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JFK: America’s First Psychedelic President
Nan C. Druid
This originally appeared in High Frontiers Magazine
1962. The leader of the most powerful nation in the world smiled euphorically. The Cuban missile furrows that had been etched deeply into his forehead relaxed and melted into laugh lines that crinkled as he regarded Mary smiling before the fire. She had dropped her mask of sophistication and lay sprawled on her stomach on the rug, with her legs slowly flutter kicking in the air behind her. Her face glowed luminously, complemented by the snapping flames behind her. Jack laughed in delight. What a perfectly peaceful night. He contemplated the serenity quietly. Tears pricked briefly behind his sensitive eyes. The Viet Nam thing was escalating as planned, but the whole world should know the peace he was feeling. He could make that happen.
Several months before this magic night, Mary Pinchot met Lisa Howard for one of their afternoon strolls along the C & O Canal in Georgetown. As they turned down the towpath, Lisa poked Mary kiddingly, “Well, what happened? What couldn’t you tell me over the horn–you with your cloak and dagger paranoia.” Mary laughed. “I met with Dr. Leary. I don’t think he has any idea what we’re really up to…..but he’s willing to turn us on. And what better…..he’ll supply us with what we need. 1
Lisa’s eyes widened and she grabbed Mary’s arm. “Are we really doing this? This is great! I can’t believe it! God what a story! Can you imagine if they found out? The network would shit can me in orbit.”
Mary laughed again and Lisa joined her. But when their eyes met after the emotional release of the laughter they both sobered. Both of them were dead serious.
JFK with Mary Meyer (far right). Antoinette Bradlee is second on the left.
It was the dawn of the 1960’s. The CIA had been testing the potential incapacitating uses of psychedelics as tools of war and espionage, and the Harvard Psychedelic Research Project was discovering the educational, therapeutic and religious benefits of psychedelic drugs.
The failure of MONGOOSE in the Bay of Pigs invasion and assassination attempts on Castro had embarrassed the intelligence operations of the presidency. A special group for counter-insurgency was given the task of rebuilding America’s image by designing a war, basically, in reaction to the Cuban fiasco. 2 Keeping the Cuban situation in mind, eyes turned towards Southeast Asia. President Kennedy announced and carried out the decision of the United States to follow Russia in the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. The military geared up for war. The forces of destruction and creation wre squaring off.
As the CIA began to crack down on the “once useful” Harvard drug wizards, a circle of women came together in the garage apartment behind the house of Ben Bradlee, a Newsweek journalist and friend of President Kennedy. The garage apartment was the art studio and residence of Bradlee’s sister-in-law Mary Pinchot. 3
Eight women were sitting and lying about on comfortable pillows in the living room. It was their fourth psychedelic session. At the first two meetings alternate halves of the group had taken LSD. Acting as each other’s guides they discussed and practiced what Mary had learned from Dr. Leary about the guidance of a psychedelic session. 4 This latest meeting was the second time the whole group tripped together.
They came out of the session weary, but energized. They felt prepared to take up their task.
“Phase two,” said Mary the following day in clipped CIA mimicry.5 Several of the women laughed. The wives and lovers of America’s top leaders were ready to turn their men on. Lisa and Dorothy, another of the women, were the last to leave. At the door, Lisa turned and flashed a victory sign at Mary, before starting down the stairs.
Jack waved away the concerns of the S.S. men at the door. ” I have a right to some privacy, dammit, and I’m good and well going to get it. Now.” 6
As his chauffeur drove him away from the White House, Kennedy leaned back against the seat in relief. His thoughts wandered to the woman he was on his way to visit. Although she would be difficult to live with, as he had remarked more than once to her brother-in-law Ben 7, she was certainly dynamic. He really liked her. She was hot in bed, too. Up there with Marilyn and Judith. 8 And she had a way about her. Persuasive. He still couldn’t believe she’d gotten him to smoke marijuana in the White House! 9 He laughed. Now she persuaded him to try her new “wonder love drug.”
Mary smiled at Jack as he looked at her in wonderment. “You’re feeling pretty high now, aren’t you Jack?” The president nodded. ” A little bit thirsty, too.” He looked at her in expectation and she smiled again. “How about some orange juice?”
“That’s the absolutely perfect thing. That sounds great. Orange juice!”
Mary rose to her feet and padded into the kitchen. Jack watched he body flow upwards and noticed how catlike she moved as she left the room. The kitchen light was too bright. As she switched it on he flinched and shut his eyes. The pain was gone but he kept his eye closed. “Technicolor,” he thought.
Mary was back with the juice. “Here you go, Jack.” He opened his eyes and reached for the glass. “This juice tastes good……”Suddenly oranges became terribly significant. “My God,” he said. “The world’s insane. We’re contemplating madness.”
Mary put her arms around him. “Jack, you can change that. You have the power to manifest a vision of peace.” They met each other’s eyes. Jack felt great wisdom enmanating from within Mary. He smiled. ” You told me this was a great aphrodisiac.” Mary nodded.
Lisa and Mary got together again several weeks later. It was early February, 1963. The weather was clear but cold. They stopped at a sunny bench and sat down.
“How’st it going with Bill?” Mary inquired almost immediately. Lisa grinned.
“Right to the point, aren’t you Mary? Things are going great with the Ambassador. How’s the President?”
Mary leaned back and looked at the sky. ” I think he’s changing. Rapidly. He’s looking at things in a more holistic fashion. More aware of the inter-connectedness of things, you know?”
Lisa nodded. ” Do you think our mad plot for world peace is working?”
Mary laughed. “We’re making a dent at any rate.”
Things looked wonderful for the feminist co-conspirators in early 1963. Quite a group had built up with….”top people in Washington turning on.” 10 The President visited Mary at her studio several times in this period fro further psychedelic sesssions and together they explored ways of making Kennedy’s new dream of peace a reality.
But then, still early in the year, Mary suffered a frightening set-back. Her brother-in-law’s editor, Phil Graham of Newsweek and The Washington Post was suffering from worsening manic-depression and the pain of divorce proceedings. A long time friend of the President, he had in the past…..”committed adultery in the company of John Kennedy…..often sharing women with him.”11 As his mental condition worsened, he and the President became estranged. Finally, enraged and drunken, he mounted a podium at a news convention in Phoenix and announced screaming to a roomful of reporters that….” he was going to tell them exactly who in Washington was sleeping with whom, beginning with President Kennedy.”12 He went on to announce that the President was currently seeing Mary Pinchot at clandestine meetings in her art studio behind Ben Bradlee’s house. 13 What unnerved Mary was that the incident was completely covered up. 14
In a meeting with Dr. Leary she voiced her concern and had a warning for him. “…….You should be careful too. Things are getting edgy in Washington. As we start loosening things up, there’s bound to be a reaction. Keep doing what you’re doing, but try to keep it low key. If you stir up too many waves, they’ll shut you down.” She paused for effect, “or worse.” 15
Dr. Leary did not follow her advice. As the network covered the firing of Harvard doctors Alpert and Leary and publicized their Mexican “Hotel Nirvana” psychedelic school,16 Mary, Lisa, Dorothy and the rest of their group met for a pow-wow at the art studio. Things were going well for them.
“So we’re all saying the same thing,” Mary said. “We’re seeing a definite move towards both a test-ban and detente.” The women nodded in agreement. Lisa spoke up. “You know, there’s a chance I’ll be going to Cuba myself soon. Che Guevera seems willing to meet to discuss the possibilites of acting as an intermediary in negotiating peace terms. I might be able to wangle myself a visa, somehow, and see Castro.”
“That would be great!” Mary grinned slyly. “You know, Lisa, I’ve heard Fidel likes pretty blondes. I wonder how he’d react to a good aphrodisiac?”
The women laughed. ” You know,” said Lisa, ” I think Ambassador Attwood wouldn’t mind if we could negotiate the peace the President has been urging.”
June 10, 1963. Face alight with hope, the President looked out at the sea of intelligent young graduating seniors at the American University in Washington, D. C. Here were the future knights of his Camelot. In a powerful and now famous speech for peace he stated that “…… every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward.”17 “War,” he said “…….makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.” 18 He committed himself to work for a test-ban treaty which would not, he said,”……..be a substitute for disarmament, but……will help us achieve it.” 19 In reference to to the Soviet Union and its allies he stated, “……if we cannot end our differences now, at least we can help the world safe for diversity…….. We all breathe the same air.” 20
The women were elated. As it turns out, elements of the CIA–tied to the undeworld and rabid anti-Castro extremists–were not so pleased. 21 Unaware of the extent of this right wing displeasure, the Pinchot Group continued with their plans.
By mid-1963 these plans began to show definite signs of coming to fruition. Lisa Howard did meet secretly with Che Guevera and they discussed peace terms between the United States and Cuba. 22 Succeeding in “wangling her visa,” she spent about a month in Cuba and met with Castro several times. He was indeed attracted to the lovely blonde woman and consented to a 45 minute taped interview with her which aired on ABC. Also together, they set up “……..the arrangements for Attwood to go to Cuba and conduct preliminary talks prepartatory to a Kennedy-Castro meeting.” 23
September 1963. Things began to go seriously awry. Lisa and Mary met for another talk. Both were near panic.
“We’re in trouble, Lisa.” Mary’s voice shook. “It was a mistake to recruit the latest wife. She finked. I got a telephone call. The proverbial shit’s hitting the fan.”
“Have you talked to John?” Lisa inquired.
“Yes. He’s nervous, too. He cancelled a session.”
“Did you discuss what I should do?”
“John says to keep on– your work with Castro is too important right now to pull back from. I may have to disappear. Lay low for awhile. I don’t know.”
“Where will you go?”
“I was thinking of heading up to talk about that with Timothy. I’m not sure. Things are weird. Have you heard? Dorothy tells me that Aldous Huxley’s dying.”
“Oh, God.” Lisa looked at Mary in despair. ” Where are all our plans now?”
“They just might be blowing up in our faces.”
Late that afternooon, a near hysterical Mary met with Timothy in Millbrook. Informing him of her troubles, she asked if he could hide her for a while if necessary. He agreed. She had another warning for him.”……You must be very careful now, Timothy. Don’t make any waves. No publicity. I’m afraid for you. I’m afraid for all of us.” 24
image by Eric White: originally appeared in Mondo 2000 Users Guide
Oliver Stone and Timothy Leary autographs
November 1963. Lisa Howard was in the process of arranging a conference between Bobby Kennedy and Che Guevera. 25 “…….On November 19th, Presidential aide McGeorge Bundy, who was acting as an intermediary in the secret discussions, told Ambassador Attwood that the President wanted to discuss his plans for a Cuban-American detente in depth with him right after “a brief trip to Dallas.” 26
Three days later the President was dead. On November 23rd, Fidel Castro said that President Kennedy’s assassination was the work of “elements in the U.S. opposed to peace.” 27 His remarks were labeled as propaganda.
December 1st, 1963. Mary called Dr. Leary in almost unintelligible grief. She sobbed into the phone.”They couldn’t control him anymore. He was changing too fast…..They’ve covered everything up. I gotta come see you. I ‘m afraid. Be careful.” 28 Suddenly there was a dial tone. The doctor replaced the phone slowly, regarding it with concern.
The group met secretly one last time. It was agreed that there was no choice but to disband. It was a solemn meeting and not all of the women were ready to accept failure. The two newswomen met each other’s eyes. “This will all come out, you know.” Dorothy announced. Lisa nodded, “I’m not finished yet!”
Almost a year later Mary Pinchot walked the familiar towpath by the canal. It was early afternoon and Mary stopped to watch a bird wing overhead. There was a step not far behind her. She turned. A man regarded her silently. Her eyes widened and then narrowed. “You have no idea what your facing. You can’t change what we’ve started.” He shot her in the chest and fired at her body’s head twice. After her death, her apartment was searched and her diary removed for “disposal” by the CIA chief of counterintelligence, James Angleton. 29 Her murder “officially” has never been solved.
A year later, Lisa Howard died under suspicious circumstances. Her death was attributed to suicide. Supposedly she took one hundred phenobarbitols at mid-day in a parking lot where she was found wandering in a daze. She had been fired because she had “chosen to participate publicly in partisan political activity contrary to long established established ABC news policy.” 30 Suspicions about her death”….. if ever substantiated…..would make her the second female news reporter (after Dorothy Kilgallen) whom assassination critics suspect was silenced because of her knowledge of the assassination. ” 31
Before her death, Lisa turned against Robert Kennedy, who was running for the U.S. Senate in New York. At a group meeting she organized with Gore Vidal in support of the incumbent Senator Keating, Bobby was described as ” the very antithesis of his brother….ruthless, reactionary, and dangerously authoritarian.” Explaining her reasons for forming the group she said, “if you feel strongly about something like this you can’t remain silent. You have to show courage, and stand up and be counted.” After ABC fired her she continued her “partisan political activity” remarking in a debate over Robert Kennedy that “Brothers are not necessarily the same….There was Cain and Abel.”32 An interesting comparison.
In the wake of the Kennedy assassination there have been many more deaths than those of Mary Pinchot, Lisa Howard, and Dorothy Kilgallen. District Attorney Jim Garrison, of New Orleans, who investigated the Kennedy assassination said that “witnesses in this case do have a habit of dying at the most inconvenient times….a London insurance firm has prepared an acturial chart on the likelihood of 20 of the people involved in this case dying within 3 years of the assassination and found the odds 30 trillion to one. 33
There can be little doubt that the Kennedy assassination occurred because the young President’s dream of peace. He had come to believe that his dream was possible and was killed because he took steps to bring it about.
After his murder, things quickly began to change. President Johnson’s foreign policy decisions were diametrically opposed to the plans Kennedy and Mary discussed.
The nation was plunged deeper into cold war paranoia. The war in Southeast Asia worsend, and an idiotic reactionary depression ensued resulting in the Pentagon and Watergate scandals and the current dangerously unhealthy conservatism we must counter today.
“…….step back from the shadows of war
seek out the way to peace.”
–JFK, July 26, 1963
1. Flashbacks p. 154-156 Timothy Leary J. P. Tarcher Inc. Los Angeles 1983
2. Katherine The Great p. 159 Deborah Davis Harcourt Brace Jovanovich NY. and London 1979
3. Ibid. p. 224
4. Flashbacks p. 128-130, 154-156
5. Conversations with Kennedy p. 34 Benjamin C. Bradley W.W. Norton Eco NY. 1975 (Mary would easily mimic CIA tones: her ex-husband was Cord Meyer, CIA official, also seeKatherine The Great p.227-230)
6. JFK: The Man And the Myth p. 502 Victor Lasky The McMillan Co. NY, NY. 1963
7.Conversations with Kennedy p. 54
8. Conspiracy p. 277 Anthony Summers McGraw Hill Book Co. NY 1969 (The affair with Marilyn Monroe was documented in Goddess and elsewhere).
9. S.F. Chronicle 2-23-76 p.1, 16
10. Flashbacks p. 154
11. Katherine The Great p.150
12. Ibid p. 163-164
13. Ibid p. 164
14. Flashbacks p. 162
15. Ibid. p. 164
16. Ibid. p.166
17. June 10 Speech in Kennedy Reader, p. 123 Jay David Bobbs Merill Co. Inc. 1967
18. Ibid. p. 122
19. Ibid. 128
20.I bid. p. 125-126
21. Playboy 10-67 vol. 14 no 10 p. 157
22. The Kennedy Conspiracy p. 255-256
23. Ibid. p. 258
24. Flashbacks p. 194
25. Playboy p. 156
26. Ibid. p. 157
28. Flashbacks p. 194
29. S. F. Chronicle 2-23-76 p. 1, 16
30. The Kennedy Conspiracy p. 259
31. Ibid. p.260
32. Ibid. p. 259
33. Playboy p. 162