So your kid’s going to Harvard, and you’re concerned he’ll get into sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
Well, at Harvard’s Houghton Library, there are 50,000 reasons why you should be afraid of exactly that.
Harvard’s Houghton is best known for its collection of elegantly bound books from prior centuries.
A new exhibit takes the Houghton in a completely different direction.
Altered States: Sex, Drugs, and Transcendence in the Ludlow-Santo Domingo Library, offers a fascinating, mind expanding, and occasionally disturbing look at counterculture, focused on… you guessed it.
Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
A little backstory is in order.
Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. was an investment advisor, a super cool guy by all accounts, and someone who actually toured for more than a year with The Rolling Stones.
He also amassed the world’s largest private collection of items related to the development of the 1960s counterculture and the influences from prior decades (or centuries) on how the 60s evolved.
His collection contained more than 100,000 objects—books, magazines, memorabilia, art, cookbooks, rolling papers, record albums, and drug paraphernalia.
He merged his collection with San Francisco’s Fitz Hugh Ludlow Library of psychoactive drug-related literature creating the absolutely perfect acronym, LSD (for Ludlow-Santo Domingo) Library.
What does all this have to do with Harvard, you may ask.
When Santo Domingo died in 2009 his family had to decide where to ensconce his collection.
The collector’s son kept his record albums.
Tens of thousands of pieces of rock-related memorabilia went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
That left more than 50,000 items in search of a home.
Harvard stepped up.
“Other institutions could only take part of the collection,” explains exhibition curator Leslie Morris. “Harvard uniquely was able to accept everything.
“We could find a home for all of the items from the Santo Domingo collection across Harvard’s many libraries and institutions.”
If you visit the Houghton, you may want to leave the little ones home. There’s actually a parental advisory sign at the beginning of the exhibition.
And rightly so.
The visitor will find, among other startling items, a 19th-century photograph of a half nude, world-weary Parisian prostitute.
First editions of works by William Burroughs.
Rolling papers from the Watergate era bearing the names of Nixon’s guard dogs, er, advisors, Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
An exquisite volume of Kubla Khan, Sanuel Taylor Coleridge’s legendary drug-induced poem.
X-rated early 1970s underground comics.
A postcard of a clean cut young man wearing a suit and tie holding up a green beverage and saying, “Gosh Mr. Leary! This Kool-Aid sure tastes swell!”
An unauthorized illustrated edition of a 1970 Presidential Commission report on pornography which landed its publisher in jail (even though it was a government document to begin with, Nixon objected to the graphic illustrations provided to illustrate the text-only report).
And hundreds of other equally eye-opening items.
All this is set to a soundtrack of ten hours of 60s and early 70s music.
“We wanted to celebrate this collector’s extraordinary achievement, as well as to make the point that the Houghton Library is more than centuries-old books,” says curator Morris.
“For our students today, the counterculture of the 1960s is like ancient history. We want to bring that era to life for them and all our visitors.”
Admission is free and the exhibition runs until December 16.
So if you’re anywhere near Cambridge, Massachusetts this Fall, drop in, tune in, and turn on.
And maybe get there before your kids do!