Some words that come to mind when depicting Palo Alto: Neat, upscale and maybe even, dare I say, relatively uneventful. Some descriptions that are not normally associated with Palo Alto: bohemian, outlandish, and remarkably experimental. Yet sixty years ago those were all words used to describe the area that borders Menlo Park on two sides and the Stanford golf course on the third. Today, only a handful of the original wooden cottages remain in what was once designated by Tom Wolfe, author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as “Stanford’s Bohemian Quarter.” In the fifties and early sixties, these cottages were mostly inhabited by offbeat characters from the creative writing program at Stanford. And the nerve center of all the outlandish activity was Perry Lane, where Ken Kesey, writer, adventurer and all around nonconformist, lived with his wife Faye.
On Perry Lane, parties lasted longer than CS 107 psets, musicians such as future Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh would drop in for jam sessions, and sexual mores were less of a concern than changes in the Marguerite schedule. Other regular visitors included Kesey’s soon to be “Merry Pranksters,” a group of his friends who shared his eccentric lifestyle and who received their title at the commencement of a road trip they took across the US in the summer of 1964 in a painted school bus called Further, organizing parties and distributing LSD.
Stanford may be a renowned research institution today but 60 years ago it was also known for some slightly less regimented experimentation. It was in Palo Alto where Kesey explored the conscious altering effects of LSD. As a volunteer for experiments conducted at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital, he was given psychoactive drugs including LSD, and he came to believe that the substance had great positive potential and could be used as a path to individual freedom. Not wanting to monopolize the potential for self-sovereignty, Kesey “liberated” some LSD from the hospital to share it with friends, sometimes incorporating it into his famous chili. Kesey’s experiences at the hospital also became the inspiration for his most widely read novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
So while Stanford has well noted legacies of excellence and achievement, let’s not forget to pay homage once in a while to its lesser-known, good-natured rabble-rousing days of old.
Contact Michaela Elias at melias23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.