Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation


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:

Travel voucherTravel voucher

"My Paternal Inheritance""My Paternal Inheritance"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.

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.

Like this:

Telephone receipt from Motel Acapulco, MexicoTelephone receipt from Motel Acapulco, MexicoThis 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."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).


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Leary Archives Blog 4/17/12

Reading these blogs about the Leary papers at the NYPL is fascinating. Especially seeing the actual documents and reading the excellent annotations. The record of a phone call from Cuernavaca received by Leary at his motel in Acapulco days before his life-changing magic mushroom trip demonstrates the importance of an archive. One can presume the call was from someone telling him of the procurement of the mushrooms and arranging a date to take them once he arrived in Cuernavaca. Viewing this small piece of paper one gets a palpable sense of what must have been the state of mind of the person holding it: anticipation and anxiety that anyone would have in advance of their first psychedelic journey. The month is Aug. 1960; the Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaign is in full swing, and at that time the only intoxicant Leary had ever used was alcohol. Big changes were coming for both Leary and the country.


What an amazing journey this will be! Keep up the great work. Can't wait to see Tim's notes for the NEUROLOGIC monograph...

Leary Archives and Annotations

It seemed Timothy annotated everything. Reading a book he had annotated was like reading 2 books at the same time. Or like having a conversation with him in virtual time. One of the most amazing things I found was sorting through his archives was his hand written "script" for "What do you turn on, when you turn on" recording.

Post new comment