The New York Public Library Acquires The Archive Of Influential Psychologist And Writer Timothy Leary

Dr. Timothy Leary, wherever he is now, is smiling


The New York Public Library Acquires The Archive Of Influential Psychologist And Writer Timothy Leary

Personal Log Books, Letters, Photos And Much More Provide New Insights About Leary, His Studies, and the Counterculture Movement

The New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division has acquired over 300 boxes of material belonging to Influential psychologist and author Timothy Leary, whose controversial research on psychedelic substances and their ability to affect positive behavior change, increased creativity, and spiritual renewal made him a key figure in the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. See official NYPL Press Release here.

The archive amounts to 412 linear feet of letters, manuscripts, research documents, notes, legal and financial records, printed materials, photographs, video and audio tapes, CDs and DVDs, posters and flyers, and artifacts, dating from Leary’s youth in the 1920s until his death in 1996.

There are extensive materials connected to his life as a clinical psychologist, including his times at Harvard University – where he headed the team that conducted the first major studies of psychedelic drugs – and at the Millbrook Estate in New York, where he expanded his research and spiritual discovery. There are also materials pertaining to his childhood, his tragic young adulthood, his eventual imprisonment and exile, and his last 20 years in Los Angeles, California, where he focused on the upcoming computer age.

The materials tell an invaluable story of man called both “the most dangerous man in America” by President Richard Nixon and “A true visionary of the potential of the human mind and spirit” by William S. Burroughs.

“Timothy Leary was, without question, one of the most controversial figures of his era, if not the 20th century,” said Michael Horowitz, Leary’s long-time archivist and bibliographer. “He was a polarizing figure in a time of generational conflict, a bold challenger of the status quo (perhaps his most enduring mantra is ‘Question Authority, Think For Yourself’).  The author of some 30 books and nearly 400 research papers, essays, and articles, Leary’s charisma and ability to articulate both the inner visionary landscapes and the sociopolitical implications of psychedelic experience made him, in Ginsberg’s words, ‘a hero of American consciousness.’ It is fitting that The New York Public Library has acquired this central archive of the second half of the 20th century, for it was at Cooper Union that Leary, along with Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass), gave his first public lecture in a non-academic setting; Greenwich Village venues, where he produced the earliest psychedelic theatrical events; and Hudson Street, where he handed out his own press release at the formal opening of the League for Spiritual Discovery.”

Some key items in the archive purchased from the Leary Estate include:

Thousands of letters to Leary, many from luminaries of the 1960s era, including Aldous and Laura Huxley, Gerald Heard, Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Charles Olson, Arthur Koestler, Huston Smith, Walter Houston Clark, Walter Pahnke, Humphry Osmond, Al Hubbard, Oscar Janiger, Cary Grant, Charles Mingus, Maynard Ferguson, Michael Hollingshead , Robert Anton Wilson, Gordon Wasson, Ken Kesey and Augustus Owsley Stanley. Other correspondence is with his family – including letters to and from his mother, his wives and his children – as well as publishers, attorneys, politicians, and his numerous adversaries, including G. Gordon Liddy, and law enforcement figures from local sheriffs to Drug Enforcement Agency and Central Intelligence Agency operatives.

Professional and research papers, which will provide scholars a unique opportunity to study Leary’s clinical work from graduate school through his years at Millbrook, including hundreds of reports documenting the psilocybin-induced experiences of Harvard graduate students and faculty, creative artists, prisoners at the Massachusetts State Prison at Concord, and theology students.

Files and correspondence detailing Leary’s experience with Harvard, including his initial acceptance, the University’s eventual resistance to his research, his controversial research methods and his eventual dismissal. These files depict the evolution of Leary’s studies from rigorous, empirical research into more free-flowing, scientifically problematic exploration, as well as the promotion of psychedelics.

The complete records of the organizations Leary formed to continue his research after leaving Harvard, including the Freedom Center, Castalia Foundation and the League For Spiritual Discovery. Session reports from the League for Spiritual Discovery include completed questionnaires and letters describing the mushroom and LSD induced experiences of many notable cultural figures. Letters between Leary and his research partners and these institutions also document their turbulent and intense personal and professional relationships.

Extensive correspondence, legal briefs, prison writings, letters of support and petitions sent to and produced by the four Leary defense funds during his time in prison after his arrest in 1973. There are also materials connected to his exile period in Algeria and Switzerland, including correspondence, notebooks, statements, letters and manuscript material.

Copies of government documents, released to Leary under the Freedom of Information Act, pertaining to various agencies’ surveillance of Leary, as well as his arrest. Leary’s cooperation with the authorities, still considered by many as a betrayal of the counterculture, is also well documented.

Computer generated text, correspondence and material relating to the computer revolution, the Biosphere project, space colonies, cryogenics and more from his time in Los Angeles.

More than 300 videotapes and 300 audiotapes featuring Leary, including about 50 early lectures. A large portion of these tapes are noncommercial and probably represent the only copies in existence.

Manuscripts of published books and articles, as well as a substantial number of unpublished works, some book length. Scores of unpublished essays on a variety of subjects, unproduced movie scripts, fiction and poetry are also included.

“When one surveys the existing and available archival record of the 1960s, it would hard to find a comparable collection,” said William Stingone, curator of the Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division. “Leary’s papers provide virtually untapped resource for researchers studying the emergence and development of the American counterculture.”

“The estate is thrilled to have these papers in a place worthy of their historic value”, says Denis Berry, Co-trustee of the Futique Trust, Dr. Leary’s estate. “Its availability to everyone is something he would have appreciated.”

The material – kept meticulously by Leary – has a long history before being acquired by the Library. According to Horowitz, the archives were turned over to “a pair of hip scholarly activists” for safekeeping when Leary was sent to prison, and they kept the materials safe until it they were seized by the FBI in the 1970s. Eventually, they were released to Leary, who kept them in storage until the developers of, one of the earliest personal websites, sifted through and organized the vast collection. Most recently, the archive was part of the Futique Trust, Dr. Leary’s Estate.

John Perry Barlow, lyricist for the Grateful Dead and cyberspace visionary added “When future historians try to untangle the cultural history of America between Eisenhower and Obama, I can’t think of many whose lives will reveal more about what happened to us during those weird decades than Timothy Leary’s. A potently catalytic figure, he had much to do, for better or worse, with who we have become today. If we are to understand ourselves, it’s a good idea to understand Tim. It won’t be easy, but these papers will help.

Zach Leary, Tim’s stepson says, “Growing up I was always taught the importance of the power of information. I was always being encouraged to document, share and produce my thoughts – but I never understood why. Fifteen years after his death it is a revelation that he had the self realization to share his life’s work with us. These papers represent one of the great databases of the post World War 2 cultural revolution. They are a treasure trove of the intricacies of the human mind, our collective conscious, the confusion and hope of a generation and most of all the works of a brilliant man. My congratulations go to the New York Public library for taking a stand to make this happen.”

Joichi Ito, friend to Dr. Leary and currently Executive Director of the MIT Media Lab says, “Timothy was an amazing super-node at the nexus of so many of the most interesting conversations and work during his life. He was also an avid writer, collector and archivist. His archives hold the answers and keys to many of the period’s biggest mysteries, and provide a crucial perspective for understanding an extremely important period in the history of the world. It’s truly exciting that the New York Public library has the vision to understand the value of the archives and support in making it available to all of us.”

Bruce Damer, historian and speaker/author on the counterculture points out that: “the acquisition of this enormous collection by an institution as respected as the New York Public Library is a major endorsement of the importance of the history and ideas of not only Dr. Leary but of the counterculture itself.”

The remarkable collection will be available to researchers and the public in about two years, after the papers are processed.

Contact: Angela Montefinise | 212.592.7506 |

Denis Berry, 831 566-0325,

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