Transmissions from The Timothy Leary Papers: The Self-Annotated Papers
Annotations throw a wrench in dating materials, and Timothy Leary liked to annotate... everything. Aware of his demise after being diagnosed with cancer in 1995, he wrote notes and signed printed matter, clippings and correspondence from his personal files. Although he authored the autobiographies High Priest and Flashbacks, it will be his annotations that provide the more immediate, intimate “flashback.”
For example, Leary was suspended from the University of Alabama in 1942 (he was reinstated October 1944), prompting him to enroll in the short-lived Specialized Army Training Program offered at Ohio State University. He enlisted in the Army on 16 May 1942 at the University of Alabama and began active duty 4 January 1943. His enlisted records show that he held inactive service from 16 May 1942 to 3 January 1943, before receiving this train voucher from Fort Eustin, Virginia for travel to Washington DC:
Some of his annotations are dated contemporary with the documents, providing much insight.
Unfortunately, dates may not be evident for some notes. For example, this letter and check from the US Treasurer was kept in the following envelope:
It is not the original envelope for its contents, but can be dated at and after the death of his father on 23 December 1956 or his residence at 1230 Queens Road, Berkeley, California, whichever is later.
While I’m on the topic of dates, I came across his diplomas from the University of Alabama and Washington State University, where he received his BA and MS degrees, respectively.
Published and online sources quote him receiving the degrees one to two years earlier. This is an example of incorrect dates mistakenly published, whether from an editorial typo or other error, but the misinformation continues to be quoted. This is an opportunity to emphasize the importance of primary research.
Forensic Files--More Dates!
The archivist searches through recorded media, traditionally paper-based, for official and legitimate historical evidence. This is the essential definition of “archives,” records with evidential value. The Leary papers have many opportunities for fact-checking.
This puts Leary in Acapulco, Mexico, receiving a phone call from Cuernavaca, Mexico on 3 Aug 1960, days before his first ingestion of the psychotropic fungi, psilocybin mushrooms. Yes, this is not a big revelation, but it’s good to see documentation for his life-changing trip.
Of course, much of his personal papers contain less official recordings. His manuscripts are written “off the record,” but will have important value in primary research. This type of evidence may not verify a date, but sheds light into his character and relationships.
Timothy Leary married his first wife, Marianne Busch, on 14 April 1945. Marianne would commit suicide ten years later on 22 October 1955, his 35th birthday. This note appears to be a checklist with the fifth item stating, "find out about depressive period."
A couple years after her death and a few years before he first consumed a psychedelic drug, he drafted this:
While much of his personal reminisces are drafts of his autobiographies and other writings, the purpose of this note is not yet clear, as it was loose among papers dating around the same year. It still provides insight into how he perceived himself and his interest in the study of human nature a few years before his introduction to psychedelics (coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond at a New York Academy of Sciences meeting in 1957, to describe “mind-manifesting” drugs).