Friday, November 23, 2012

The LSD Chronicles: Captain Trips

Once upon a time Recluse used to dabble in fiction. I was okay at it --I managed to get a few short stories published, at any rate. Things changed, however, once I began my journey into conspiracy culture and all its wonders. Since then I've had little to no desire to write fiction. In point of fact, I consume little to no fiction anymore --I haven't read any novels in several years, watch virtually no TV and only watch movies (on DVD) sparingly. I used to be an uber movie geek for much of my teens and 20s but those days are long gone. The figures and plots I encounter frequently are far more incredible than virtually anything I or any number of artist could conceive of in numerous mediums. Even more amazing, most of these figures and plots are actually real to one extent or another.

Consider the figure of Albert 'Captain Trips' Hubbard, an individual who wore many hats throughout his storied career: free energy inventor, bootlegger, spy, uranium entrepreneur, and ultimately LSD guru. As to the latter, he may well have been the first: the Captain was turned on before Timothy Leary, before Ken Kesey, and certainly before the Grateful Dead. Aldous Huxley had dabbled in mescaline but it was the Captain who gave him his first dose of LSD. Any number of other early psychedelic pioneers such as Leary and Humphrey Osmond rubbed shoulders with the Captain as well --It was something of a rite of passage in the early psychedelic movement.
"The blustery, rum-drinking Hubbard is widely credited with being the first person to emphasize LSD's potential as a visionary or transcendental drug. His faith in the LSD revelation was such that he made it his life's mission to turn on as many men and women as possible."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pg. 44)
the Captain (far right) in the paramilitary style uniform he frequently wore

This is quite an extraordinary mission for a hillbilly from Kentucky who boasted that he never owned a pair of shoes until he was 12. But then again, Hubbard had been around the extraordinary his entire life. Like many gurus over the years, Hubbard claimed to have been contacted by angels. A 1991 article by Todd Fahey originally published in High Times remarks:
"Those who knew Al Hubbard would describe him as just a 'barefoot boy from Kentucky,' who never got past third grade. But as a young man, the shoeless hillbilly was purportedly visited by a pair of angels, who told him to build something. He had absolutely no training, 'but he had these visions, and he learned to trust them early on,' says Willis Harman, director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Sausalito, CA.
"In 1919, guided by other-worldly forces, Hubbard invented the Hubbard Energy Transformer, a radioactive battery that could not be explained by the technology of the day. The Seattle Post- Intelligencer reported that Hubbard's invention, hidden in an 11" x 14" box, had powered a ferry- sized vessel around Seattle's Portico Bay nonstop for three days. Fifty percent rights to the patent were eventually bought by the Radium Corporation of Pittsburgh for $75,000, and nothing more was heard of the Hubbard Energy Transformer."
the Captain in the midst of his free energy youth

This was not the only encounter the Captain had with angelic beings, as we shall see a bit later. For now, let us consider a few more episodes from his early life. The Captain apparently tired of being an inventor by his early 20s and began trying his hand at bootlegging in the midst of Prohibition. From the same Fahey/High Time article:
"Hubbard stifled his talents briefly as an engineer in the early 1920s, but an unquenchable streak of mischief burned in the boy inventor. Vancouver magazine's Ben Metcalfe reports that Hubbard soon took a job as a Seattle taxi driver during Prohibition. With a sophisticated ship-to-shore communications system hidden in the trunk of his cab, Hubbard helped rum-runners to successfully ferry booze past the US and Canadian Coast Guards. He was, however, caught by the FBI and went to prison for 18 months."
Upon his release from prison Hubbard drew the attention of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA, allegedly for his talents in electronic communications. The Captain soon found himself running guns to the British prior to the United States' entry into the second World War.
"As a high-level OSS officer, the Captain directed an extremely sensitive covert operation that involved smuggling weapons and war material to Great Britain prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. In pitch darkness he sailed ships without lights up the coast to Vancouver, where they were refitted and used as destroyers by the British navy. He also flew planes to the border, took them apart, towed the pieces into Canada, and sent them to England. These activities began with the quiet approval of President Roosevelt nearly a year and a half before the US officially entered the war. To get around the neutrality snag, Hubbard became a Canadian citizen in a mock procedure. While based in Vancouver (where he later settled), he personally handled several million dollars filtered by the OSS through the American consulate to finance a multitude of covert operations in Europe. All this, of course, was highly illegal, and President Truman later issued a special pardon with kudos to the Captain and his men."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 44-45)
During Hubbard's time in the OSS he would come into contact with a man known as George Hunter White. White is best remembered for his role in Operation Midnight Climax nowadays and is generally depicted as something of a buffoonish figure. And yet many of his former OSS students would play an enormous role in the CIA and the spread of LSD to American public. Just consider some of the names White trained:
"Among White's first OSS students were several novice officers who would later become top CIA officials: Richard Helms, Frank Wisner, Jr., James Jesus Angleton, Lyman B. Kirkpatrick, Jr., Thomas Karmessines, and William Colby. Several other notable students were anthropologists Carlton S. Coon and Gregory Bateson, psychologist Dr. James Hamilton, future Federal Narcotics agent Howard Chappell, and Albert M. Hubbard, an elusive and fascinating figure who arrived at OSS's Area B fresh from a stint in prison."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli Jr., pg. 399)
the notorious George Hunter White, a key player in the CIA's LSD ventures

Helms and Colby would eventually become directors of the CIA while Kirkpatrick, Wisner and Angleton (of whom Matt Damon's character in the film The Good Shepherd is based upon) would head extremely powerful departments within the Agency. And they were all taught, along with Hubbard, by George Hunter White, who reportedly despised the Captain. But more on that later.

Helms (top left), Colby (top right), Wisner (bottom left), and Angleton (bottom right) 

After the war the Captain seemingly had it made. He had used the connections and cash he made during the war years to found Marine Manufacturing, a Vancouver charter-boat concern, and soon realized his life-long dream of becoming a millionaire. By 1950 he was the scientific director for the Uranium Corporation of Vancouver and owned his own fleet of aircraft, a 100-foot yacht and Daymen Island, a former Indian colony surrounded by a wall of oyster shells off the coast of Vancouver. There was just one problem: the Captain was miserable. Fortunately, it was at this point in his life when he had yet another angelic encounter. Of it, Todd Fahey notes:
"Al was desperately searching for meaning in his life,' says Willis Harman. Seeking enlightenment, Hubbard returned to an area near Spokane, WA, where he'd spent summers during his youth. He hiked into the woods and an angel purportedly appeared to him in a clearing. 'She told Al that something tremendously important to the future of mankind would be coming soon, and that he could play a role in it if he wanted to,' says Harman. 'But he hadn't the faintest clue what he was supposed to be looking for.'"
The Captain soon decided that this thing he was looking for was LSD, naturally. He first became aware of it in 1951 when he happened upon an article describing the substance's effects on laboratory rats. The Captain tracked down the scientist who had conducted the experiments and procured some LSD from him. Needless to say, the Captain's life was forever changed upon his first trip.

Soon thereafter he made it his life's mission to spread the LSD evangelical. The Captain's contacts in business and military circles ensured that he had access to the leading intellectuals of his day. He made contact with the psychiatrists Dr. Humphrey Osmond and Dr. Oscar Janiger and the author and philosopher Aldous Huxley, whose Heaven and Hell the Captain heavily influenced, among others. The Captain soon developed elaborate methods for guiding acid trips that employed religious symbols and other visuals aids. Fahey states:
"Whereas many LSD practitioners were content to strap their patients onto a 3' x 6' cot and have them attempt to perform a battery of mathematical formulae with a head full of LSD, Hubbard believed in a comfortable couch and throw pillows. He also employed icons and symbols to send the experience into a variety of different directions: someone uptight may be asked to look at a photo of a glacier, which would soon melt into blissful relaxation; a person seeking the spiritual would be directed to a picture of Jesus, and enter into a one-on-one relationship with the Savior."

Soon the Captain was traveling around the globe in his own private plane preaching the psychedelic gospel. What's more, he had the connections to make people with real mojo take him seriously.
"Hubbard's influence on the above-ground research scene went far beyond the numerous innovations he introduced: high-dose therapy, group sessions, enhancing the drug effect with strobe lights, and ESP experiments while under the influence of LSD. His impressive standing among business and political leaders in the United States and Canada enabled him to command large supplies of the hallucinogen, which he distributed freely to friends and researchers at considerable personal expense. 'Cost me a couple of hundred thousand dollars,' he boasted. 'I had six thousand bottles of it to begin with.' When Dr. Ross MacLean, the medical director at Hollywood Hospital in Vancouver, suggested that they form a partnership and set a price for administering LSD, Hubbard would hear nothing of it. For the Captain had 'a mission,' as he put it, and making money never entered the picture.

"Hubbard promoted his cause with indefatigable zeal, crisscrossing North America and Europe, giving LSD to anyone who would stand still. 'People heard about it, and they wanted to try it,' he explained. During the 1950s and early 1960s he turned on thousands of people from all wakes of life --policemen, statesmen, captains of industry, church figures, scientists...
"Like a molecule at full boil, the Captain moved at high speeds in all directions. He traveled around the world in his own plane... buying up LSD and stashing it, swapping different drugs, and building an underground supply. 'I scattered it as I went along,' he recalled. With his leather pouch full of 'wampum' he rode the circuit, and those on the receiving end were always grateful. 'We waited for him like the little old lady on the prairie waiting for a copy of the Sears Roebuck catalogue,' said Dr. Oscar Janiger, a Los Angeles psychiatrist."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 50-51)

Dr. Oscar Janiger (top) and Dr. Humphrey Osmond (bottom), two of the Captain's early converts

By all accounts, the stockpile of LSD Hubbard accumulated was enormous. Sidney Gottlieb, who directed most of the CIA's LSD experiments under Project MK-ULTRA, was shocked by accounts of Hubbard's LSD supply given to him by George Hunter White:
"Gottlieb later recounted, "White and I discussed Hubbard at length... I wasn't familiar with Hubbard at the time, but White seemed to know a fair amount about him.' White explained to Gottlieb that, according to Federal Narcotics Bureau files, Hubbard had a tremendous supply of LSD, which he had purchased directly from Sandoz in Switzerland. Charles Siragusa, FBN Rome office head, had informed White that Hubbard had enough LSD to produce in excess of 'over one-thousand LSD experiences.' Gottlieb would later say that he had 'serious doubts' upon first hearing this, but that after checking with Agency officials he learned that, if anything, Hubbard 'most likely had more LSD than the amount described by White.'"
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli Jr., pg. 239)
Hubbard apparently dosed more than a few VIPs with his epic supply.
"...Hubbard came up with the idea that LSD could be used to transform the belief systems of world leaders and thereby further the cause of world peace. Although few are willing to disclose the details of these sessions, a close associate of Hubbard's insisted that they 'affected the thinking of the political leadership of North America.' Those said to have participated in the LSD sessions included a prime minister, assistants to heads of state, UN representatives, and members of the British parliament...

"Dr. Janiger was part of a small circle of scientists and literary figures in the Los Angeles area who began to use psychedelics at social gatherings in the mid-1950s. In addition to Huxley and Gerald Head, those who participated in these drug-inspired intellectual discussions included philosopher Alan Watts, deep-sea diver Perry Bivens, and researchers Sidney Cohen, Keith Ditman, and Arthur Chandler. This informal group was the first to use LSD socially rather than clinically. Captain Al Hubbard, the wandering shaman who visited southern California on a regular basis, supplied the group with various chemicals."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 50-52)

Aldous Huxley (top) and Alan Watts (bottom), two other Captain associates

Hubbard's dream began to turn sour when the hippie counterculture began to emerge. By all accounts Hubbard loathed the flower children and became increasingly disturbed over Timothy Leary's antics. At one point, the Captain apparently became bent upon shooting Leary while tripping on acid but was talked out of it. The Captain has been described as an arch-conservative and thus found himself decidedly out of place amongst the New Left politics that dominated the acid culture. Undoubtedly the Captain felt little surprise when Leary and the counterculture spurred enough outrage for Congress to take action against his beloved LSD. Still, the Captain did not give in without a fight. Todd Fahey remarked:
"In March of 1966, the cold winds of Congress blew out all hope for Al Hubbard's enlightened Mother Earth. Facing a storm of protest brought on by Leary's reckless antics and the 'LSD-related suicide' of Diane Linkletter, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Drug Abuse Control Amendment, which declared lysergic acid diethylamide a Schedule I substance; simple possession was deemed a felony, punishable by 15 years in prison. According to Humphry Osmond, Hubbard lobbied Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who reportedly took the cause of LSD into the Senate chambers, and emerged un-victorious...
"Hubbard begged Abram Hoffer to let him hide his supply in Hoffer's Canadian Psychiatric Facility. But the doctor refused, and it is believed that Hubbard buried most of his LSD in a sacred parcel in Death Valley, California, claiming that it had been used, rather than risk prosecution. When the panic subsided, only five government-approved scientists were allowed to continue LSD research--none using humans, and none of them associated with Al Hubbard. In 1968, his finances in ruins, Hubbard was forced to sell his private island sanctuary for what one close friend termed 'a pittance.' He filled a number of boats with the antiquated electronics used in his eccentric nuclear experiments, and left Daymen Island for California. Hubbard's efforts in his last decade were effectively wasted, according to most of his friends. Lack of both finances and government permit to resume research crippled all remaining projects he may have had in the hopper."

Thus, the Captain quietly disappeared from the ebb and flow of history. And yet his legacy lives on, as enigmatic now as it was in the 1950s when he first made the scene. Probably the biggest question remaining for researchers is whether or not the Captain was in the employment of the CIA or another branch of the US intelligence community. Martin A. Lee and coauthor Bruce Shalin strongly indicate that Captain was in fact an asset in their classic study Acid Dreams: A Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond:
"The Captain also engaged in undercover work for a number of other government agencies, including the Federal Narcotics Bureau and the Food and Drug Administration (at a time when both organizations were assisting the CIA's drug testing programs.) During the mid-1960s he was employed by Teledyne, a major defense subcontractor, as 'director of human factors research.' In this capacity Hubbard served as adviser and consultant to a combined navy and NASA project that involved testing the effects of psychochemical agents on newly designed 'helicopter avionics system.' Teledyne worked closely with various government organizations, including the CIA, to apply these techniques to additional areas of military interest.

"While Hubbard was not a CIA operative per se, his particular area of expertise --hallucinogenic drugs --brought him into close contact with elements of the espionage community."
(pg. 53)

Lee and Shalin also note, however, that the Captain loathed the CIA.
"During the early 1950s Hubbard was asked to join the CIA, but he refused. 'They lied so much, cheated so much. I don't like 'em,' he snarled. 'They're lousy deceivers, sons of the devils themselves.' The Captain's beef with the Agency stemmed in part from his unsuccessful attempt to secure back pay owed to him from his OSS days. 'They crooked me,' he complained bitterly.

"Hubbard was unkindly disposed toward the CIA for other reasons as well. Most important, he didn't approve of what the Agency was doing with his beloved LSD. 'The CIA work stinks,' he said. 'They were misusing it. I tried to tell them how to use it, but even when they were killing people, you couldn't tell them a goddamned thing.' (Hubbard was certain that Frank Olson was not the only person who died as a result of the CIA's surprise acid tests."
(ibid, pg. 52)
A more recent study of the CIA's involvement in the rise of LSD, A Terrible Mistake by H.P. Albareli Jr., dismisses allegations that the Captain was an intelligence asset after his OSS days.
"Contrary to what has been written by several authors, Hubbard, whom George White despised, was never an employee or consultant for CIA, nor was he ever an informer for the Federal Narcotics Bureau, as some have claimed. Hubbard's extensive FBI file, released recently, reveals no formal or covert links to any federal agency."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albareli Jr., pg. 790)

According to Albareli, White described the Captain as "a real opportunist" and charged that he made a small fortune off of his LSD sessions. This is in stark contrast to the view many others took of the Captain and contrary to numerous accounts of the Captain offering his sessions for free. White, on the flip side of the coin, was involved in any number of CIA dirty tricks, possibly including the murder of Frank Olson, which I wrote more on here.

While many researchers have been inclined to view the Captain in a dubious light I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. If anything the Captain was a subversive working within the power structure to reshape it. I suspect this is why he drew the ire of individuals like George Hunter White, who seem more bent on power than anything else. By all accounts the Captain never seriously considered acid as a tool of mind control --Quite the opposite, in fact. He believed that, when administered properly, it could be used to help people see themselves for who they truly were. Such introspection holds little interests for the CIA and like organizations --If anything, it's a threat. I suspect that this is why the Captain died in obscurity, his fortune long gone, while figures like Leary (whose CIA ties have generated much specualtion in recent years) continued to thrive long after the acid revolution had fizzled out.

Perhaps things may have been different if a man like the Captain had spearheaded the movement rather than a clown like Leary. That such came to pass likely involved the CIA in some capacity.


  1. A beautiful, balanced and well-sourced article.


    Todd Brendan Fahey
    author: _Wisdom's Maw: The Acid Novel_ [Far Gone Books, 1996]

  2. Todd-

    I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I tried to be as fair to the Captain as possible --He was, after all, a highly complex individual.

    You're novel sounds very compelling. I shall have to check it out.


  3. One slight problem: His name was Alfred (not "Albert") Matthew Hubbard. FYI.

  4. Todd-

    Thank you for pointing that out to me! I think I make more careless errors with names than anything else. Urg.

    I shall correct this as soon as time permits.


  5. Fascinating and wonderful article. Articles such as yours keep one aspect of the internet--the beautiful one--alive: sharing factual and sincere information, in the service of the Truth, not with an agenda. It is the same spirit behind lending libraries and represents one of the very best things about the species. Thank you.

  6. I enjoyed your article very much. I had read "Acid Dreams" and "A Terrible Mistake" so it was interesting to read more about this unusual character. One thing puzzled me: how could Mr. Hubbard have joined the OSS before US entry into WWII when the OSS - according to wikipedia - was created in June 1942? On a final note, I believe that making LSD inaccessible and its possession illegal is one of the greater crimes against humanity... well against spirituality, at least.

  7. Well written article. I just discovered this whole story and finished "eternal brotherhood". I agree: Leary was not the best advocate and maybe one of the causes for the legal change. I knew about MKultra but Gottlieb aka Schneider sure was one very sick puppy in the kennel of sick puppies called the CIA.