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Timothy Leary's dead, but before that, he lived in Newton

Posted by Caitlin Castello  March 11, 2010 09:14 AM

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Timothy Leary, the man known for popularizing psychedelic drugs use in the 1960's, was once a Newton resident, and his exploits at commune-style homes in the Garden City are retold in a recently published book.

The book “The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America,” journalist Don Lattin describes Newton's annoyances with Leary and his friends as they experiemented with drugs in homes on Homer Street and Kenwood Avenue in Newton Centre.

Leary rented a home on Homer Street and soon there after his friend, Richard Alpert bought a house on Kenwood Avenue, when they wanted a larger house.

The residents of the neighborhood were not pleased with the newest addition to the neighborhood, and complained of the lifestyles of the occupants.

"Leary and Alpert had been kicked out of Harvard. Now their Newton commune's neighbors were on the warpath. This was a single family neighborhood, not the kind of place that welcomed a tribe of troublemakers who played loud music and were coming and going at all hours of the night. Albert had purchased the house himself and moved in during the fall of 1962. It didn't take the good people of Newton to see that something strange was going on inside the house. They filed a complaint with the city that the occupants . . . were living in flagrant violation of the town's zoning ordinance,” the book says.

With the aid of Richard’s father, George Alpert, a prominent lawyer, the eviction notice was appealed.

“He [George Alpert] described the "Family of Man'' living in the home. In this family, the renowned lawyer explained, the five men did the shopping and washed the dishes, while the three women did the cooking and the housework. Money was contributed to a common fund, Albert said, according to the means of the individual. This seemed like a very radical idea at the time – at least to the Boston Herald, which proclaimed "Big "Family" stirs protest: Men do the dishes in Newton "Commune.'' ''

Lattin's book was recently featured on the NPR radio show On Point, with Tom Ashbrook. Leary, who was credited with coining the phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out," died in 1996 at the age of 75.

The house on Kenwood was the breeding ground for the psychedelic movement, writes Lattin.

"The unorthodox scene inside the Kenwood Avenue home, and in the larger cult area that was starting to form about Leary and [ Richard] Alpert, was an early warning sign of the counterculture movement that would soon sweep across the nation,” he writes.

A man who lives in the Kenwood Avenue home said he bought the house from Alpert in 1963. When the newer residents first moved in, they had to change the locks because people would just walk into the house, he said.

Camera crews from the BBC and reporters from the LA Times and random visitors have shown up in the backyard of the Kenwood house from time to time.

“I’ve spent a lot of time getting people not to visit the house,” he said. “It’s been 47 years since those guys lived here.”

One physical object of the time of Leary and Alpert is an old spice rack which sits on the corner of the kitchen counter. But Alpert, “he’ll always be here,” said the resident.

Lattin twice describes Newton as "leafy,'' and says the Homer Street home was a "spacious three story home (that) sits atop a hill overlooking a neighborhood park and baseball diamond. A wealthy French bicycle manufacturer built it in 1893. Three large fireplaces radiate from its central chimney, warming wood paneled rooms on the ground floor.''

"The fireplaces were all ablaze during the psychedelic drug experiments Leary conducted over the long winter nights of late 1960 and early 1961. Today, you can still find burn marks that the absentminded professor left in the hardwood floor -- physical evidence of the fire that burned in Leary's soul for the psychedilic revolution he was about to declare.''

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