the Merry Pranksters

Ken Kesey (1935 ”“ 2001), while a student at Stanford University (in 1959), volunteered to take part in a CIA-financed study named Project MKULTRA at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital on the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, and DMT. Kesey wrote many detailed accounts of his experiences with these drugs, both during the Project MKULTRA study and in the years of private experimentation that followed. His role as a medical guinea pig inspired Kesey to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1962. The success of this book, as well as the sale of his residence at Stanford, allowed him to move to La Honda, California, in the mountains south of San Francisco.

Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters are remembered chiefly for the sociological significance of a lengthy roadtrip they took in 1964, traveling across the United States in a psychedelically painted school bus enigmatically labeled "Furthur."

The trip's original purpose was to celebrate the publication of Kesey's novel "Sometimes a Great Notion" and to visit the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. The Pranksters were enthusiastic users of marijuana, amphetamines, and LSD, and in the process of their journey they are said to have "turned on" many people by introducing them to these drugs. During this voyage they unsuccessfully attempted to meet Dr. Timothy Leary at his Millbrook estate in New York, where they had hoped to hold a summit meeting between the two major leaders of the psychedelic movement. (...)

Following the bus trip, the Pranksters held a series of "Acid Tests", where participants were given "acid", the street name for LSD. The tests were held at various venues in Southern California, and were sometimes advertised with colorful crayoned signs asking "Can you pass the acid test?" The first Acid Test was held in Palo Alto, California in November 1965. (LSD was legal in the United States until October 6, 1966.) The young psychedelic music band The Grateful Dead (known earlier as The Warlocks) supplied the music during these events; in essence, they were the house band for the mobile party. Jerry Garcia said that the Pranksters at the Acid Tests were the best audience the Grateful Dead ever had.

In 1969, Furthur and the Pranksters (minus Kesey) made it to the Woodstock rock festival. The original Prankster bus now rests at Kesey's farm in Oregon. The Smithsonian Institution sought to acquire the bus, which is no longer operable, but Kesey refused. True to form, Kesey attempted, unsuccessfully, to prank the venerable Smithsonian by passing off a phony bus. In 1999 Kesey toured with the Pranksters performing a play he wrote about the millennium called "Twister."

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