Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dr. Harry H. and his Sacrament

Learning about the orgy certainly peaked my interest in this strange house in Brooklyn and it's inhabitants. Where the hell was Bay Ridge? I had been to Brooklyn perhaps 5 times before- mostly to attend Dodger games with my dad. Bay Ridge, I found out, is a small community situated in South Brooklyn where the Verranzano Bridge crosses to Staten Island (another mysterious place). Isolated as it was at the very end of the subway line, Bay Ridge had yet to hear of integration or other realities of 1975 New York. It gave one the sense of being in a town in Ohio, perhaps. The major "industry" in Bay Ridge seemed to be drinking alcohol, and bars lined the avenues. The voting district Bay Ridge belonged to was the only one in New York to carry Barry Goldwater in his quixotic bid for the presidency. There was also a small significant segment of the teenage population who were mired in the 60's flower child rebellion.(More of them later). Into this atypical (for New York) environment came Dr. H. and his family.

Dr. H. was a psychiatrist on the staff of a large Brooklyn Hospital where he conducted research in sleep therapy. He also saw a small number of private patients in an office situated in his home. Unknown to his colleagues at the hospital or his neighbors in Bay Ridge, the good doctor was also a bishop in Timothy Leary's Neo-American Church. For those readers who are not familiar with his name, Timothy Leary was the Harvard psychologist who along with another psychologist, Richard Alpert was instrumental in popularizing a then experimental drug known by its pharmacological initials, LSD. Their experiments with the drug got them both tossed out of Harvard . Alpert went to India where he met a guru and morphed into Ram Dass--New Age teacher, founder of SEVA and other spiritual/social experiments. (You can read more about him in an earlier posting of mine)

Leary became an exponent of wide spread experimentation with LSD . His Neo-American Church declared LSD a sacrament and the way to enlightenment. ("Tune in, turn on and drop out" ) Dr. Harry apparently, became a willing convert. Along the way, he and Mrs.H. took up wife swapping to compliment their psychedelic experimentation (thus the orgy) and had four kids (presumably with each other). The six of them and Mrs. H's 70- something mother moved to Brooklyn to avoid prosecution in their native Texas where Harry was under indictment for growing marijuana (also a sacrament).

I have to confess here that this idea about marijuana and LSD as "sacraments" was not entirely foreign to my own thinking.

Virginia had met the whole family at the orgy, and had become friendly (not that way) with Mrs. H. It was she who tipped Virginia that the bishop was tiring of New York and longed for a reunion with his Texas flock. And so, an appointment for Virginia and me to meet with the doctor and discuss the possibility of taking over the house was arranged.

We arrived in Bay Ridge on a warm evening in late May of 1975. Coming upon the house from the sidewalk, I was first confronted with a large 8 foot hedge shielding the side and front yards. The driveway led to a 2 door garage built in the same style as the house with a large horse shoe shaped window in a loft telling of its history as a carriage house and stable. Next to it, Big Gray seemed to loom over it's surroundings. Built in 1895, the house had an aura of faded glory, with it's grand porch that wrapped around its front and sides, and its massive gable which rose 3 stories and culminated in a cone shaped roof. One could easily imagine this house as the home of a wealthy doctor or a family of social importance at the turn of the century. Here it sat, out of place among younger and smaller houses, an apartment house behind it. We climbed the front porch and rang the bell. As we waited for Harry's wife to open the door, I looked around and knew I had found my place.

1 comment:

M. Sourdough said...

Enjoying this story very much (not badly written either!)