Jennifer Ulrich Interviews Michael Horowitz Re: The Archival Catastrophe of 1975 and the Birth of ARCANA

Michael Horowitz, Dr. Timothy Leary’s Archivist, 1970 to the present

Jennifer Ulrich, over at the New York Public Library (where Dr. Leary’s archives now live), has a new post about “The Archival Catastrophe of 1975,” when the Feds took possession of the archives and put Michael Horowitz, Tim’s archivist since 1970, on the stand in front of a Grand Jury.

Quotes from Horowitz’ interview:

“At the last minute — a few days before my appearance — I composed and printed up a fact sheet, announcing the formation of ARCANA (Archival Reality Committee Advocating the Neutrality of Archivists). I was to be the only member of this virtual organization I had founded.

I did my best to stonewall their fishing expedition in the grand jury room. It got pretty tense and I knew I faced contempt charges and jail if I wasn’t perceived to cooperate. There were twenty-three questions posed to me by the U.S. prosecutor: I answered the seven that were harmless, and for the others I refused to answer on the grounds that my status as an archivist made me immune to questioning, for the same reason that the lawyer, spouse, and priest, pastor or rabbi is exempt from testifying against a defendant.

This was a conclusion I came to and that I thoroughly believed — and believe to this day. Archivists are the preservers of history and play a neutral role. The prosecutor had no idea how to answer that; I was vilified for not cooperating, but then dismissed from the grand jury without being found in contempt. Afterwards my lawyer told me that I had established a legal “precedent” with my grounds for not testifying: other archivists, should they be called to testify under similar circumstances, could use this in their defense.

The statute of limitations on his prison escape passed without the federal grand jury indicting anyone in connection with the escape. Leary was himself freed about a year later, and his archives returned to him shortly afterwards. Thus my “archival” defense ultimately averted an archival catastrophe in the making.

No archivist to my knowledge has used the ARCANA precedent set that day, but it’s still in the records if anyone needs to. And best of all, the Leary Archives are today safely housed in the New York Public Library.”

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