I’ve always loved Boston-Edison. This is a large residential Historic District in the geographic center of Detroit full of stately homes, wide boulevards, and old-fashioned streetlamps. Detroit author andDBusiness magazine editor RJ King moved to a beautiful three-story Colonial Revival here in 1994.
Sitting in RJ’s living room, we can hear the steam gently whooshing through the radiators. Soothing, it reminds of my Marpac Dohm sound machine, whose sonic white noise helps me sleep.
RJ is very welcoming, hospitable, and insightful. In terms of stories and hidden history, he has an eagle eye for tantalizing, overlooked, and underreported gems. A writing talent, RJ has penned over 6,000 articles at DBusiness and over 16 years for TheDetroit News. Prolific at home, RJ has written four books. Never one to lollygag or dawdle, he’s also a licensed real estate agent!
RJ King, Detroit author of 8 Track the First Mobile App (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
When publicly released in October 1965 by Ford Motor Co., the 8 Track tape player completely revolutionized in-car audio and how music in general was experienced by consumers.
It offered, for the first time, a mobile music experience in an industry dominated by AM Radio and record players.
Since then, the 8 Track, which essentially offered “album” cartridges, served to bootstrap the introduction of cassettes, followed by compact discs, and now downloads. Today, the medium has been largely forgotten as a fun and useful device in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The last major release on 8 Track was in 1988 with Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits.”
Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)
Sure, from 2009-2014 there was an 8 Track museum run by Bucks Burnett in Deep Ellum, Texas.
And don’t forget “Tracker Bob” Hiemenz. Bob owns the world’s largest 8 Track collection. Over 90,000 tapes and 700+ players are stored at his house in Quincy, Illinois. But for many people, especially those who postdate 8 Track mania, the true story is a quick trip back in life filled with nostalgia.
RJ’s new book is an incredibly detailed and well-researched story of Detroit and Ford Motor Co.’s pivotal role in the development and rollout of the 8 Track tape player.
Part hidden history, part business lesson, this is a story largely untold until now.
RJ King on His Book
8 Track book RJ King (photo by: Ryan M. Place
“My older brother Patrick emailed me a speech that my dad, John P. King, had written in 1975 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 8 Track tape player. Until reading that email, I had no idea my dad was intimately involved in the development of 8 Track back when he was a product engineer at Ford.”
“Fascinated, I searched for a period history of 8 Track, and there was nothing. So I started researching my dad’s involvement, assembling a chronology, reading Billboard magazines every week from 1964 to 1980, and doing interviews with my dad and other key people whom he introduced me to.”
“I worked on the book on weekends, typing it up on my iMac, and about a year and a half later had a final product.”
“This book details the leap from stationary music to mobile music. The 8 Track really was the first mobile music app. Prior to its creation, you could only listen to music live, on a record player, or on AM radio. What Ford and Motorola did, using Bill Lear’s design which they modified, is they built a combined AM Radio and 8 Track tape player and it completely revolutionized music and car audio.”
Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)
“All four of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, math) were used to invent, launch, and sustain 8 Track. It was a big leap from the mono world to the stereo world. The 8 Track was a physical music playback system that allowed you to listen to songs without being present with the band. It was the introduction of ‘music to go.’”
“My dad was hired by Ford in January 1965, and the 8 Track was ready to go by October 1965. It was a rush program, to be sure. After Ford came out with 8 Track, Chrysler, and then GM, Volkswagen, and American Motors offered 8 Track. It was successful because it was a group effort.”
“Motorola designed the players, Lear made the cartridges, RCA contributed the music, and Ford installed the players into 1966 model year vehicles.”
“Initially, none of the record companies would license their music to 8 Track. But Bill Lear knew David Sarnoff, chairman at RCA Records, and they licensed 175 albums.”
Motown 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)
“Then later, Motown Records in Detroit, licensed some of their catalog for it. And all the other record companies came on board, and by 1970 it was a $1 billion industry. Motown even let Lear’s team transfer the initial master record tracks from RCA to magnetic tape. Berry Gordy would sometimes come up and hang out on the third floor of Motown Records (which is a converted house on West Grand Blvd.), and the machine was only available after midnight.”
“What I want the reader to take-away is that forming a talented team and working together is key to the success of any project. You’ll also learn how vital it is to control your intellectual property, and how to launch a major industry from scratch, and take advantage of the good sales years and properly prepare for winding down the business, as 8 Track gave way to cassettes, and so on.”
RJ’s dad John P. King fills in the gaps
RJ calls his father on the phone. His dad, John P. King, is 85 years old. He grew up on Chicago’s west side on Jackson Boulevard near Garfield Park, until moving to Michigan in January 1965. He earned a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and he had magnetic tape background based on his early employment.
John started out as project engineer for the introduction of the 8 Track Tape Player, and wrote all the standards (and made sure everyone adhered to them).
He retired as Regional Manager of Asia Pacific and New Markets for Ford Customer Service Division in 1997, and today is active with FREE(Ford Retired Executive Engineers).
“The development of 8 Track was fast-tracked so we could make the 1966 model year. We all worked many extra hours to bring it to market in only nine months, which was unheard of.”
“Back then, I had what we called a ‘Sound-Off’ with Earl ‘Mad Man’ Muntz out at the Ford Assembly Plant (28801 South Wixom rd, Wixom, MI). Muntz acquired that nickname in Los Angeles when he had a used car business. He was the guy who invented the 4 Track tape player, and he had a flair for showmanship and self-promotion. He was trying to get all the automakers to go for his 4 Track.”
“The Sound-Off was held at the Ford Wixom Plant, where at that time they were building the Thunderbird and the Lincoln Continental. Well we had an audio test among a small group of Ford people and Muntz, and we pitted his 4 Track against our 8 Track tape player by doing a live demonstration.”
“I showed up with my 1963 Ford Fairlane wagon, but I had swapped out the factory speakers with six-by-nine-inch speakers front and rear, and I had installed a very new production 8 Track tape player. From there, it was obvious that the 8 Track sounded far better. What wasn’t obvious was that I had installed stereo speakers in my car.”
Ford Quadrasonic 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)
“One other funny story. Donald Frey, the guy who designed the Ford Mustang, lived near Pete Estes, who was vice president for General Motors. Don was the overall lead on 8 Track at Ford, and he asked if speakers could be mounted in the front grill of his car, and he wanted specially loud Motorola bullhorn speakers. The speakers were wired to Don’s 8 Track tape player in his car. At the time, Ford’s ad slogan was ‘Ford has a better idea.’ So every morning when he drove by Pete’s house, Don would blast that slogan with the music at full volume.”
“Later, in 1967, Don Frey had us do a sound comparison between the 8 Track Tape Player with the latest cassette tape. At that time, the fidelity of the 8 Track was superior. Another factor was you had to manually flip the cassette, where 8 Track was hands free. But eventually cassette won out as Lear, who owned the patents on 8 Track, sold them to Gates Rubber Co., and they failed to renew the patents in 1975. From there, the standards could not be maintained, and the industry started to introduce cheaper products.”
“A plus for cassette tapes was that it was much easier to record your own material. And the cassette was half the size of 8 Track. So we helped usher in cassettes, and then compact discs. When I retired from Ford in 1997, downloads were available, and you could see one day they would be readily available.”
Back to RJ.
RJ King Biography
RJ King (courtesy of DBusiness)
“I have 6 sisters, 2 brothers, and I’m in the middle! (laughs) I have 3 sisters and 1 brother older, and also 3 sisters and 1 brother younger.”
“I’m editor of DBusiness magazine. Prior to that I was working at The Detroit News starting in 1990. I was on the business staff until I ran into Gail Fisher (now Gotthelf) while volunteering at a charity event during Super Bowl week in February 2006.”
“Gail worked for Hour Media and said the two owners, John Balardo and Stefan Wanczyk, were looking to start a business magazine. I came onboard and that’s how DBusiness was born.”
“Hour Media is based in Troy, Michigan. As a parent company, they own around 160 magazines, including HourDetroit, DBusiness, Grand Rapids magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and we have other magazines in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cincinnati, Atlanta, all throughout Florida, the Gulf Coast of Alabama, and more.”
“In general, I write one story per day forDBusiness Daily News and write about 7-10 stories per each issue of DBusiness magazine.”
“In terms of local restaurants, some favorites are Roman Village in Dearborn and also London Chop House and the Vertical Wine Bar, both in Detroit.”
Detroit Engine of America-RJ King
“We just introduced an audiobook version of my other book, ‘Detroit: Engine of America,’ available on Audible.”
“And I have a fifth book coming out in March 2021 called “Grounds for Freedom.” It’s an unbelievable true story about Andrew Niemczyk, a local inventor who has developed amazing machines and new technologies. Check out his website at Exlterra. ”
*Most of this timeline was pieced together from information found in RJ’s book
Rarest 8-Track: SinatraJobim (courtesy of Google Archives)
1928-Motorola founded in Chicago. Bill Lear helped name the company.
1930-the Motorola car radio is invented
1935-RJ’s father John P. King born in Chicago
1948-Columbia Records introduces the LP
1949-RCA invents 45 RPM
1949-sales of the 1949 Ford help save the company’s fortunes
1952-endless loop tape cartridge invented
1954-George Eash invents the Fidelipac tape cartridge
September 12, 1955-Chrysler agrees to install Peter Goldmark’s in-car record player (Columbia Records) after the automaker’s team in Highland Park, MI tests the prototype by driving on the nearby Davison Freeway.
1956-58-the Highway Hi-Fi in-car record player is featured in some Chrysler vehicles. It uses special 7-inch records called ‘ultra-microgroove.’ It was a big flop.
1959-closed loop tape players are used at nearly every AM radio station
1960-used car dealer Earl “Madman” Muntz invents the 4 track tape player
1961-Michiganian Larry Spitters founds Memorex in Silicon Valley
1962-the audio cassette is developed by Philips in Hasselt, Belgium
1963-Bill Lear, owner of 110 patents, invents the Lear Jet to be introduced in 1966
October 1964-the 8-Track Stereophonic Tape Player is developed by Bill Lear and Richard Kraus at Lear Jet corporate HQ (Wichita, KS). Afterwards, they are built regularly at the Lear Jet Stereo-8 division (13131 Lyndon Ave, Detroit)
January 1965-John P. King moves to Dearborn to work for Ford
July 1965-Motorola begins production shipments of 8 Track tape players to Ford
October 3rd, 1965-8 Track tape players are released to the general public thanks to Lear’s friendship with Henry Ford II (grandson of big Henry). They are released in the form of an AM radio with integrated 8 track tape player installed inside Ford vehicles.
1965-80 = 8 track is popular
1966 = Ford sells over 125,000 8 track players as an option (available on six models)
Fall 1966-all Detroit automakers now offer 8-Track factory installation options
April 1967-Gates Rubber Co. acquires a controlling interest in Lear Jet
May 1967-Earl Muntz has his son Jim Muntz fly to Detroit and open Muntz CARtridge City (15278 Gratiot Ave, Detroit) to sell 4 track players and tapes
1969-Sinatrajobim 8 track tape (3,500 made but quickly recalled; only a handful not recalled). This is currently the rarest 8-Track, selling for upwards of $6,000
September 1969-production of 8 Track tapes ceases at Lear’s Detroit plant. They move production down to twin plants in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Mexico.
December 1969-Lear’s company’s name is changed to the Gates Learjet Corp.
“The only true currency is that of the spirit.”-Ken Kesey
Ken Babbs. What a guy! This soon to be 85-year-old Merry Prankster lives on a 10-acre farm in the small, rural town of Dexter, Oregon along Lost Creek, a tributary of the Willamette River.
Babbs is still a Prankster and still boldly subjecting his endurance to unique irritations like recently answering 100 questions from a plucky sprat wordsmith who’s pieced together a rickety quasi-mythic collage of the psychedelic 1960’s while basking in the dual luxuries of 20-20 hindsight and internet access.
Writer, humorist, humanitarian, musician, athlete, Midwest native, former chopper pilot in Vietnam, Babbs is a wonderfully multi-dimensional character who is best known for co-creating the now legendary phenomenon of The Merry Pranksters.
Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Led by literary college buddies Ken Kesey and his best friend and co-pilot, Ken Babbs, the Merry Pranksters were a core group of 14 people who helped give birth to the psychedelic counterculture in the mid-1960’s.
There was the Beat Generation, then the Pranksters, then the Hippies. Neal Cassady was the living link between the Beats and the Pranksters.
These cosmic jesters had japes aplenty. There was the core group and an extended family of peripheral associates. Just reading a list of Prankster nicknames will make you chuckle: Intrepid Traveler (Babbs), Swashbuckler (Kesey), Zonker, Hassler, Sometimes Missing, Gretchen Fetchin the Slime Queen, Captain Trips, Space Daisy, Mountain Girl, Barely There, Lord Byron Styrofoam, Doris Delay, Cadaverous Cowboy, Mary Microgram, Sensuous X, June the Goon, Marge the Barge, Dis-Mount, Mal Function, etc.
One of the most well-known adventures of the Sixties, the Merry Pranksters two month long, cross-country bus trip from June-August 1964 symbolized the searching, mind-expanding spirit of the Sixties and is the adventure that kicked off the Psychedelic Sixties.
They crammed into a psychedelically painted bus named ‘Furthur’ and filmed their zig-zagging journey from La Honda, California to “Madhattan” New York and back. Along the way, amid hallucinogenic hijinks, the Pranksters (and the bus) all blended into one rollicking amorphous organism spreading cheer, humor, kindness, and good-natured mayhem to the unsuspecting citizens of America.
Merry Pranksters (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Fueled by orange juice laced with LSD (which was still legal until October 1966), the Pranksters would stop in various cities, dress up their alter ego’s in weird clothing, play music and join people in their fluffy cozy web of institutionally-induced conformity coma. Synchronizing into a communal group consciousness, the Pranksters unsnarled uptightness and gave joy to of all forms of exploration: neurocognitive, geographic, interpersonal, multi-media, etc.
After the bus trip, the Pranksters began throwing Acid Test parties in the Bay Area of California. At an Acid Test, you would drink LSD-laced kool aid, dance to the Grateful Dead playing music live, watch Prankster home movies and engage in assorted shenanigans amongst dayglo painted everything, strobe lights, and smiles galore. There would also be the liquid light show going on, using a technique pioneered by Prankster Roy Sebern (he was also the guy who named the bus Furthur), using an overhead projector with changing cellophanes and liquid oil.
The Grateful Dead started off as a Palo Alto jug band with Bob Weir on washtub bass and Jerome “Jerry” Garcia on the banjo. They were called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, then they changed their name to The Warlocks and became the official Acid Test houseband before finally morphing into The Grateful Dead as electric rock & roll instruments transformed the musical landscape.
Everything the Pranksters stood for and promoted was geared towards generating fully joyful experiences. Blasting open those hidden vaults of your own mind, unlocking positive thinking, traversing new unexplored dimensions of your being, and accessing higher levels of reality beyond the usual mundane ordinary everydayness.
It had the flavor of a traveling circus of the mind and a sort of raw, universal quality to it. They personified the multi-colored living in the moment NOW spirit of the Sixties. Bold and inventive, the Merry Pranksters, were the ones who really, truly, unintentionally, popularized psychedelic culture on a large, global scale.
Prankster Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Babbs and company were the focus of ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ (published August 1968), a superb in-depth tale of the Pranksters written by journalist Tom Wolfe, who never rode on the bus himself.
Although the Pranksters were early LSD proponents, the role of drugs in general has been over-magnified. Yes, the late Sixties youth culture was drenched in LSD from a veritable free flowing melting neon tap of acid but what was really at the forefront was the powerfully deep yearning amongst young people to increase their mindfulness, kindness and creativity. A line from The Bardo Thodol says “Everything can be transformed to limitlessly positive configurations” and that ethos was one of the main driving forces of the counterculture.
The impossibility of distilling the Prankster experience into words creates a hilarious paradox. The more ultra uber transformatively fantastic something is, the harder it is to accurately describe.
But Ken Babbs, whom due to his historical figure status over the decades becoming an almost fictional comic book type character himself, is gonna give it a whirl.
KEN BABBS BIO
Gretchen Fetchin and Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“My family has been in Ohio for a long time. Our ancestry is English, Scottish, Irish, German. I have nine kids. Was married three times. Had four, four, and one.”
“I grew up 30 miles east of Cleveland in Mentor, Ohio on Lake Erie. Used to call it ‘minor Cedar Point on the lake’. They had a roller rink, bowling alley, dancehall where one side was underage and the other side was for drinking age. Going there only cost a dime!”
“Fortunately, my parents accepted me being a Merry Prankster. We were never on the outs. Although, I’m sure they often found themselves wondering what happened to this All-American Boy?”
“In the past 55 years, what questions haven’t I been asked? Have I had venereal disease?” (laughs)
Ken Babbs & Neal Cassady on the Pranksters bus c. 1964 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“Oh man, the way things have been going, things are so crazy, gonna get crazier probably. Question of what’s next? In terms of global scale, this is the absolute craziest I’ve ever seen things in my lifetime. This whole Covid pandemic lockdown isolation experience forces you to dip into your creativity.”
“There’s been such a huge change from the 1960’s to now. There’s more people and everything has expanded exponentially. I love watching the faces of the world. We may totally fuck up and destroy the Earth, who knows? Need to look to space to get a good perspective on life. Best thing we’ve done lately is we got a puppy 4-5 months ago. Taking care of this creature living with us has been tremendous.”
“San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 60’s were halcyon. Hard to describe, you had to be there for the experience. As things change in life, one day’s fad is another day’s antique. Shit happens but the 60’s live on.”
“The Pranksters, the Sixties, we’re talking about myth, which is made up of everybody’s contribution to the myth. You don’t want to refute anything, just add your own version. The Sixties will be a mountain of myth. 2,000 years from now some Homer-esque historian scribe will put it all together.”
Babbs comes to Detroit
Grateful Dead at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom (December 01, 1968)
“I’ve been to Detroit once.”
“I was in Ohio at my uncle’s and Jerry Garcia called me saying the Grateful Dead would be playing Detroit (December 1st, 1968 @ the Grande Ballroom). So I got in my car and drove up there. Great show, then we all partied at a hotel downtown afterwards with Jerry, Pigpen and the gang.”
On The Art of Writing
Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“I used to write daily. Mostly journaling, thoughts, poetry. Still write frequently. My Vietnam novel Who Shot the Water Buffalo was published a few years ago. Also, recently wrote a big book called ‘Cronies’ which is about Kesey, Cassady, and Prankster adventures but can’t find a publisher for it. Might just self-publish.”
“I co-authored The Last Go Round with Kesey in 1994.”
“A recent chapbook, ‘We Were Arrested’ is about the April 23, 1965 bust at Kesey’s La Honda home. You can buy the chapbook on my Facebook page.”
Ken Babbs-We Were Arrested
“I have piles of manuscripts. No shortage of material. I will soon be publishing a book called ‘7 Poems of Ken Babbs’.”
“In terms of what I like to read, I’m mostly into fiction, works of imagination. At the time I graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1957, Kerouac published ‘On the Road’ and the free form jazz-like flow of his writing had a tremendous influence on me.”
“Plus, my mother was a librarian. My dad was a newspaper editor. I grew up in a literary household reading Faulkner, Hemingway. There’s a great book called ‘The Way West’ by AB Guthrie Jr. I also love fiction adventure stories, detective stuff. Michael Connelly does some great stuff. There’s so many great writers today.”
“Kesey and I both loved comic books. Our favorite character was The Spirit.”
“Comics are great. What we loved about Sixties Marvel comics was the heroes were always fighting against bad guys for noble ideals like rights and justice. Kesey and I had both been into comics since we were kids.”
“My dad thought comic books were trash, just a mind rotting waste of time. But not me, I loved them. Kesey even wanted to be a comic strip artist at one point.”
Experiences in Vietnam
Ken Babbs Vietnam (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)
Babbs served in the US Marine Corps from May 1959-1963. He trained in Quantico, Virginia, then attended flight school in Pensacola, Florida where he learned to fly choppers. He moved to San Juan Capistrano, CA and was stationed at nearby Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine before shipping off to Vietnam. While in Nam, he flew a Sikorsky H-34D “Dawg” in the Delta and Da Nang and wrote a novel called ‘Who Shot the Water Buffalo’ which was finally published in 2011. You can buy it on his Facebook page.
“The entire experience I had in Vietnam was completely insane. It was still early in the war, I was flying the chopper, we were supplying troops. It was a beautiful country. Within a few weeks in country it was obvious that us being there was a ridiculous waste of time and resources.”
“The government always has to have an enemy that they can rouse the people against. Generals want to play with their toys, the big bombs and the fun guns.”
Vietnam domino theory (courtesy of Google Archives)
“In Nam they had the Domino Theory. First Vietnam will fall, then the Philippines, then Hawaii, then suddenly the dirty Reds will be in San Francisco having babies. The Red Horde will be at your door before you know it!”
“Still have my leather flight jacket.”
“The Pranksters and my Nam buddies never got together but I’ve had great experiences with both groups. Beautiful thing as you get older, all your experiences are the sum of who you are right now. Just incorporate those experiences into your being. We’re all material beings, we’re not angels. As such, we’re fucking up all the time. Over time, your fuck-ups become your best stories.”
Sikorsky H-34D in Vietnam
Babbs at Woodstock
August 15-18, 1969, the Pranksters attend Woodstock music festival along with an estimated 400,000 people at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Mistakenly anticipating violence and chaos, the police were shocked at how courteous and well-behaved the attendees ended up being. There were so many people that there was a perpetual 9-mile long traffic jam. Of the 5,000 reported medical incidents, 800 were drug related. Hog Farmer Wavy Gravy was the official head of security of “the please force.”
“Woodstock was pivotal. It was a wonderful, momentous scene and experience in American History. During times of turmoil, awful times, the magic and people living the good life, helping each other, keeps the American spirit alive. Woodstock was a celebration of collaboration among the peace-loving people.”
“I was hired by Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm to help out. We took 4 buses and about 40 people from Ken Kesey’s farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and headed some 2,900 miles over to Woodstock in Bethel, New York.”
“Some of us Pranksters had our musical instruments. Across the hill from the main stage, we had the free stage. At one point I was on the main stage with the Grateful Dead. But mostly I was either helping out at the Freak Out tent or playing music on the free stage. I kept a very detailed journal of that amazing experience and should probably release it as a book.”
Memories of Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey on the Merry Pranksters bus (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs were best friends. Kesey was a groomsman at Babbs wedding in 1959. Kesey then volunteered to take mind-altering drugs at the local Menlo Park VA hospital later that year. He didn’t know it at the time but this was part of the CIA’s clandestine MK-Ultra project. He fictionalized his experiences in the instant bestseller ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962). Couple years later he moved to a large house (7940 La Honda rd, La Honda, CA) on 3 acres in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest. This became the HQ of the Merry Pranksters where spontaneous happenings would be attended by Hunter S. Thompson and the Hells Angels. In early 1966, Kesey was busted for marijuana, faked his death and became a fugitive in Mexico. He did time at a prison work farm called the Honor Camp (7546 Alpine rd, La Honda, CA) which was hilariously located only 1 mile SE of his house, practically in his backyard. After that he moved up to a farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and the rest is history.
“Oh, God, so many great times and fun memories of Kesey!”
“We met at Stanford University in the Graduate Writing program. We hit it off right away in grad school. He lived nearby on Perry Lane (9 Perry Lane, Palo Alto, CA), which was a collection of cottages. Block parties were frequent. Kesey was a social force. He’d written an entire novel called ‘Zoo’ before we even got to Stanford.”
Ken Kesey at a Pranksters Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“He had also been a wrestler at the University of Oregon.”
“One time he hurt his shoulder. He had shown me some wrestling moves and we both signed up to compete. They wouldn’t let him participate but I did and he became my coach and mentor for that experience. My first opponent was this big red headed guy. Kesey said ‘I’m gonna teach you a trick. This is called the Telephone Takedown. When the match starts, make a big noise and commotion, make it look like you’re answering an invisible ringing telephone. Then when the guy is confused, dive, flip and pin him’. So, I took Kesey’s advice. The match starts, I do what he said to do. The red headed guy looks at me, steps back, throws me over and pins me in two seconds flat. And the sonofabitch broke my tooth, I spit it out!”
“Kesey started off as a magician. He had a ventriloquist dummy named Blinky. In his hometown of Eugene, Oregon, he would do shows on Saturday’s at the movies. In between movies, he would come out and do his magic and ventriloquism and he was great, very captivating. He was also fond of sleight of hand coin tricks. He’d be expertly pulling coins out of people’s ears and noses.”
Ken Kesey (photo by Jerry De Wile)
“I remember in the 90’s when Kesey and I were traveling around the country performing our play ‘Twister’, Kesey would bring his ventriloquist doll Blinky out.”
“Kesey had a pet parrot named Rumiako. Man, that thing could crack macadamia nuts.”
“The story about Kesey’s involvement with the LSD test monkey’s is a bunch of bullshit. That was some guy down on the coast. Kesey was not involved with releasing them into the wilds of La Honda.”
During the Pranksters bus trip, they stopped at Millbrook in upstate New York, home of psychedelic Harvard exile Dr. Tim Leary.
“Leary had the flu, so we didn’t see him until leaving. He said he was sorry. We were on the same wavelength and we became really good pals shortly after that.”
Timothy Leary & Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Neal Cassady at the jukebox (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Neal Cassady was a constantly on the go historical literary character who was intimately involved in both the Beat Generation in mid-1940’s New York when he linked up with Jack Kerouac and also the Merry Pranksters when he drove the Furthur bus in the mid-1960’s. From the mid-50’s onward, Cassady lived periodically in Los Gatos, CA until his mysterious death in Mexico in 1968, some 2,000 miles south of home.
“I first met Neal Cassady on the Prankster bus in 1964. Took a while for us to get acquainted. He called me a “tourist” (haha).”
Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“Super guy. He was the living link between the Beat Generation and the Merry Pranksters. He was a very rambunctious, energetic, knowledgeable person. Very intelligent. He was like our elder Uncle.”
“Cassady was also the very first sales clerk at the Hip Pocket bookstore. That was Ron Bevirt and Peter Demma’s store in Santa Cruz. Bevirt’s Prankster name was Hassler”
Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson circa 1967 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Hunter Thompson was the famous Gonzo journalist from Louisville. In the 60’s he lived at 318 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco. Over the years, his work has become tremendously influential, especially the seminal ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas‘ (1971).
“Oh man, Hunter was a great guy. Lucky to get to know him. We need his acerbic wit today, right now.”
“One time in the early 70’s he wrote a story about the Marathon in Honolulu, for some running magazine. He couldn’t finish the article so the editors flew him to Eugene, Oregon and put him up in a motel. He had locked himself in a bathroom. Paul Perry got him out of there by calling me because Hunter had asked for me to get him some weed. Thompson comes out of there and lights a string of firecrackers right in the room. So I get him the pot, and he finished the article. He’s getting ready to leave. Kesey and I are outside in Kesey’s car, waiting. Then Hunter comes out. He’s standing by the car door in his white shorts, white shoes, white shirt. As we pull away, Kesey lights a long string of firecrackers and throws it at Hunter’s feet! He’s dancing around as we pull off laughing.”
Ken Babbs on The Merry Pranksters
Merry Pranksters bus Furthur (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“The Merry Pranksters came together through divine planning. And the labels just happen. Deadheads are followers of The Grateful Dead. The Beats were named by John Clellon Holmes. The media came up with the label Hippies. I came up with the name Merry Pranksters spontaneously, naturally. This was not an intentional calculation whatsoever.”
“Early 1964, after hanging out at San Gregorio Beach, we were all back at La Honda around the campfire when I was goofing around and said: ‘Tis I, the Intrepid Traveler, who has come to meet his Merry band of Pranksters across the country in the reverse order of the pioneers. We won’t blow up their buildings, we’ll blow their minds!’.
“I’ve told that story about 6 million times. Good stories do not get old.”
“Initially, we were going to take my station wagon, a 1958 Ford, but instead we bought the bus right as our group grew, and we took the bus instead.”
Merry Pranksters on the bus. Ken Babbs (lower right, striped shirt). Ken Kesey (up top in the porkpie hat playing the flute) (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“Kesey and I were tired of writing on the manual typewriter. We were tape recording. We’d lie on the floor at night and rap stories onto tapes. Problem with that method is afterwards you have to spend too much time listening to it.”
“Then (George) Walker bought a 16mm movie camera, so we started filming everything.”
“(Mike) Hagen saw the ad for the bus. It was located in Atherton. He and Kesey went to pick it up. Kesey sunk his money into the bus and the trip to Madhattan and back and the cost of filming the movie. Other than that, everyone chipped in what money they could and we did plenty of shows and performances which we got paid for.”
“On the trip, our very first prank was in Arizona. Barry Goldwater was a senator in Arizona and we drove through his hometown. Painted a sign ‘A Vote for Barry is a Vote for Fun!’ He was pro Vietnam. His actual philosophy was summed up in his phrase, ‘Nuke the Gook’.
Merry Prankster Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“Prankster nicknames were created in the moment spontaneously as the bus trip unfolded. Ron Bevirt became ‘The Equipment Hassler‘, which was just shortened to Hassler. This was because every morning he would be rooting around in a drawer for things.”
“The Prankster movie was about interacting. We’d stop at a gas station somewhere and people would flock to the bus. We’d get out with our musical instruments and movie camera and help turn it into a fun thing. This happened everywhere we went. NYC was the climax of the trip. It was like we were a moving theater and the random people we encountered were the audience, they didn’t have a choice.”
“We would balance intentionality and spontaneity. The intentionality is shooting the movie. Being spontaneous is having no script whatsoever. We were making it up as we went along.”
“The whole Prankster thing was about being open, friendly, creative, artistic, kind. Instead of participating in violence of any kind, take another path to keep the tranquility alive.”
Merry Pranksters bus with observation bubble (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
The Grateful Dead
UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1965: Photo of Grateful Dead when they started playing as the Warlocks (Photo by Paul Ryan)
“We became friends with them before they were even called The Warlocks.”
“They played our 1965 Halloween party at my house in Soquel. Wonderful group.”
LSD: The Merry Prankster’s Acid Test Parties
Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)
The Merry Pranksters threw legendary LSD events from Fall 1965 to Spring 1966. This sort of gathering they dubbed an Acid Test, a reference to how a psychedelic chemical would test the strength and pureness of your being. An informal precursor to the official Acid Tests took place on Halloween night 1965 at Ken Babbs house ‘The Spread’ (Soquel Dr and Dover Dr, Soquel, CA). Then on November 27, 1965, the first official Acid Test also took place there. Since it was only advertised by limited word of mouth and a flyer at the local Hip Pocket Bookstore in Santa Cruz, the turnout was small compared to the thousands of attendees who would swarm future Acid Tests. The Pranksters went on to throw dozens of Acid Tests at various locations until the final Acid Test graduation at San Fran’s Winterland Ballroom on Halloween night 1966.
“Pranksters LSD was put into orange juice, kool aid, and let me see, oh yeah, elephant piss! (laughs).”
“LSD helped blow out the old imprints. You should keep the great ones but don’t get too hung up on old ideas. Make sure you let in some new stuff continually.”
“We took LSD in whatever form the doctor prescribed. We ate mushrooms. Nitrous might have even been popular but it wasn’t always pretty.”
Ken Babbs at the Merry Pranksters Trips Festival (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“LSD was cheap enough back then, you could trade it for a pound of hash oil. Last time I took acid? 1866 or was it the Greco Roman war?”
“All psychedelics and drugs should be legalized.”
“The original Acid Test movie reels, the raw 45 hours of 16mm film are now in a vault in L.A.”
“Paul Foster, a fellow Prankster, created the acid test poster, it was printed at a local shop.”
Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)
“Tom Wolfe the journalist was never on the bus. Great guy and great writer though.”
“His book Electric Kool Aid Acid Test was going to be made into a movie by Gus Van Sant but the project got shelved because a satisfactory screenplay never materialized.”
“We need Pranksters now. We need humor and off the wall happenings. The real battle is in minds between malevolent and benevolent thoughts, doing good or bad things. Don’t fight them. Just make a concentrated effort to grow your benevolent thoughts.”
Merry Pranksters Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Babbs Final Thoughts
Ken Babbs with Kesey’s parrot Rumiako (photo by Jerry De Wilde)
What’s a good way to prank a Prankster?
“Ask him 95 ridiculous questions.”
General advice for young people?
“Follow your bliss. You need a daytime job to pay for your nighttime creative fun. As you go through life, make this your goal. Follow the donut, not the hole. Be kind.”
NOTE: this is a raw, unpolished timeline compiled from my research notes. I approach interviews like doing detective work and always try to assemble a timeline for story coherence. Thought I’d include it since it might be a helpful resource to others. Cheers! Ryan
January 14th, 1936-Ken Babbs is born in Ohio
1938-LSD synthesized by Dr. Albert Hoffman @ Sandoz Lab (Basel, Switzerland)
1939-Al Hinkle and Neal Cassady, both 12, meet in Denver at a YMCA gym circus class
April 19, 1943-Dr. Albert Hoffman unintentionally takes the world’s first acid trip
1946-47-Neal Cassady moves to NYC, meets Jack Kerouac
1949-Dr. Max Rinkel brings LSD from Sandoz Labs in Switzerland to the USA, Boston
1951-Dr. Nicholas Bercel, a neurophysiologist at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) supposedly becomes the first American to experience LSD
1951-Dr. Humphry Osmond moves from London, England to Saskatchewan, Canada. He begins testing the therapeutic effects of LSD on schizophrenics and alcoholics at Weyburn Mental Hospital.
1951-Neal’s son John Cassady is born @ 29 Russell st, San Fran; Kerouac also lived here for a bit; Carolyn Cassady took the famous photo of them across the street
1953-CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb buys the entire known world supply of LSD so the CIA can conduct mind-control experiments with it, thus kicking off the MK-Ultra Project
1953-City Lights books opens in SanFran, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A plucky young sci-fi novelist, Philip K. Dick, is a frequent customer.
Dr. Albert Hofmann (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
1954-Dr. Gottlieb starts Operation Midnight Climax where the CIA gives unsuspecting customers of prostitutes LSD inside a house (225 Chestnut Street, SanFran) so they can study their behavior
1954-68-the Hungry I nightclub in San Fran
1954-Neal Cassady buys house in Los Gatos (18231 Bancroft ave, Monte Sereno, CA). Lives here periodically until his death in 68. His wife Carolyn sells the house in 87 and it gets bulldozed.
1955-Babbs attending Case Tech school in Cleveland, then Miami University (Oxford, OH)
1955-Ginsburg reads Howl poem in San Francisco
1955-Baltimore, MD-Spring Grove State Psychiatric Hospital, founded in 1797, becomes early LSD experimental ground in Cottage 13, a small cottage on the property. Over 700 people are given LSD by Dr. Albert Kurland from 1963-76 when the program was “officially” running and was funded by NIMH. In 1968, Dr. Stan Grof arrived.
1957-Kerouac’s book On the Road comes out
1957-Dr. Humphry Osmond coins the term ‘psychedelic’
1958-Ferlinghetti’s book Coney Island of the Mind is published
1958-Ken Kesey and his wife Faye Haxby move to California
Fall 1958-Babbs gets a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and enrolls at Stanford grad school writing program where he meets fellow outsider Ken Kesey at a cocktail party at professor Wallace Stegner’s house
1959-Pasadena, CA-Ken Babbs wedding. Ken Kesey is groomsman
Jack Kerouac (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
May 1959-Babbs enters the military; trains with USMC in Quantico, then Pensacola, FL flight school and learns to fly choppers
1959-Naked Lunch WSB
1959-Jerry Kamstra runs the Cloven Hoof Bookstore (Grant ave, SanFran)
1959-After being encouraged by Dr. Vic Lovell to sign up, Kesey volunteers at Menlo Park VA hospital (795 Willow rd, Menlo Park, CA) to take mind-altering drugs as part of MK-Ultra (financed by the CIA; they paid Stanford University; also supposedly tested LSD on monkeys). Kesey takes drugs under the supervision of Dr. Leo Hollister.
1960-Kesey lands job as psychiatric aid at the VA
1960-Cambridge, MA-Tim Leary and Richard Alpert conduct LSD experiments on themselves and others
1960-HST first encounters LSD in Big Sur but does not take any
1960-while working at Dow Chemical in Berkeley, a young Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin has his first psychedelic experience in the form of a mescaline trip at Dow
1961-Springfield, OR-Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs, John Babbs all take IT-290 (aka: alpha-methyltryptamine)
1961-Ken Babbs moves to Ganado Road, San Juan Capistrano, CA. He’s stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine before shipping off to Vietnam.
1961-while living briefly in Paris, France, psychedelic researcher Dr. James Fadiman is introduced to psychedelics by friend Ram Dass when Dass, Tim Leary, and Aldous Huxley pass through town. Soon after this, Jim and Dorothy Fadiman become Perry Lane neighbors of Ken Kesey.
Ken Kesey one flew over the cuckoos nest 1st edition hardcover
Fall 1961-Kerouac writes novel Big Sur @ Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Bixby Canyon, Big Sur. Later, Kamstra writes The Frisco Kid here
September 1961-Cambridge, MA; Leary takes LSD for the first time via Michael Hollingshead
1962-Tim Leary’s Good Friday psilocybin experiment in Boston
1962-Kesey’s One flew over the cuckoo’s nest published; breakout success, instant bestseller
1962-under the supervision of Dr. James Fadiman, Stewart Brand (soon to join the Merry Pranksters) has his first LSD experience at Myron Stolaroff’s International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, CA
1962-63-Babbs is USMC helicopter squadron in Vietnam (wrote novel Who Shot the Water Buffalo, unpublished until 2011); stationed down south in Delta, then north in Da Nang; he was flying a Sikorsky H-34D “Dawg”
Late 1962-Neal Cassady hangs out with Kesey in Palo Alto
1963-Babbs returns from Nam, hangs out at Kesey’s house (9 Perry Lane, Palo Alto) bongos and wine and pineapple chili. Pot wasn’t even on the scene yet
July 21, 1963-Perry Lane ends, bulldozed
1963-Leary fired from Harvard, moves to Millbrook
1963-Owsley synthesizes his own LSD in Berkeley. He then starts manufacturing homemade LSD via ‘Bear Research Group’
Merry Pranksters bus (c. 1964) Ken Babbs, Gretchen Fetchin the Slime Queen, Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
November 22, 1963-JFK assassinated in Dallas
1964-Kesey publishes Sometimes a Great Notion
March 1964-sci-fi author Philip K. Dick takes LSD and says the experience transports him to Latin-speaking ancient Rome. He then writes the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch during extended amphetamines binges at his house (3919 Lyon ave, Oakland, CA)
Early 1964-Kesey moves to La Honda (7940 La Honda rd, La Honda, CA) a large house on 3 acres in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest
1964-the Merry Pranksters are named by Babbs at San Gregorio Beach, CA. The Merry Pranksters form (core group of 14 people) = zapping the “squares” out of their conformity to the Establishment by using LSD, a day glo bus, music and laughter
Spring 1964-Prankster Hagen sees classified ad for 1939 International Harvester bus for sale by Andre Hobson in Atherton, CA. Kesey buys it for $1,200 with his ‘One flew over cuckoo nest’ money
June 17, 1964-the famous Furthur bus trip starts from Kesey’s house (La Honda, CA) to “Madhattan”; “Kesey wanted to see what would happen when hallucinogenic-inspired spontaneity confronted what he saw as the banality and conformity of American society”
June 29, 1964-Pranksters arrive in NYC. While in NYC, Neal Cassady introduces the Pranksters to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Chloe Scott’s apartment (Madison Ave and 90th St)
August 1964-the Furthur bus returns to La Honda
1964-San Francisco area-Pranksters help give birth to the counterculture
Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady on the Merry Pranksters bus
1964-HST first reports on the Hell’s Angels
August 2nd, 1964-Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam
October 1964-the Hip Pocket Bookstore opens (1500 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz) Run by Ron Bevirt (aka: Prankster Hagen) and Peter Demma. Neal Cassady is the stores first sales clerk.
February 21, 1965-Owsley’s home/LSD lab (1647 Virginia st, Berkley, CA) raided by police
March 30, 1965-Owsley creates first big batch of LSD
April 12, 1965-Tim Scully first takes LSD. Shortly afterwards, Owsley hires him as a roadie for The Warlocks (whom in a few months become The Grateful Dead). After that, he becomes Owsley’s lab assistant in Point Richmond.
1965-Roy Sebern, Prankster affiliate and artist, invents the liquid light show
April 23, 1965-Kesey’s La Honda estate raided by Agent Wong (Willie Wong, SF Chinese narc) but the Pranksters had a few days heads-up and ended up pranking the cops. Kesey and 13 other Pranksters arrested
May 1965-HST first article on Hell’s Angels appears in The Nation magazine
1965-Wes Wilson creates the world’s first psychedelic concert poster (San Francisco)
Hip Pocket Bookstore (1500 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA) opened 1964
1965-Lafayette Hills, CA-While working for Dow Chemical in Berkeley, legendary chemist Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin synthesizes MDMA at his recently built home laboratory.
1965-Vietnam big surge US troops 500,00 (Marines to north, Army to south)
July 1965-Dow Chemical Company (Midland, MI), the makers of saran wrap, score a $5 million dollar Department of Defense contract to become the US military’s only supplier of Napalm. Until 1969, they manufacture Napalm-B, a jellied mix of gasoline, benzene, polystyrene.
Aug 7, 1965-La Honda party w/ HST and some 40 Hells Angels; “amusingly incongruous cast of characters, a microcosm of an unsustainable social movement”; also present were Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsburg; 100 people total, all on LSD, HST’s first LSD experience; Lord Byron Styrofoam (aka Sandy Lehmann-Haupt) the KLSD radio station DJ, “800 micrograms in your head”
August 13th, 1965-Jefferson Airplane debut at The Matrix (3138 Fillmore st, SanFran)
August 24th, 1965-The Beatles first take LSD together @ Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house (2850 Benedict Canyon rd, Beverly Hills, CA) with Peter Fonda, David Crosby, and others
September 02, 1965-The Beatles concert @ SanFran Cow Palace (bad vibes, Pranksters leave early, return to La Honda to see 400 people there and Owsley, the world’s greatest acid chemist)
September 5th, 1965-the word “hippie” first appears in print in the San Francisco Examiner
October 15, 1965-Kesey and the Pranksters @ the Vietnam Day Committee protest @ University of Berkeley, Sproul Hall Plaza, some 15,000 people. Paul Krassner’s first encounter with the Pranksters
October 31, 1965-Babbs says that an informal Acid Test party, a precursor to the official Acid Tests, takes place during a Halloween costume party at his house “The Spread” (Soquel dr and Dover, Soquel, CA) on 400 acres
Merry Pranksters Acid Test LP
November 21, 1965-Lysergic A Go Go @ AIAA Aviation Academy Auditorium (7660 Beverly blvd, LA) event put on by Hugh Romney (aka: Wavy Gravy) and Del Close for 500 people
November 27, 1965-Soquel, CA-Babbs house ‘The Spread’ first Acid Test; advertised at the Hip Pocket Bookstore; Pranksters home movies, Cassady, Ginsberg
2nd test = December 4, 1965-San Jose Acid Test @ Big Nig’s house= The Warlocks first performance as the Grateful Dead; took place right after the Rolling Stones played San Jose Civic Auditorium
December 10th, 1965-Bill Graham takes over The Fillmore (1805 Geary blvd)
3rd test = December 11, 1965 = Muir Beach, CA feat. Grateful Dead, strobe lights; 300 people; Hell’s Angels, Owsley has LSD freakout, claims he goes into “parallel time dimension” with Count Cagliostro
December 18, 1965-acid test @ the Big Beat (998 San Antonio rd, Palo Alto)
January 1966-October 1967-Ron and Jay Thelin run the Psychedelic Shop (1535 Haight, SF)
January 8th, 1966-Fillmore acid test. Paul Krassner attends.
January 15th, 1966-Portland, OR acid test
January 19, 1966-Kesey arrested again for weed. Busted on Stewart Brand’s rooftop (Vallejo Street @ Grant St, North Beach, SanFran). Kesey along with Mountain Girl busted for only 3.54 grams of marijuana.
Merry Prankster Stewart Brand
January 21-23, 1966-Pranskters put on the Trips Festival, a 3-day long Acid Test @ Longshoreman’s Hall SanFran (considered the first true hippie festival/official gathering?) Babbs does the sound system and builds scaffold control tower; 10,000 attendees drinking LSD punch; Stewart Brand, Bill Graham
January 23, 1966-Kesey moves into Babbs house, The Spread, in Santa Cruz where he plans to, rather than do 5 years in prison, fake his death and become an outlaw in Mexico. Mountain Girl, Lee Quarnstrom, Ron Bevirt, Space Daisy, also move in.
January 31, 1966-Kesey’s abandoned vehicle is found in Orick, California. Inside is an 18-page long suicide note reading “O Ocean, ocean, ocean, I’ll beat you in the end”
February 04, 1966-Kesey becomes an outlaw in Mexico
February 1966-Ken Babbs becomes unofficial leader of the Pranksters. The Pranksters acquire the Sans Souci (saan soo see) old mansion in Stinson Beach. They have acid test at nearby Sawyer’s Church in Northridge.
Feb 12, 1966-Watts Acid Test (either 13331 S. Alameda or 9027 S. Figueroa, Compton, CA) 200 people; 30 gallon plastic trash can full of “Electric Kool Aid” (coined by Wavy Gravy), Grateful Dead
March 1966-Pranksters take the bus to Mazatlán, Mexico to visit Kesey. They do several small Acid Tests in Mexico. Kesey sneaks back into USA via Brownsville, TX.
1966-Mountain Girl has child with Kesey & also marries and separates from fellow Prankster George Walker. She later marries Jerry Garcia.
1966-Grateful Dead and Mountain Girl move to 710 Ashbury, SanFran
Summer 1966-1969-Lithuanian Leon Tabory takes over ownership of ‘The Barn’ in Scotts Valley from Big Daddy Nord. The Barn was a well-known beatnik, Prankster, hippie community gathering place located off Highway 17, just north of Santa Cruz. The Barn address (Granite Creek road and Santa Village Dr, Scotts Valley, CA).
July 24, 1966-Pranksters Lee Quarnstrom and Space Daisy (aka: Judith Ann Washburne) are married at The Fillmore. The best man is Julius Karpen.
September 1966-The Oracle newspaper begins
Merry Pranksters Trips Festival 1966 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
October 1966-Prankster affiliate Julius Karpen becomes the manager of rock band Big Brother & the Holding Company for one year.
October 6, 1966-LSD becomes illegal in the state of California (note the overtones of 666)
October 20, 1966-Kesey arrested on freeway in San Francisco
October 31, 1966-final Acid Test graduation @ Winterland Ballroom (SanFran) strange end to the Pranksters acid tests. The group gradually go their separate ways afterwards, periodically hanging out.
January 14, 1967-The Human Be-In @ Polo Fields (Golden Gate Park, SanFran) 30,000 people
Jan-Feb 1967-Tom Wolfe’s first articles on Pranksters run in New York Magazine
1967-Ken Babbs moves to Oregon
1967-Owsley living and making LSD at 2321 Valley st, Berkeley, CA
1967-Hugh Romney (aka: Wavy Gravy) starts the Hog Farm (West Conover St, Sunland-Tujunga, CA). This is a 33 acre commune in the hills above Los Angeles. To find it on a map, use the address 9401 Tujunga Valley st, Shadow Hills, CA. In 1969, the Hog Farm moves to Llano, New Mexico.
Feb 1967-HST book Hell’s Angels published
March 1967-Prankster Denise Kaufman (aka: Mary Microgram) joins all-female rock band The Ace of Cups. She does vocals, guitar, harmonica.
Merry Pranksters Acid Test Graduation (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
March 16, 1967-Houston acid test @ Rice University. Teacher and novelist Larry McMurty was a Stanford Univ pal of Kesey’s.
May 26, 1967-The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper album
June 16-18, 1967-Monterey Pop Fest in Monterey, CA (feat. Hendrix, the Who, Shankar, Joplin, etc)
June 23, 1967-Kesey goes to work farm for 5 months for marijuana charge. This is the San Mateo County sheriff’s Honor Camp (7546 Alpine rd, La Honda, CA). 11 acres. Former Boy Scout camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Pescadero Creek. It is hilariously located only 1 mile SE of Kesey’s house.
Summer 1967-San Fran-Summer of Love-“flower children followed by the sharks; Bay Area wasn’t kind of place we wanted to be around anymore”
1967-Lenny Bruce protégé & quasi-Prankster affiliate Paul Krassner founds the Yippies (Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman)
1967-Tim Leary moves to Laguna Beach to live with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (250 Woodland Dr)
1967-Quasi-Prankster affiliate Norman Hartweg car accident in Las Vegas, leaves him a wheelchair-bound paraplegic. He spends 1yr in hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then stays in Ann Arbor until moving back to LA in 1977. Norman’s father, Dr Norman E. Hartweg, was curator of reptiles at the University of Michigan, he was an international expert on reptiles.
October 21, 1967-Washington, DC-a group led by Abbie Hoffman attempt an exorcism of The Pentagon. They sing and chant, trying to get it to levitate so they can perform an aural exorcism
November 1967-Rolling Stone magazine begins
Merry Prankster The Hermit (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
November 1967-Kesey gets out of work farm after 5mnths and moves to Kesey Farm (64acres) in Pleasant Hill, Oregon
November 27, 1967-The Beatles release Magical Mystery Tour album
December 1967-William Leonard Pickard moves from Cambridge, MA to Berkeley, CA and gets a job at UC Berkeley inside Latimer Hall at the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology
December 1967-Owsley’s LSD lab raided in Orinda, CA; Owsley arrested; the Brotherhood of Eternal Love takes up the mantle of LSD production
Feb 1968-Neal Cassady dies mysteriously some 2,000 miles south of La Honda, CA in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
1968-Sausalito, CA-William Mellon (aka: Billy) Hitchcock introduces the Brotherhood of Eternal Love to chemists Nick Sand and Tim Scully
August 1968-Tom Wolfe publishes book ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ detailing the fascinating exploits of The Merry Pranksters
September 1st, 1968-Stewart Brand (Prankster) publishes the first Whole Earth Catalog
Late 1968-the hippie scene starts getting ugly as the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood turns seedy and violent after an influx of street predators move into the neighborhood
October 24, 1968-Congress passed Staggers-Dodd Bill, effectively criminalizing the recreational use of LSD-25. LSD is made illegal in USA
Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (1968) Tom Wolfe first edition softcover
November 05, 1968-Nixon elected President
December 9th, 1968-the Mother of All Demos introduces email, hypertext, and the computer mouse via Prankster Stewart Brand and computer scientist Douglas Englebart at San Fran’s Brooks Hall, Civic Center Plaza. Stewart was at SRI HQ in Menlo Park working one of the computers
March 1969-LSD chemists Tim Scully and Nick Sand make the famous Orange Sunshine acid at their farmhouse (Mitchell Lane west of Baldocchi Way, Windsor, CA). They make 3 pounds (4.5 million hits) of Orange Sunshine LSD
July 20, 1969-NASA on the Moon
August 9-10, 1969-Charles Manson’s cult the Family kills 5 people
August 15-18, 1969-Pranksters attend Woodstock, along w/ an estimated 400,000 people
September 1969-The Beatles breakup
October 21, 1969-Kerouac dies
December 6, 1969-Altamont Free Concert (Grateful Dead hire Hell’s Angels as security, one of whom stabs a man to death)
1970-LSD declared Schedule One controlled substance in USA
Charles Manson and Sharon Tate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
1971-Prankster Mountain Girl (Carolyn Garcia) and Jerry Garcia move into the Sans Souci mansion (18 Avenida Farralone, Stinson Beach, CA)
1971-Mark McCloud’s house (3466 20th st, SanFran) becomes an LSD museum called the Blotter Barn. He has over 30,000 blotter works of art here.
Nov 1971-HST publishes Fear & Loathing
1973-Nixon creates the DEA
November 1973-Billy Hitchcock rats out the Brotherhood of Eternal Love
1974-81-Babbs involved with Spit in the Ocean publication
1975-Vietnam War ends
1975-One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest movie released starring Jack Nicholson
Jerry Garcia (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
1978-Mountain Girl finally officially divorces George Walker
1982-Owsley moves to Australia
1983-Babbs editor of The Bugle (Eugene, OR zine)
1984-Kesey’s son Jed dies in car accident
1985-Prankster Stewart Brand & Dr. Larry Brilliant co-found The Well. Larry, a native Detroiter, is the guy who delivered a Native American baby on Alcatraz Island in 1969 during the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz. And then in 1975 he led the UN effort that successfully eradicated smallpox in India (eradicated globally by 1980).
1994-Norman Hartweg dies
1994-Kesey and Babbs co-author The Last Go Round
1995-Jerry Garcia dies
1997-Kesey sells his La Honda house
1999-Babbs plays Frankenstein in Twisted, a play he co-wrote w/ Kesey
2001-Kesey passes away
Merry Pranksters Roy Sebern liquid light show
2001-Jim Irsay (owner of Indy Colts fb team) buys original Kerouac scroll for $2.45mil
2001-Sandy Lehmann-Haupt dies
2003-work camp where Kesey served time is permanently closed
2003-Paul Foster dies
2005-Ken’s son Zane Kesey pulls the original Furthur bus out of the swamp at Kesey’s Oregon farm
2008-Dr. Albert Hoffman dies at the ripe ole age of 102
2010-George Walker published a chapbook
2011-Babbs book ‘Who shot the water buffalo’ published (thanks to Sterling Lord)
2012-Ken Babbs brother and noted fly fisherman John Babbs (his Prankster name is ‘Sometimes Missing’) passes away
Dec 2018-Al Hinkle (92; San Jose) dies; he was with Kerouac and Cassady in the On the Road story in the 1949 Hudson Commodore; Al was a brakeman and conductor with Southern Pacific Railroad for 40yrs
Dec 2018-Babbs publishes chapbook ‘We Were Arrested’ (talks about 14 Pranksters busted for pot at Kesey’s house; and the first acid tests)
July 2019-Paul Krassner dies
October 2019-Chloe Scott passes away. She was a Perry Lane neighbor of Ken Kesey’s. The Merry Pranksters stayed a night at her cousin’s apartment in New York in 1964 where they met Jack Kerouac.
February 2021-Lawrence Ferlinghetti passes away at 101 years old
Ken Babbs business card (courtesy of Ken Babbs)
Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)
Merry Prankster George Walker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Prankster Neal Cassady circa 1964 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Haight Ashbury poster (courtesy of Google Archives)
The Warlocks (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Pigpen of the Grateful Dead (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Pranksters Ken Kesey, Lee Quarnstrom, Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Pranksters Watts Acid test (courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)
Turn on tune in drop out Leary (Courtesy of Google Archives)
Mountain Girl’s Merry Prankster Acid Test diploma (courtesy of Google Archives)
October 1966, Ken Kesey outside the Warehouse, Harriet Street, South of Market, San Francisco, California (photo by Ted Streshinsky)
Ken Kesey and Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
The Grateful Dead in San Francisco (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Pranksters first official Acid Test November 27, 1965 (courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ace of Cups business card (courtesy of Google Archives)
The Beatles (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Neal Cassady mugshot (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Timothy Leary poster by Brotherhood of Eternal Love (courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Keseydelics (courtesy of Google Archives)
LSD chemist Owsley & Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia
Grateful Dead concert poster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Barry Goldwater (“A vote for Barry is a vote for fun!” (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Gretchen Fetchin at La Honda circa 1965 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey’s La Honda estate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Haight Ashbury circa 1967 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Hunter S. Thompson (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey mugshot (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey graffiti mural (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
downtown San Francisco circa 1960’s (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Prankster Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Prankster Paul Foster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Neal Cassady sorta kinda resembling Dennis Hopper (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Pranksters at Millbrook. Ken Babbs is the shirtless weirdo (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Timothy Leary’s Millbrook estate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
The Realist (courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Prankster George Walker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Pranksters poster (courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Prankster Zonker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Merry Pranksters Trips Festival
Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Hunter S. Thompson the edge (courtesy of Google Archives)
LSD chemist Tim Scully (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript of ‘On the Road’ (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Owsley Stanley (courtesy of Google Archives)
The Doors psychedelic poster (courtesy of Google Archives)
Timothy Leary (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
LSD cologne (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Thelin Psychedelic Shop (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Albert Hofmann blotter acid LSD
Roy Sebern, Merry Prankster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
Trips Festival advertisement (courtesy of Google Archives)
Ken Kesey circa 1957 (photo from The Eugene Guard newspaper in Eugene, OR)
Timothy Leary trippy gif (courtesy of Google Archives)
The Diggers funeral notice for the death of the hippie (October 1967, San Francisco) image courtesy of Google Archives
Hells Angels annual party (c. 1971)
Grateful Dead-trip or freak (c. 1967)
The Barn (Scotts Valley, CA) c. 1966-69
Spit in the Ocean literary journal by Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of PBA Gallery)
Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
The Grateful Dead Book (1973) Hank Harrison (image courtesy of Abebooks)
Filled with hidden gems galore and deeply laced with history, Detroit is like some kind of unexplored video game realm awaiting a protagonist whom, swept up in the spirit of adventure, eagerly unearths its treasures to win the game.
One such beautiful example of Detroit’s fascinating history lies in the oft overlooked neighborhood of Delray in the Southwest part of the city, near the cavernous underground salt mines.
Between spooky Zug Island and the old Boblo Docks, stretched out along the Detroit River in an area soon to be populated by the nearly 2-mile long Gordie Howe International Bridge, is historic Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne aerial photo c. 1980 (photo courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)
This beautiful national treasure is also located down the street from Flor-Dri (5450 W. Jefferson), which was once the original site of Michigan’s first printing press in 1809, thanks to Gabriel Richard.
Fort Wayne is an old military fort comprised of around 40 buildings and sits on 96 acres.
Exploring the HFWC’s Two Military Research Libraries
Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)
I’m exploring the libraries at Fort Wayne with Will Eichler and Tom Berlucchi.
Will and Tom are the two fearless leaders of the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, a non-profit group of around 20 volunteers who run weekend operations at the fort and whom have been fixing up the fort and fighting to save it from neglect and decay, since Tom founded the coalition in 2001.
Will and Tom are historians and historical preservationists. They are Civil War reenactors and passionate about Living History and honoring the richness of Detroit’s military history, which is why they’re created and curated two outstanding (and growing) military-themed libraries here at the fort.
“The two military reference libraries here are not lending libraries, they’re private appointment-only and designed for research. We’re currently accepting donations of military books and we’re hoping to open the libraries up to the general public sometime in the next five years.”
“I would say our largest concentration of books is Civil War material. Our next largest segment is World War II. Beyond that, we have military-related books, maps and ephemera from all over the world and all different time periods.”
“These libraries help deepen and expand our appreciation of the tremendous amount of history here at Fort Wayne.”
“In 1812, the British landed at Fort Wayne on the spot where kids play soccer nowadays.”
“1838 was the Patriot War. Some Detroiters sailed from here into Amherstburg, Ontario on a schooner and shelled Fort Malden and they also took the barracks in Windsor. At the time, there was a revolution going on within Canada. Officially, the USA stayed neutral, except for some private individuals who got involved. Some were executed, some were sent to the Hudson Bay Barges.”
“Then in 1840, there was an initiative by the government to build a series of Northern Frontier forts and the property of Fort Wayne was acquired at that time.”
Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“Fort Wayne was designed by Lt. Meigs and construction began in 1843. It was finally completed in 1852. The fort was actually dormant until the Civil War erupted, then it reopened. In the interim, an old Irish couple were the caretakers.”
“We’ve been trying to fix up the fort and bring it alive with military reenactments in ways that are as historically accurate as possible. It’s difficult to generate revenue for preservation. The Fort Adams Trust in Rhode Island might be a good model to follow in terms of making Fort Wayne sustainable long-term.”
“What I love is that everybody has a different reason for wanting to visit Fort Wayne. Part of the joy of interpreting this place is finding out for yourself the best way you personally connect with history.”
“In terms of maintenance, we’re looking to establish a professional service agreement with the City of Detroit. This would provide much needed funds for our ongoing restoration efforts.”
“And for the record, Fort Wayne is not a star-shaped fort.”
“It’s a four-bastioned square fort with an external fortification, which is the 5th part, thus, it’s technically not a true star-shaped fort.”
Who are Will and Tom?
Will Eichler & Tom Berlucchi @ Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)
“Being apart of the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition is my passion.”
“My interest in Living History started when I was 15. I read a book called ‘Rifles for Watie’, a fantastic kid’s book about the Civil War. I read it and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
“I attended the James Madison College of International Affairs at Michigan State University, where I studied political theory. I have a 1,000-volume personal library at home, mainly Civil War and political books.”
Tom Berlucchi @ Fort Wayne Research Library (photo by Ryan M. Place)
“My first exposure to Fort Wayne was back in 1974 when I started doing Civil War reenactments here with the Loomis Battery.”
“In 2001, I founded the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, a non-profit of which I’m chairman. In 2003, we were granted our 501(c)(3) status on Christmas Eve.”
“Prior to that I served in the U.S. Navy from 1979-83.”
“I’m most interested in documenting the history of the Red Scare in Detroit during the 1920’s-30’s. We held 300 Communist prisoners right here at Fort Wayne from 1920-21. It’s a largely unknown history lesson.”
Why is Fort Wayne Historically Important?
Fort Wayne historic aerial (photo courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)
The land that Fort Wayne sits on used to be known as the Springwells Mounds, a series of old Native American burial mounds dating to at least 1,000 AD. Only one mound still exists at Fort Wayne.
During the 1700’s, the area was a Potawatomi Indian village until around 1780, when they moved away. At the time, the area was prized for being a large sand hill and thus, a good vantage point.
In 1781, Irish fur trader, John Askin, moved to what is now Fort Wayne. He traded furs here until he became Justice of the Peace in Detroit from 1789-1802. Then he moved to Canada.
Shortly after the War of 1812 started, the British entered the US via Sandwich, Canada and landed where Fort Wayne is now and stayed here for over one year.
In 1815, the Treaty of Spring Wells, a 6-foot long parchment roll, was signed here by eight Indian tribes and future president Gen. William Henry Harrison, formally establishing peace between the native tribes and the new occupiers of the Michigan Territory.
old Fort Wayne (courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)
Then in 1841, Congress wanted to build fourteen Northern Frontier Forts as a barrier against potential British attacks. Based on the survey of Lt. Macomb, they selected this spot for Fort Wayne, because it was the closest point on the Detroit River to Canada.
Fort Wayne was constructed over an eight-year period from 1843-51. It was named in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne.
During this time, future president Ulysses S. Grant lived nearby at 253 East Fort Street, Detroit from 1849-51. It is not officially known if Grant spent any time at Fort Wayne but the general consensus is that he most likely did due to his military involvement and close proximity to the fort.
On April 12, 1861, the Civil War exploded when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumpter, South Carolina. Two days later, President Lincoln began mobilizing the Union into action.
Fort Wayne immediately became a training center and infantry garrison for Michigan’s 1st Infantry Regiment, including the Coldwater Cadets, some 780 men, who fought in the First Battle of Bull Run.
Several other regiments, totaling an estimated 14,000 troops, passed through Fort Wayne during the Civil War.
old Fort Wayne schematic (courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)
In 1885, Springwells Township, where Fort Wayne was located, was annexed to the city of Detroit.
During World War I, over 500 African American troops were stationed at Fort Wayne.
In the 1930’s, the Great Depression hit the country hard and hundreds of homeless families lived in the old Civil War-era limestone barracks.
During World War II, the city of Detroit was the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Some 2,000 people moved to Fort Wayne and helped coordinate the supply of military vehicles and tanks to the U.S. military overseas via the Fort Wayne Ordinance Depot.
Fort Wayne was also used as a training and induction center. POW’s from Italy were housed here. Several of them, including Eduardo Barbieri, became permanent residents of Detroit after the war ended.
Fort Wayne (courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)
In 1949, the U.S. Federal Government officially transferred ownership of Fort Wayne to the City of Detroit and the property was run by the City of Detroit Historical Commission.
During the Cold War, Nike Ajax missiles were installed here in 1957 and replaced by Nike Hercules missiles in 1959.
The Fort served as an induction center during the Vietnam War.
In 1967, Fort Wayne was officially deactivated.
From 1967-71, families whose homes were burned down in the Detroit Riots, lived in the old limestone barracks.
Over 200 years after its construction, the fort was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The empty fort fell into decline and decayed for almost four decades before the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition stepped in in 2001. Then in 2006, the City of Detroit Recreation Department assumed ownership.
Unknown Facts about Fort Wayne
Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“Fort Wayne still has the original limestone barracks from 1845 and also the original 1880’s houses on Officer Row.”
“There used to be a cemetery here. Over 150 graves were moved to nearby Woodmere Cemetery (9400 W. Fort St, Detroit) around 1896.”
“Also, not many people know this, but there were three jails, called Guard Houses, on-site here at Fort Wayne. They weren’t here all at once, so it depends on the decade.”
“In 1887, a man named Arthur Stone tried escaping Fort Wayne and Sgt. Clark shot him dead here.”
“A woman named Elsie Woline committed suicide in Building 108, the Commandant’s Building. She was African American in the employ of Captain French and was jilted by a lover. She took her own life by drinking carbolic acid.”
“One of the most incredible things about Fort Wayne is that we’ve had somewhere between 23-27 Medal of Honor recipients tour the fort, including Surgeon Irwin, a U.S. Army surgeon during the Apache Wars, whom had one of the first ever-issued.”
“My personal goal is to obtain copies of all of these medals and display them here with stories.”
“Tom Custer, George’s little brother, was in the 6th Michigan Cavalry and was the only person in the entire Civil War to win two Medals of Honor.”
Annual Civil War Reenactments @ Fort Wayne
Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo courtesy of Historic Fort Wayne Coalition)
“In the library here, we have a framed photo of Texans retreating from Maryland to Virginia after the Battle of Antietam, which was the single bloodiest day in American history.”
“We also have a ton of great Civil War books in the reference library, including a series of pamphlet-size blue books, which talk about small arms used by Michigan troops in the Civil War.”
“Our reenactments are extremely specific recreations. The soldiers even stay in the original barracks and pay in period script, not modern money.”
“What does it for me, what brings history alive, is getting to walk on the same floors, the same stairways that those soldiers did. Thinking of how many thousands of people have passed through here over the years, it’s incredible.”
Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“During our reenactment, Maj. Gen. Israel Richardson, killed during the Battle of Antietam and whose grave is under a big oak tree at Oak Hill Cemetery in Pontiac, Michigan, his original jacket was here in the museum inside our Visitors Center.”
“The 2nd Michigan Regiment is here and we garrison the fort the way it was in the 1860’s.”
“I’m also hoping to have my documentary about Fort Wayne completed at some point this year. The documentary is produced by my own company, Ravelin Films.”
Civil War Days @ Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“I cried back when we opened the barracks for the very first time and the Union reenactors marched through. It was a touching moment.”
“I also cried when we fired a salute with real canons here in honor of a man named Luiz who drowned in Lake Erie back in 2008. Luiz went to Southwest High School and played soccer here and a ton of his friends and family came out for the memorial.”
“As for the fort, I’m a preservationist but I’m also realistic. It’s not all going to be saved. We still have WWII-era electrical here, no insulation on the power lines. The plumbing needs updating. There’s probably $250 million dollars’ worth of restoration needed. But we’ll continue doing what we can.”
“If you haven’t been to Fort Wayne yet, make plans right now to come visit us. It’s a must-see destination!”
To donate your military books to Fort Wayne, please contact: