For those of you who may be unfamiliar, the 1973 coup d’etat in Chile was monumental for the country’s history, as well as the history of the Cold War. Civil unrest and political tension escalated under the socialist President Salvador Allende. Due to efforts from U.S. President Richard Nixon and Allende’s appointed army chief, Augusto Pinochet, Allende was overthrown and this man witnessed it all.

Seemed like every other day

The eyewitness account comes from Smithsonian ethnomusicologist Dan Sheehy, who was living in the country on a Convenio Chile-California fellowship researching and teaching music. He recalls it was pleasant pre-spring morning as he set out to go to work.

The only thing different so far was that the bus was even more stuffed than usual, a result of “the strike by truckers and bus owners in protest of socialist president Salvador Allende’s policies.”

Then, there was a change in the air

With no space on the overcrowded bus, Sheehy set out on foot to his office at the University of Chile. But something was different. “I soon sensed, though, that something was going on,” Sheehy claims. “Cars were moving faster than usual, many driving away from downtown, not toward it.”


There were uniformed carabineros, the national police, blocking off the streets around the perimeter of the central city. The coup had begun.

People fled as gunfire started

Sheehy saw people fleeing the city center, and “heard popping in the distance, popping and booming growing louder and louder. It was gunfire…” He quickly changed course and headed back to the safety of his apartment. From his window, he could see Hawker Hunter jet fighters set off missiles toward downtown, the home of the La Moneda, the presidential palace.


Police and military were everywhere, and the days to come were to be much rougher for both Sheehy and the people of Chile as examples were made of citizens and any socialist-related documents were burned in the streets. It was a tough time for Sheehy, both personally and professionally, but it was one he’ll remember for the rest of his life.