Timothy Leary, Psychedelic Guru, Research Displayed
Kristen M. Foster
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A new exhibit might make your visit to the New York Public Library a “trip” back to the 1960’s psychedelic and drug counterculture. A cache of files from the original pusher, Timothy Leary, is being put on display. Denis Berry, trustee for the Leary estate, calls the files, “the missing link in every attempt to piece together an account of research into Timothy Leary and the emergence of scientific research into psychedelic drugs and popular drug counterculture.”
The New York Public Library bought the trove from the Leary estate in 2011; he died in 1996. Today marked the first day materials—purchased for an undisclosed amount—will be displayed to scholars and the public.
Rare-book dealer, John McWhinnie, who appraised the Leary stash wrote that it, “details a program into psychedelic research that was akin to Kinsey’s research into human sexuality.” McWhinnie—who passed away last year—represented the bookseller that brokered the deal with the Library.
Leary’s research into the use of psychedelic substances for therapy, specifically LSD and mushrooms, attracted a number of the names we automatically associate with the 1960’s: Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac and others. They visited him at Millbrook Estate in upstate New York, where Leary retreated after Harvard University fired him as a psychology lecturer, officially because of too many missed classes, unofficially because of bad press and scrutiny surrounding his LSD work.
Leary’s life and work are undoubtedly the stuff of legend and controversy. His intent to join the 1970 California gubernatorial race reportedly inspired the Beatles song, Come Together. He experienced multiple arrests and prison stays, some of which were overturned. In the 1970’s he escaped from prison and fled to Algeria while serving a 20 year sentence, continuing around the globe and seeking shelter from the Black Panthers and arms dealers until his arrest in Afghanistan in 1972. After his conviction, he was incarcerated in Folsom Prison in California until Jerry Brown—in his first round as California Governor—released him in 1976.
The files contain unpublished correspondence and manuscripts from critical personalities of the time. Other items include drug session reports, completed questionnaires and letters relating to his experiments post-Harvard, manuscripts and letters from prison and a description of the psychedelic training courses he conducted at Millbrook circa 1966.
A highlight of the collection is a letter written in 1975 to Ken Kesey—author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—saying, “I think the time has come for me to go public about what I’ve been doing and learning.”
The revelation of 1,000 floppy discs containing Leary’s work on cyberculture and the development of computer software for his self-help games shows that Leary never stopped exploring uncommon avenues with which to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”[Video and Image via History Channel official website.]