High Surrealism

After their expulsion from Harvard, Leary and Alpert were determined to carry out additional studies in the religious use of psychedelic drugs. They set up a grassroots nonprofit group called the International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), whose ranks quickly swelled to three thousand dues-paying members. Local offices sprang up in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. IFIF believed that everyone should be allowed to use mind-expanding chemicals because the "internal freedom" they provided was a personal and not a governmental matter. They envisioned a society in which large numbers of people would seek higher consciousness, ecstasy, and enlightenment through hallucinogens. "It's only a matter of time," Leary stated confidently, "until the psychedelic experience will be accepted. We see ourselves as modest heroes, an educational tool to facilitate the development of new social forms We're simply trying to get back to man's sense of nearness to himself and others, the sense of social reality which civilized man has lost. We're in step with the basic needs of the human race, and those who oppose us are far out."

In the summer of 1963 IFIF moved its headquarters to a hotel in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, a lush tropical paradise two hundred miles north of Acapulco. There they sponsored an experiment in transcendental living based on the Utopian writings and visionary insights of Aldous Huxley. Leary invited Dr. Albert Hermann to participate in a seminar on drug research at the hotel, emphasizing that broadcast and print journalists from the most important mass media would be present. Hofmann demurred; he was disturbed by Leary's publicity-conscious approach. Huxley declined an offer to join the fledgling movement on similar grounds. He was seriously ill at the time. On November 22, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated, Huxley passed away after receiving his last request: an intravenous injection of LSD-25 given by his wife. As she administered the psychedelic, Laura Huxley saw "this immense expression of complete bliss and love." She whispered, "Light and free you let go, darling, forward and up ... you are going toward the light."

During its short but spectacular career the chemical Utopia at Zihuatanejo was deluged with over five thousand applicants—far more than IFIF could handle. The group's activities revolved around a tower on the beach in which at least one person at all times maintained a solemn vigil while high on LSD. The ritual changing of the guard took place at sunrise and sunset, and to be chosen for a stretch in the tower was considered a privilege. Beatnik and bohemian types were not allowed to participate in the program, but that did not stop them from pitching tents nearby. Smoking marijuana and lounging in the sun, these scruffy uninvited guests did little to enhance IFIF's reputation; nor did rumors of the all-night orgies that were supposedly commonplace in the hotel. Scarcely six weeks after they had arrived, lurid reports in the Mexican press led to the expulsion of the LSD colonists.

Leary and Alpert returned to the US with their small but energetic band of followers and began to look for an alternative base of operations. During this period they rubbed shoulders with some of the richest jet-setters on the Eastern seaboard, including William Mellon Hitchcock, a tall, handsome stockbroker in his twenties. Hitchcock was the grandson of William Larimer Hitchcock, founder of Gulf Oil, and a nephew of Pittsburgh financier Andrew Mellon, who served as treasury secretary during Prohibition.

Thanks to a sizable inheritance and a family trust fund that provided him with $15,000 per week in spending money, Billy Hitchcock was in a position to offer a lot more than moral support to the psychedelic movement. He first turned on to LSD after his sister, Peggy, the director of IFIF's New York branch, introduced him to Leary. They hit it off immediately, and Hitchcock made his family's four-thousand-acre estate in Dutchess County, New York, available to the psychedelic clan for a nominal five-hundred-dollar monthly rent. At the center of the estate sat a turreted sixty-four-room mansion known as Millbrook, surrounded by polo fields, stables, beautiful pine forests, tennis courts, a lake, a large gatehouse, and a picturesque fountain. Two hours from New York City by car, this idyllic spread served as the grand backdrop for the next phase of the chemical crusade.

With a new headquarters at Millbrook, IFIF was disbanded and replaced by another organization, the Castalia Foundation, named after the intellectual colony in Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. Leary, a great fan of Hesse, felt that this particular book illuminated many of the problems he and his cohorts would confront while trying to apply the psychedelic experience to social living. Specifically Leary was concerned about the relationship between the mystic community and the rest of society. He did not want Mill-brook to degenerate into a haven for isolated intellectuals. His group would avoid this perennial pitfall by remaining socially relevant. They would undertake the spiritual search in a communal setting and report back to the rest of the world. They would keep records, compile statistics, and publish articles in their own journal, The Psychedelic Review. Above all they would become an active, educative, and regenerative force, an example for others to follow.

A core group of approximately thirty men and women gathered at Millbrook, including many acid veterans from the early days at Harvard. They were rejoined by Michael Hollingshead, who had left the group in early 1963 to work in New York City with an organization known as the Agora Scientific Trust. Hollingshead had quite a scene going for a while at his Fifth Avenue apartment. The entire place was laced with LSD—the food, the furnishings, etc.—and anyone who came through the door (even the knobs were spiked) inevitably wound up stoned. He threw some wild parties at which everybody was dosed; those in attendance included people from the United Nations whom he knew from his days at the British Cultural Exchange. But when Hollingshead learned of Hitchcock's generous offer, he knew it was time to pack his bags and head upstate. That's where the action was, and he wanted to be part of it.

The Millbrook residents were a tight-knit group. They shared a common lifestyle geared toward exploring the realities of their own nervous systems in a creative rather than a clinical setting. Their goal was to discover and cultivate the divinity within each person. The permanent members of the household regularly tripped together, rotating as shaman in "follow the leader" sessions involving high closes of LSD-25. The elusive aim of these group sessions was to break through to the other side without losing the love and radiance of the acid high during the crucial reentry period. Various methods were devised to facilitate a permanent spiritual transformation. Since many in the group had backgrounds in behavioral psychology, it came natural to them to keep a scorecard of their changing states of consciousness. On certain days a bell would ring four times an hour starting at 9:00 A.M. The bell was a signal to stop and record what they were doing then, what "game" they were playing. They thought that by paying more attention to shifting motivations and interpersonal dynamics they could learn to transcend their habitual routines. They compared scorecards and rapped endlessly about how LSD was affecting them.

In many ways the scene at Millbrook was like a fairy tale. The mansion itself was beautifully furnished with Persian carpets, crystal chandeliers, and a baronial fireplace, and all the rooms were full of elaborate psychedelic art. There were large aquariums with unusual fish, while other animals—dogs, cats, goats—wandered freely through the house. People stayed up all night tripping and prancing around the estate. (A stash of liquid acid had spilled in Richard Alpert's suitcase, soaking his underwear, when the psychedelic fraternity was traveling back from Zihuatanejo, so anyone could get high merely by sucking on his briefs.) Everyone was always either just coming down from a trip or planning to take one. Some dropped acid for ten days straight, increasing the dosage and mixing in other drugs. Even the children and dogs were said to have taken LSD.

Millbrook was a constant party, but one infused with a sense of purpose and optimism. The residents saw themselves as the vanguard of a psychic revolution that would transform the entire society. Victory seemed inevitable because they thought they had a means of producing guaranteed mystical insight. As Hollingshead described it, "We lived out a myth which had not yet been integrated into our personalities. Millbrook was itself the work of art Like Kafka's Castle, it gave out messages into the aether in the form of one high resonant sound which vibrated on the ears of the world, as if it were trying to penetrate beyond the barrier separating 'us' from 'them.' We felt satisfied that our goal was Every Man's, a project of Every Man's private ambition. We sought for that unitary state of divine harmony, an existence in which only the sense of wonder remains, and all fear gone."

Billy Hitchcock, the millionaire padrone, never really entered into the close camaraderie of the Millbrook circle. He lived a half-mile from the "big house" in his own private bungalow, a four-bedroom gardener's cottage with a Japanese bath in the basement. There he carried on a social life befitting a scion of one of the country's wealthiest families. Hitchcock never totally broke with his old routines even though he had begun turning on. He still kept in close contact with his friends from New York and with various brokers and investors who visited his bungalow for private parties. Some of these people were introduced to LSD through Hitchcock, but it became a running joke at Millbrook that you should not turn on your lawyer or anyone who had to take care of business for you, lest he drop his briefcase and head for the psychedelic sunset. Hitchcock would usually be on the phone all morning talking with Swiss and Bahamian bankers, setting up business meetings and fast-money deals. By afternoon he had taken care of his monetary affairs and would occasionally join the scene at the mansion.

Why Hitchcock decided to throw his weight behind the psychedelic cause is still something of a mystery. Was he simply a millionaire acid buff, a wayward son of the ruling class who dug Leary's trip? Or did he have something else up his sleeve? "Mr. Billy," as his servants affectionately called him, claimed he got involved with LSD because kicking the establishment in the teeth was exciting. Of course, since Hitchcock was the establishment, some questioned what he was really up to. Michael Hollingshead, for one, never fully trusted him. Most residents, however, thought Hitchcock a charming fellow. As one insider commented, "It hardly registered that he owned the place. He had a happy, open way of talking, perfect manners—a sort of Frank Merriwether type who had somehow fallen into a pool of gold and come up smelling like marijuana."

Hitchcock got along well with Leary and often joined the acid fellowship in group trips. At times he became very emotional and vulnerable on LSD. One night he had to be reassured that he did indeed own the estate. But unlike the others, Mr. Billy tended not to verbalize his feelings. He never developed any metaphysical system about the LSD experience, which was rather peculiar since everyone at Millbrook was into some kind of half- or full-cocked philosophy. Hitchcock's interest in LSD did not appear to be a simple matter of spiritual enrichment. He was not one to wax poetic over the prospect of merging with the Oversoul. When asked at the outset of one group session what question he wanted answered by the acid trip, he replied, "How can I make more money on the stock market?"

Timothy Leary, the eternal optimist, did not seem bothered by such rock-hard considerations. The early days at Millbrook were in many ways a felicitous time for him. He married a beautiful Swedish model named Nina Schlebrugge in an open-air wedding on the grounds of the estate, with everyone decked out in Elizabethan attire. Tripped out on the surrealistic spectacle they had created, the guests passed through the reception line with gifts of cocaine, reefer, and psychedelics. For their honeymoon (it proved to be a short-lived marriage) Leary and his princess made a pilgrimage to India, where they tripped on acid at least once a week and smoked hash the rest of the time. During this meditative hiatus Leary ruminated upon what lay ahead. He now conceived of himself as a "neurologician," having discarded his academic career forever. He was convinced that it would be a psychedelic century. Tim laid out blueprints for man's next five hundred years, surpassing even his own stoned hubris. When he returned to Millbrook a month and a half later, he shared his insights with the group.

Although a legal crackdown was a subject few were willing to contemplate, some of the Millbrook residents had a clear premonition that they only had a few trouble-free years to play with this fantastic new energy. If so, they had to make the most of it. They experimented with drugs in a bold, innovative, sometimes reckless fashion, and the results were often surprising. One night Richard Alpert retired early with a bad cold. Hollingshead and a friend named Arnie Hendin decided to fix him up. When they couldn't rouse him, they gave him a shot of DMT (a short-acting superpsychedelic) in the buttocks. Alpert sat bolt upright, and before the DMT wore off they fed him an additional 800 mikes (micrograms) of LSD in a spoon. Three stereo systems were blasting Coltrane, Stockhausen, and Beethoven simultaneously. A sea of rocky sounds enveloped Alpert as he swirled through a neurological flux. When he came down from his trip, he found that his cold symptoms had completely disappeared.

Richard Alpert had come a long way since the days when he was moving up the academic ladder at Harvard University. "I had a lot of identities that I called Richard Alpert. I played the cello, I flew an airplane, I was charming. I was a Jewish boy making good in Boston." But he gave it all up for a new cause, which he embraced with the zeal of a true believer. His faith was such that he became convinced during an acid trip at Millbrook that he could actually fly. To test this hypothesis in the soundest empirical fashion, he jumped out a second story window. Alpert broke his leg but endured the discomfort amiably; the experiment, he thought, had been a noble one.

Millbrook was Psychedelic Central for the whole East Coast. Like a magnet, it attracted illustrious visitors from all walks of life. The doors were always open, and people were constantly coming and going. Among the musicians who passed through the estate were Maynard Ferguson, Steve Swallow, Charles Lloyd, and the irascible genius of the acoustic bass, Charles Mingus. Other guests included philosopher Alan Watts, psychiatrists Humphry Osmond and R. D. Laing, cartoonist Saul Steinberg, and actress Viva Superstar, a prominent figure in Andy Warhol's avant-garde art circle in New York City

During the mid-1960s at the Factory, as Warhol's aluminum-foil-walled studio was called, people indulged in every drug they could get their hands on. Occasionally members of Warhol's eyelash set dropped in on the ever-obliging "Dr. Jake" for a quick poke of euphoria. When he came to Millbrook, Dr. Jake added psychedelics to his speedball injections, much to everyone's immediate gratification. As it turned out, Dr. Max "Feelgood" Jacobson served as John F. Kennedy's personal physician during the Camelot presidency. He often administered "vitamin" injections that left JFK flushed and excited, leading some to speculate that the shots included methamphetamine and/or cocaine.

Paul Krassner, editor of a satirical journal, The Realist, and a future founding father of the Yippies, also had a session at Millbrook. "My LSD experience began with a solid hour of what my guide (Hollingshead] described as cosmic laughter," Krassner recalled. "The more I laughed, the more I tried to think of depressing things— specifically, the atrocities being committed in Vietnam—and the more wild my laughter became." He laughed so hard that he threw up. Krassner (who later gave acid to fellow comedians Groucho Marx and Lenny Bruce) tried to put his first trip into perspective: "LSD was fun ... but if I never take it again, I'll be happy. I enjoy coping with reality. Napalm is burning someone to death in Vietnam this very minute, but Pm alive, and that's what I was really laughing at:

the oneness of tragedy and absurdity. The climactic message I got while high was: IT'S VERY FUNNY."

One day a NASA scientist named Steve Groff turned up at Millbrook. Dr. Groff wanted to observe how Leary and his clan ran their sessions. They gave him some acid, and he in turn provided samples of a secret drug known only as JB-118, which the military had developed as an incapacitating agent. Similar to the army's BZ, this potent superhallucinogen simulated a kind of free fall, at the same time triggering bizarre visions. (NASA reportedly gave hallucinogenic drugs to astronauts in training as a way of preparing them for the weightlessness of outer space.) A few of the Millbrook regulars tried the space drug, and Ralph Metzner described the results.

Objects are seen that are not objectively there, and other objects that are present, are not perceived. For example, one subject saw a man sitting on a chair in the middle of the room and talked with him. When the subject walked close, man and chair disappeared. All of the subjects reported, and were observed, walking into doors or furniture, which they had not seen. Sometimes the basis of the hallucinations was clear, e.g., a coat on a bed would be seen as a small dog. In other instances, no such transformation seemed to underlie the hallucination. For example, one subject saw a friend of his, the size of a three story building, crawling around the garden on his hands and knees, eating the tops of trees.

Things were considerably less dramatic for the common folk and the curious who paid to attend weekend experimental workshops at Millbrook. These bimonthly seminars were tongue-in-cheek affairs for the regular residents, but they were necessary in order to raise money for rent and living expenses. The idea was to offer people an opportunity to explore psychedelic-type realities by means of Buddhist meditation, yoga, encounter groups, and other non-chemical techniques. When the visitors arrived, a rule of silence was imposed so that the general vibe was not brought down by frivolous discussion. And to keep the food bill at a minimum, breakfast was turned into an experience in sensory association. Guests were told to think about how their tastes were color-conditioned, after which they were served a meal of green scrambled eggs, purple oatmeal, and black milk (accomplished through nonpsychedelic vegetable dye). Few ate heartily.

Meanwhile, hundreds of letters asking about LSD poured into Millbrook from those who couldn't make it in person. A ten-point scale was devised for replies, with "one" calling for a dull "Dear Sir" form letter and "ten" meaning a totally way-out response. The replies to Arthur Kleps, a virtual unknown who would soon make his presence felt at Millbrook, were consistently in the eight and nine point range.

In 1960, while still a graduate student in psychology, Kleps sent away to the Delta Chemical Company for five hundred milligrams of mescaline sulfate. After swallowing the bitter powder, he spun through an unforgettable ten-hour journey: "All night I alternated between eyes-open terror and eyes-closed astonishment. With eyelids shut I saw a succession of elaborate scenes which lasted a few seconds each before being replaced by the next in line. Extraterrestrial civilizations, jungles. Organic computer interiors. Animated cartoons. Abstract light shows ..." For the next four years Kleps kept this experience more or less to himself, "thinking about small things like sex, money, and politics." However, when he discovered that there was a group of intellectuals taking psychedelics on the grounds of a country estate, writing papers about trip realities, and having a great time, Kleps decided he was "just being chicken." School psychology went out the window; it was high time to start catching up with the psychedelic pacesetters, and the only way to do that was to join them.

Kleps did not fit into the scene so readily. The first time he took acid at Millbrook he wound up brandishing a gun, and Hollingshead promptly threw him out of the house. Despite this initial faux pas, Kleps was later admitted as a resident of the gatehouse. He was more of an epistemological hard-liner than the others, who in his opinion wanted nothing better than to have unusual experiences and proclaim them religiously significant. Kleps was straining to develop a metaphysical system that would encompass the far-reaching implications of psychedelics, brooding over such basic questions as "What is mind?" and "What is the external world?" His solipsistic excursions were frowned upon as nit-picking, strictly a downer. "You're on a bad trip. Art," said Leary, who scolded the newcomer for drinking too much and not grooving with a more cosmic perspective.

In those days a high dose of LSD was viewed as a solution for almost anything, and someone had the bright idea that it might solve the "Kleps problem." One of his comrades—Kleps swore it was Hollingshead—placed a few thousand mikes of pure Sandoz in a snifter of brandy beside his bedstand. Before he even rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, Kleps downed the brandy. A few minutes later he realized he was having trouble brushing his teeth. "I was knocked to the floor as all normal sensation and motor control left my body. The sun, roaring like an avalanche, was headed straight for me, expanding like a bomb and filling my consciousness in less time than it takes to describe it. It swirled clockwise, and made two and one half turns before I lost all normal consciousness and passed out, right there on the floor." As he groveled on all fours he got a shot of Thorazine in the rear, but it failed to bring him down. He spent the last hours of the trip sitting in a bed in the lotus position. As Kleps told it, a big book appeared, suspended in space about three feet in front of him, the pages turning automatically, every letter illuminated in gold against sky-blue pages. It was only years later, when he read a description of the two and one half turns that characterize the classic kundalini experience, that he came to an understanding of what he went through the day he'd been "bombed," as the parlance had it. None of the Millbrook priests would acknowledge that a release of kundalini energy was what happened to Kleps; maybe they thought he wasn't spiritually mature or pure enough to have had "the big one."

Kleps, however, thought himself sufficiently advanced on the spiritual path to found his own psychedelic religion, the Neo-American Boohoo Church. Formed in 1966, the Boohoos claimed that their use of LSD was sacramental, similar to the peyote rituals practiced by Indians of the Native American Church, and should therefore be protected under law. Not surprisingly, the Boohoos lost their case in court when the judge ruled that an organization with "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as its theme song was not serious enough to qualify as a church. "Apparently," Kleps concluded, "those in control of the instrumentalities of coercive power in the United States had no difficulty in recognizing a psychedelic religion as a psychedelic religion when that religion was safely encapsulated in a racial minority group living outside the. mainstream of American life."

Kleps, whom Leary described as the "mad monk" and an "ecclesiastical guerrilla," was particularly sensitive to the dangers of elevating institutional forms to the level of eternal verities, and so included elements of foolishness and buffoonery in his church. The church catechism is contained in his Boohoo Bible, full of cartoons, true-or-false tests, and a variety of hilarious liturgical observations on such topics as "How to Guide a Session for Maximum Mind Loss" and "The Bombardment and Annihilation of the Planet Saturn." Small monthly dues entitled members to a psychedelic coloring book as well as copies of the religious bulletin Divine Toad Sweat, emblazoned with the church motto, "Victory over Horse-shit." Leary was a bit miffed: "Art, this is not a psychedelic love message. It's a whiskey trip." But the Chief Boohoo was adamant: "It's my trip, take it or leave it."

Kleps sent diploma-like announcements to five hundred people across America certifying that they were Boohoos. Billy Hitchcock became a Boohoo during the same period in which he was immersed in some questionable financial dealings with Resorts International, a Bahamian-based gambling consortium suspected of having ties to organized crime. Kleps was always on Hitchcock's case, trying to pump him for money or wheedle him out of it or steal it. This didn't seem to bother Hitchcock much. What the hell, he figured, at least Kleps was more interesting than most of the others.

Continue reading here: The Psychedelic Manual

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