbachev wrote, pleading with Hyder to stop fasting, to come to Moscow and recuperate, then work for world peace. Hyder thanked Gorbachev but told him his heart was American, and he couldn't turn his back on his own people.


When Hyder held his thirteenth press conference to announce the end of his fast 2l7 days after it began, he had lost l70 pounds. Surprisingly, he said he had also lost dozens of cancerous polyps.

To the cluster of mostly foreign news men and women who showed up in Lafayette Park on May l, Hyder declared his independent, write-in candidacy for President of the United States on a platform of "Compassion, Equality, and World Disarmament," explaining, "I've tried everything else I can think of to shatter the nationwide U.S. government and media barrier that keeps the U.S. public uninformed."

There was a feast in Peace Park that day. The "Fast for World Peace" signs were repainted or covered over.

"Thank God THAT'S over," vigilers sighed.

A photo-story on May 2 about the Moscow May Day parade mentioned that one of the floats had been dedicated to Charles Hyder.

Jim Evans declared he heard from "a reliable source" that the May Day parade stopped for 20 minutes of celebrating when the news was announced in Moscow that Hyder was eating again.

Jim and Charles left D.C. for New Mexico, and life returned to "normal" in Peace Park.


For the next year, little was heard of Charles Hyder by the vigilers. Occasionally packets of disarmament petitions would appear in the mail from all over the country. In the fall of '87, Hyder returned to the Park, settling quietly at the weatherbeaten signs which had been decorated with slogans and drawings by a series of sign-sitters. He visited with old friends a week, then set out on his promised campaign.

Hyder planned to travel around the country accepting invitations to speak, on the theory that with the support of the grassroots peace community a presidential campaign-by-car might plant a few questions in the collective mind of the voting public.

"It's not that I think I'll actually win," he explained. "But maybe I can help the other candidates think about some hard questions."

Hyder said he'd be back in the spring of '88. Sure enough, one warm May day he showed up, back to former girth. He was no longer pressing the idea of presidential candidacy. "Most people out there feel powerless in the national elections," he explained. "Oh, they're willing to give a little money for your campaign, but that's about all the support you get. But local and state politics are different.

"Now that Reagan and Gorbachev have started the disarmament dialogue, I believe whoever is president next will WANT the good press it brings. But he'll need the support of Congress to get anything done.

"So I'm suggesting folks educate themselves on the voting records of their senators and congress, and replace the ones who aren't voting right on the INF Treaty and other arms control measures with someone who will.

"Maybe we'll see some results in this election. If not, we'll just keep going through the next."

"And the next.....?"

"Whatever it takes," Hyder replied firmly. "We can't give up."

Ellen Thomas, 6-8-88


[As of September 1999, Dr. Hyder is alive, his overstrained heart now aided by a pacemaker, and living on his family ranch in New Mexico.]


Sad Update

[Report from University of New Mexico Alumni News, June 14, 2004:

"Charles L. Hyder (M.S.-Physics, 1960) passed away on Tuesday, June 8th, 2004. Charlie earned his Ph.D. in Astrogeophysics from the University of Colorado (1964). He published more than twenty solar and comet papers, and worked for NASA, UCLA, UNM, and the Southwest Research & Information Center. A native of Albuquerque, he was an early whistle-blower, presenting effective criticism of plans for radwaste disposal in New Mexico (particularly at WIPP). He and 19 other radwaste experts were employed by the government of Lower Saxony to critique the Gorleben Salt Dome project, which was ultimately rejected."

From Moscow News 23.06.2004 -

Cold War Protester Charles Hyder Dies in USA

Charles Hyder, a US scientist known as a staunch opponent of the arms race, died in New Mexico at the age of 74.

His passing went virtually unnoticed by US media. Back in the 1980s his protests against the arms race received wide media coverage in the Soviet Union.

The scientist, who had worked for many years at NASA, and who held lectures at a US university, staunchly opposed the use of nuclear arms and harshly criticized President Ronald Reagan, deeming him guilty of an arms race. In 1986-87 Hyder underwent a seven-month fast in Washington, DC, protesting against the war. Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his support to the scientist, urging him to stop the strike and invited him to work in the Soviet Union.

Hyder became a popular figure on the Russian news, and many Soviet citizens took part in rallies of support of his action.

An environmental activist, Hyder campaigned against radioactive waste disposal in his home state of New Mexico. In 1998 he published his book "Human survival on a plutonium-contaminated planet."

See also:

Astrophysicist Ends WIPP Fast
June 24, 2000 Nevada States News Service

What is a Hyder flare?
June 24, 2004 Australian Space Weather Agency

September 23, 1986, Hyder's White House Fast Begins
Press Release 9/23/86
Pollution Control Industries

Protests Main Page