Psychedelic Refugee by Rosemary Woodruff Leary
Rosemary Woodruff Leary
The life of an early psychedelic pioneer who spent decades as a fugitive abroad and in America.
One of the original female psychedelic pioneers, Rosemary Woodruff Leary (1935–2002) began her psychedelic journey long before her relationship with Dr. Timothy Leary. In the 1950s, she moved to New York City where she became part of the city’s most advanced music, art, and literary circles and expanded her consciousness with psilocybin mushrooms and peyote. In 1964 she met two former Harvard professors who were experimenting with LSD, Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner, who invited her to join them at the Millbrook estate in upstate New York. Once at Millbrook, Rosemary went on to become the wife—and accomplice—of the man Richard Nixon called “the most dangerous man in America.”
In her intimate memoir, Rosemary describes her LSD experiences and insights, her decades as a fugitive hiding both abroad and underground in America, and her encounters with many leaders of the cultural and psychedelic milieu of the 1960s. Edited by David F. Phillips and compiled from Rosemary’s own letters, her autobiographical writings archived among her papers at the New York Public Library, the memoir details Rosemary’s imprisonment for contempt of court, the Millbrook raid by G. Gordon Liddy, the tours with Timothy before his own arrest and imprisonment, and their time in exile following his sensational escape from a California prison. She describes their surreal and frightening captivity by the Black Panther Party in Algeria and their experiences as fugitives in Switzerland. She recounts her adventures and fears as a fugitive on five continents after her separation from Timothy in 1971.
While most accounts of the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s have been told by men, with this memoir we can now experience these events from the perspective of a woman who was at the center of the seismic cultural changes of that time.
From the book:
Millbrook, New York
LSD was still legal in New York in the summer of 1965. I didn’t know that then. I was busy with a band of acid gypsies. Travel-worn from defying the laws of gravity and economics, they said they were magicians and crashed amidst the antiques, drew crazy patterns on the prayer rug, dripped candle wax across the sheets, played Dylan slowed down, more mournful than he was at normal speed.
I watched New York dissolve till it got boring.
They left, all but one, a musician, more wounded than the rest. I liked his strong Indian face, remembering it from another lifetime, loving. Famed from another era, kept beautifully by an heiress, he gave up the music learned at Ben Webster’s knee but stuck to the needle and an expensive need for health spas and psychoanalysis. He was the epitome of graceful dissipation. Appreciating jazz and elegance as I did, I loved him at first sight.
Early in the summer we met again. He came to live with me, bringing music and madness. Dark rhythms stirred his veins. It was a grace junk gave him. I could not follow.
I called my very best friend, crying “Sugar tit won’t cure that prick of angry consciousness . . . acid every day can’t change him . . . knocks on the door . . . some junkie queen . . . she washed her feet in all my perfumes . . . his ring cut my . . . my jewelry in pawn . . . he’d rather stick a needle in his arm than love me . . . what to do?” Her cool voice assessed the damage.
“Well,” she said, “Tim’s in town, he’d like to see you. Why don’t you go back to Millbrook with him?”
Tim fetched me in a borrowed Jeep. Running away from home—one black eye, patched jeans, a ripped sneaker—I was shy, being saved that way.
“What have you been doing all summer?” he asked.
“Dying by degrees of heat and madness.”
“I have a theory about death, would you like to hear it? Ecstasy comes to everyone at that moment. Dying is a merging with the life process. What do you think?”
“I don’t know; I really don’t believe that death is a way out. But lately I’ve found myself wishing this life would cease,” I replied.
“So have I, many a time. Let’s make an agreement, shall we?”
“What’s that smell?” The car was full of smoke.
“Open your window. I forgot the muffler’s broken; this was the only car working.”
The cool dark air banished the fumes, but the knocking grew louder.
“What did you say?” I had to shout.
“Let’s go together.”
“Where?” “Everywhere. Why didn’t you come to Millbrook when I asked you to?”
“I didn’t need rescuing then.”
When I’d met him at an art gallery opening in early June, I’d taken LSD alone earlier in the day. I was wonderfully happy, happy to be solitary, completely within myself, peaceful yet exhilarated. A sweet sensation. That evening Tim spoke of psychedelic art and the techniques of “audio-olfactory-visual alterations of consciousness.”
He was didactic, oracular, self-aggrandizing, and very amusing. Afterward we walked to the corner for a drink.
“You remind me of someone I once loved.”
“Let’s see.” I took from my pocket the small pane of two-way mirror an artist had given me, held it up between us. “My hair and your smile. My nose and your eyes. What do you see?”
“Good match.” He lit a cigarette. “Perhaps.” I lifted my glass to him.
He was exhilarating, like the first draft of pure oxygen after a trip in the dentist’s chair. There was the sense of having shared a most profound experience with him in some unremembered time. But I had to decline his invitation to Millbrook that weekend. He was married to a beautiful, blonde, highly paid model. And I’d found an eager musician.
Now escaping that failed love and a summer of sadness, I was on my way to Millbrook with Tim, rather than to California where I felt I ought to be. I wondered about the state of his marriage.
“How is your lady?”
“You’ve more than one then?”
“Had, alas, those pleasures are now forbidden.”
“Will I find them in the attic behind a secret door?”
“Actually she’s with a Tibetan monk, of the second I rarely speak.”
“And the first?”
“She killed herself on my 35th birthday.”
“Poor soul, how, why?”
“Our car, a locked garage, carbon monoxide, I was asleep.” Blue eyes smiled companionably.
“Now, what would you like?” he asked me.
“Sensual enjoyment and mental excitement.”
I looked at him, handsome profile, strong hands on the wheel. Keen, flame-colored eyes, a man once dark, now silver-haired and fair. “To love. You, I suppose.”
Full moon in Aquarius, August midnight. We turned through the gates, across the bridge, under a tunnel of trees. The windows of the large white house were lit with red and blue, a castle with towers surrounded by countless acres of woods, lakes, gardens and ruins. All the elements of myth and fancy were here and the master of it all, in a courtly way, opened the door. He led me up to the tower room. With a slow smile he left, descending the narrow stairs.
I woke to a soft summer day, sucking sweet white hoya blossoms from the window vine, forgetting my vow of solitude, remembering last night’s long, slow waves of his desire that came hurtling up the stairs. I had felt him all through the night, footsteps pounding the maze of corridors, bare feet echoing the final rounds. My dreams were of a restless man in scarlet robes in the chamber below. I wanted to know him if I could; he seemed wise.
Author Bio: Rosemary Woodruff Leary (1935–2002) was one of the great female psychedelic pioneers of the 1960s. She met Dr. Timothy Leary in 1964, becoming his psychonaut partner at the Millbrook estate and later his wife. After Timothy’s prison break in 1970, Rosemary fled with him to Algeria, beginning a years-long fugitive journey across four continents and nearly 25 years of life underground. David F. Phillips (1944–2020) was a close friend of Rosemary Woodruff Leary for almost 20 years until her death in 2002. After careers as a lawyer and a librarian, he retired to the writer’s life, running the website www.radbash.com and authoring several books on a variety of topics.