He was perhaps best known for invoking the peace and love generation of the 1960s to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” but Timothy Leary, the guru who advocated the mind-enhancing positive effects of LSD, was a central figure in the counterculture, associating closely with literary figures such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Allen Ginsberg. Last Thursday, The New York Times reported that the New York Public Library has purchased Leary’s voluminous library of papers and correspondence for $900,000.
The 335 boxes that comprise the library’s acquisition include photographs, videotapes, and “session records” with figures like Ginsberg.
From the NYT:
The archive will not be available to the public or scholars for 18 to 24 months, as the library organizes the papers. A preview of the collection, however, reveals a rich record not only of Leary’s tumultuous life but also of the lives of many significant cultural figures in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
Robert Greenfield, who combed through the archive when it was kept in California, for his 2007 biography of Leary, said: It is a unique firsthand archive of the 1960s. Leary was at the epicenter of what was going on back then, and some of the stuff in there is extraordinary.
Leary kept meticulous records at many points during his life. There are comprehensive research files, legal briefs, and budgets and memos about the many institutes and organizations he founded, but there are also notes and documents from when he was on the run after escaping from a California prison with help from the Weather Underground. A folder labeled as notes from his C.I.A. kidnapping in 1973 is full of cryptic jottings recounting the details of his arrest in Afghanistan, at an airport in Kabul, after he fled the United States.
While it is unsurprising to read of people like Jack Kerouac requesting that Leary contribute to his “next prose masterpiece” by sending him a bottle of psilocybin (Allen said I could knock off a daily chapter with 2 SMs and be done with a whole novel in a month,” Kerouac wrote), one of the most interesting tidbits in the NYT piece is that Cary Grant was an aficionado of LSD whose correspondence with Leary is included among the papers. (Although that is arguably less astonishing than the revelation that Leary “kept meticulous records” including “research files, legal briefs, and budgets …”)