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How Was Your Trip, Allen?

Acid commentaries from Timothy Leary’s just-revealed archive.


Timothy Leary has settled in at the New York Public Library. After many months of negotiation, the NYPL has acquired his complete papers—335 boxes of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and videos constituting the legacy of the psychedelic guru (and compulsive record-keeper). It was almost exactly 50 years ago that Leary, working at Harvard with then-legal drugs (psilocybin, mescaline, lysergic acid diethylamide), near-single-­handedly summoned forth the sixties, as he and other psychologists began testing the effects of hallucinogens on students, artists, poets, and eventually prisoners—not to mention themselves. You could call 1961 the first summer of love; it was certainly the best documented. Subjects who submitted detailed “trip reports” on a variety of psychedelic substances included Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the poet Charles Olson. Based on extensive access to the library’s new materials, which won’t be catalogued and opened to scholars for years, we’ve pieced together an appropriately meandering oral history of the ultimate Leary-orchestrated drug trip.

Charles Olson, Poet: “About twenty minutes after taking [mushrooms], I felt slightly nauseated and began to notice visual effects … Feeling sick, I moved to a nearby couch and lay down. At this time I noticed the floor under my feet was alive with patterns of color … I felt tricked!”

Robert Perlongo, Poet and Critic: “Cold felt colder than usual, warm felt warmer. Vivid colors seemed suddenly of burning intensity.”

Allen Ginsberg, Poet: “After an hour … I withdrew into visual introspection … I lay down on a large comfortable couch next to my companion Peter Orlovsky and drifted off into a reverie about the origin of the universe which involved the visualization of a sort of octipus [sic] of darkness breaking through out of the primal void … [I] envisaged various people I knew … as Seraphs or Fiendish Angels with fangs of Judgement rushing thru the void over Atlantic Blakean Spaces to make meet with each other to take Conference over the future of Life.”

Jack Kerouac, Novelist: “I saw you, Leary, as a Jesuit Father … I saw Allen [Ginsberg] as Sariputra (the Indian saint). My old idea of St. Peter (about Peter Orlov­sky) was strengthened … Pearl became a Lotus of indescribably [sic] beauty sitting there in the form of a Buddha woman Bhikkushini … Mainly I felt like a floating Khan on a magic carpet with my interesting lieutenants and gods.”

Ralph Metzner, Research Assistant: “Outside the window the branches of the tree were gigantic arms with transparent muscles, now threatening, now embracing. The bookcase was full of swimming books, the door bulged like a balloon, the carpet in the other room was full of ­thousands of little green snakes. The dial on the telephone was a huge pearl-studded wheel … I felt like yelling and shouting: ‘Look, see how beautiful, how amazing.’ ”

Gunther Weil, Research Assistant: “The sand was pure gold and eddied to a multitude of whirls and baroque bullshit. It was my head on the ground. John the Baptist on some fantastic golden plate. There were no eyes in the sockets. Just the vacant black, tortured holes. Suddenly a hand slithered out of the sand behind the head and grabbed my head by the eye sockets pulled it into the sand.”

Bill Mcglothlin, Psychologist: “I … said ‘I remember now why I stopped taking these drugs—they make me so terribly sad’ … I had paid for the full picture but I didn’t want to see the rest.”

Huston Smith, Religion Scholar: “I said to Tim … ‘[I]t looks to me like you are taking an awful chance in these experiments. Objective tests might reveal my heart and body in general to have been functioning normally through this afternoon, but there is such a thing as people being frightened to death.’ ”

Olson: “I had no sex organ. I could not find it.”

Kerouac: “On mushrooms I felt quite strong, quite angry in fact at the atheists for fighting Christianity.”

Metzner: “Deep philosophical questions arose and dissipated in a stream of verbal and logical sophistry punctuated by convulsive giggles. Gunther [Weil] asked: ‘Can I have a pain in your leg?’ and I answered: ‘Not today, but tomorrow maybe.’ ”

Weil: “I fantasied [sic] Ralph [Metzner]’s dying and a mixture of guilt and sorrow prompted me into uttering a ludicrous proposal of relief. ‘How about a glass of milk?’ ”

Olson: “Elliott and Tricia began ‘Testing’ me … I thought at one point that they were ‘petting’ and I said ‘Cut it out.’ Elliott replied, ‘Get up and do something about it. Get up!’ But I couldn’t and again felt apathetic.”

Weil: “[Metzner] called the ugly green flowers sick and dying. I called them flesh-eating plants. He screamed that I should not say that … I then went into the bathroom and took a glorious shit. That shit was the first pleasurable experience of the day.”

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