Category Archives: Merry Pranksters

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

In 1938, Albert Hofmann, a Sandoz Pharmaceutical chemist in Basel, Switzerland, was researching drugs for blood. He found Lysergic acid diethylamide, a drug we much later came to know simply as LSD.

Ken Kesey Graduates
Albert Hofmann

Five years later, Hofmann accidentally ingested some of the drug. He wrote afterwards, “Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant, intoxicated-like condition characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”

And so the journey began.

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Psychotherapy > Behavior Control > Transcendence

In 1949, research into LSD began in the United States when Boston psychiatrist Max Rinkel and Los Angeles psychiatrist Nicholas Bercel both obtained the drug from Sandoz.

The following year, 1951, the Central Intelligence Agency began research into the use of drugs for behavior control. And one year later, the CIA included LSD in its experimentation.

Interestingly, that same year Al Hubbard tried LSD as a “transcendental” drug.

Most people are walking in their sleep,” Hubbard said. “Turn them around, start them in the opposite direction and they wouldn’t even know the difference. [but]  give them a good dose of LSD and let them see themselves for what they are.

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Timothy Leary

Open research (unlike the government’s secret programs) continued throughout the 1950s and in 1960 Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert established the Psychedelic Research Project at Harvard University.

That same year, a Sidney Cohen surveyed 5,000 individuals who had taken LSD and concluded it was safe.

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Ken Elton Kesey

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Ken Kesey was a good student and an excellent wrestler who wanted to write. In 1961 while Kesey was a graduate student in creative writing at Stanford University he enrolled in an Army-sponsored hallucinogenic-drug experiment—which paid him $75 a session—run by Stanford scientists at the Menlo Park VA Hospital. The program was part of the CIA’s top secret MKULTRA behavior control program.

Kesey likened the experiment to exploring a haunted house. “[The scientists] didn’t have the guts to do it themselves, so they hired students. ‘Hey, we found this room. Would you please go inside and let us know what’s going on in there?’ When we came back out, they took one look at us and said, ‘Whatever they do, don’t let them go back in that room!’”

“That” room was the LSD room. As a night aide on the psychiatric ward at the hospital he began to write a book. He also had access to the cabinet that contained LSD.  The book became the instant best seller, One Flew Over the Cuckkoo’s Nest in 1962,

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

On the bus

In 1964, Kesey and his friends, together self-labeled the Merry Pranksters, decided to travel cross-country for the publication of his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion.

New wave journalist Tom Wolfe wrote about Kesey, the Pranksters, and that famous 1964 bus trip (literally and figuratively, of course) in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

One of the bus stops along the way was visiting Timothy Leary at the Hitchcock estate in Millbrook, New York. By this point, Harvard had dismissed Leary (1963), but Leary continued his work.

Back in California, Owsley Bear Stanley first succeeded in synthesizing crystalline LSD in February 1965. The Pranksters will set up living in La Honda, California.

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Acid tests

By the end of 1965, the Pranksters have begun what became a series of so-called Acid Tests (thus the name of Wolfe’s book). (Open Culture article)

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

In early 1966, Ken Kesey was found guilty of marijuana possession. While awaiting sentencing, he is again found in possession of marijuana (ironically, LSD was still legal).

The second arrest would have led to immediate incarceration, Kesey “committed suicide” and fled to Mexico.

The Acid Tests continue minus Kesey and the media begin to report on this “new” drug and its apparent dangers to life, liberty, and the American way of life. Sandoz recalled the LSD it had previously distributed and withdrew its sponsorship for work with LSD.

Owsley continued manufacturing his synthetic LSD, considered better than Sandoz’s.

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Kesey captured

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

In early October 1966, Kesey secretly came back into the US from Mexico but on October 29, authorities accidentally discovered and arrested Kesey.

Ironically, it was the same month the US made possession of LSD illegal.

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

Graduation

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates

As a way to mollify authorities and perhaps put himself in a better light at his upcoming trial, Kesey agreed to have a “farewell to LSD” event that he and the Pranksters labeled the “Acid Test Graduation.”

And so on this date, October 31 (1966), they held the ceremony. Of course the ceremony did not end the use of hallucinogenics, but Kesey stepped aside and explained that the doors LSD had opened were now there for anyone to peer through.

Kesey would serve a 6 month sentence and move back to his home state of Oregon where he continued to raise his family.

Ken Kesey LSD Graduates
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1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

The man who discovered the 60s

September 17, 1935 – November 10, 2001

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

The jock

As the counter-cultural view expanded during the 60s, one of the divides between the status quo and those who supported new views was between athletes (who typically sided with the status quo) and, for lack of a better word, nerds. By nerd, here, I mean anyone whose views and preferences put them outside the views and preferences of those around them.

Ken Kesey was a bright and athletic person. Those two characteristics are often and unfairly viewed as opposites of each other. He was a great wrestler in college who won several awards as a wrestler.  He’d even qualified for the Olympics, but an injury prevented his participation.

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

The nerd

At the University of Oregon, Kesey majored in speech and communication. He loved literature as well. His preference for Ray Bradbury’s science fiction expanded to include Ernest Hemingway and other modern fiction writers.

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

Non-grad grad student

After his graduation from Oregon, Kesey began a non-degree program in creative writing at Stanford University. He lived most of that time on Perry Lane, an enclave of cottages near the university and where many “outsiders” lived. Also living there was Ken Babbs and Larry McMurtry, two people who would play a huge part in Kesey’s future adventures.

Though some faculty members saw Kesey as an emerging talent, others thought him a threat. A typical reaction by the status quo to a non-traditional view.

Despite the intolerance, Kesey continued taking classes.

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

Project MKULTRA

Anyone who has taken graduate courses knows that finding a source of cash always hums in the background.

Ken Kesey began to volunteer in a drug testing program. It was the top-secret Project MKULTRA, a federal government program aimed at discovering and developing drugs to use in the Cold War. Psychoactive drugs such as LSK, mescaline, and psilocybin were part of the protocol.

Kesey’s use of these drugs, his job at the Menlo Park Veteran’s Hospital, and creative ability led to his final draft of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book that put Kesey’s name on the literary map.

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

Further or Furthur

As anyone who has the wonderful tool of Spellcheck knows, our ability to spell correctly runs up against the English language’s failure to pronounce words as spelled.   Roy Sebern learned that when he first spelled the bus’s name. The bus was a 1939 International Harvester school bus.

Kesey had written a second book, Sometimes a Great Notion, and he decided to combine business with pleasure and travel cross-country to New York for the publication party.

Kesey’s crew, known as the Merry Pranksters, fixed the bus with video and audio equipment. On the Road hero Neal Cassady was the driver. The story became part of Tom Wolfe’s famous Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Not until  2011 were the disjointed audio and filmed pieces put together and released as the documentary Magic Trip. 

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

7940 La Honda Road

After the demolition of the Perry Lane cottages, Ken Kesey moved to La Honda. It was there that the so-called Acid Tests emanated.   With LSD as the cocktail, black lights, strobe lights, fluorescent paint, video cameras, tape recorders, and the music of the Grateful Dead combined to make a grand experiment.

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

Ken Kesey

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001

Kesey gradually exited from the public eye.  An Acid Test graduation, a marijuana conviction, a faked suicide, and escape to Mexico, his return to the US and arrest (NYT article), a 5-month imprisonment, and a return to Oregon where he became a family man raising children and writing.

In 1992 doctors diagnosed Kesey with diabetes.  He continued to be an active writer and activist, but mainly from his Oregon home.

In 1998, he had a stroke and in October 2001 Kesey had surgery to remove a tumor. He died of complications on November 10, 2001,  at age 66. [NYT obit]

Ken Kesey

1935 Kenneth Elton Ken Kesey 2001
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