By Ed Staskus
I was in my early 20s in 1973 the first time I visited Lake View Cemetery. I was in the back seat of a 1964 Oldsmobile Jetstar 88 convertible. Bill Neubert was driving, and his wife Bonnie was beside him. Everybody called Bonnie Buck, although I called her Bonnie. It was a mid-summer day, warm bright breezy. The top of the car was down. Bill stopped in front of an old headstone. We got out of the car and walked up to it.
The name on the grave was Louis Germain DeForest. The dates were 1838 – 1870.
“He was the first guy buried here,” Bill said.
Captain Louis Deforest was from Cleveland, one of ten children, served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and went home after Johnny Reb gave it up. He married Theresa Luidham before the war, got her pregnant during the war, and again after the war. Back in Cleveland he went into the jewelry business. The sparkle didn’t last long. He died at the age of 31.
Two sites in the graveyard were on the National Register of Historic Places, the second one added that year. I didn’t know much about places with a past. I had enough trouble making sense of the present. Bill filled me in, even though he wasn’t interested in historic places. He was more interested in the flow of history.
Bill and Bonnie were mimes clowns comedians, putting on shows around town, working out of town when they got offers. They were a few years older than me, friends of my roommate Carl Poston. That Saturday morning Carl begged off messing around town, leaving me the odd man out. Bill and Bonnie made me feel at home. Bill didn’t act or look anything like Humphrey Bogart, but he talked just like him. We drove to Little Italy and had pastries and coffee. Back in the car they both dropped acid and asked me if I wanted to try it.
“Sure,” I said.
They didn’t call it LSD. They called it Uncle Sid. It was the first time I took acid, and a half hour later was finding it and everything else incredibly interesting. Everything seemed fresh and bright. Uncle Sid wasn’t the disheveled uncle with yesterday’s stogie trying to take your picture with his $5.00 Instamatic. He was my best friend that day.
The Jefferson Airplane released ‘White Rabbit’ in 1967. “One pill makes you large and one pill makes you small, feed your head, feed your head,” Grace Slick sang her eyes full of stars.. My head was full to the brim the rest of the day. Everything was freaky but beautiful. No matter what it was, it all felt looked smelled sounded new. My eyes stayed wide open like a baby’s all day long.
“What’s it like to be a child?” asked Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College in London. “That sense of wonder, that sense of awe is what you certainly see with psychedelics. Sometimes it’s framed in a sort of mystical or spiritual way. But it’s interesting if you look at some literature, someone like William Wordsworth, who talks about the infant state as being a kind of heavenly state where we’re closer to what you would call God.”
LSD was first synthesized in 1938 in Switzerland. It was introduced as a psychiatric drug in 1947 and marketed as a psychotropic panacea, “a cure for everything from schizophrenia to criminal behavior, sexual perversions, and alcoholism.” The abbreviation LSD is from the mouthful of the German word lysergsäurediethylamid. The drug was brought to the United States by the CIA. The spy agency bought the world’s entire supply for a quarter million dollars and promoted its use in clinics, research centers, and prisons. They administered it to their own employees, soldiers, doctors, prostitutes, the fruity, the mentally ill, the down and out, and plain folks to study their reactions, usually without those given the drug knowing what they were taking. The idea was that LSD is like psychoanalytical Drano.
Lake View Cemetery is a garden graveyard straddling Cleveland, East Cleveland, and Cleveland Heights. It was founded in 1869. It was where the city’s wealthy buried themselves during the Gilded Age. There are many lavish funerary monuments and mausoleums. Little Italy up and down Mayfield Rd. was settled by stone masons from Italy who came to America to make monuments for God’s 280 acres. Many of the monuments they made were symbols. It’s better to be a symbol than a monument. Pigeons do bad things to monuments.
In the 1960s Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, and Timothy Leary got their hands on LSD and started advocating it to the counterculture. It was supposed to be the drug of choice for consciousness expansion. Owsley Stanley got the blotter rolling in San Francisco. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters popularized it during their road trips, giving it away to anybody who wanted it. Nick Sands created Orange Sunshine, the most pure, highest-quality LSD made at the time, better than the CIA’s. In 1966 the Psychedelic Shop opened, selling acid over the counter. It was legal as cookies and milk. If you were a gal, wearing a pants suit was problematical, but not downing the hallucinogenic.
Bill drove his Olds 88 to Section 9 on Lot 14, to the marble gravestone of Francis Haserot and his family. The bigger than life tomb marker was “The Angel of Death Victorious.” The angel’s wings were outstretched, and she held an extinguished torch upside-down. I stepped up to her and saw what looked like black tears dripping from her eyes and down her neck. I wasn’t unnerved, but rather impressed with the sculptor’s skill, until I realized it was a result of rain and aging bronze.
W. H. Auden wasn’t impressed with LSD. “Highly articulate people under it talk absolute drivel,” he said. After he tried it, he reported, “Nothing much happened but I did get the distinct impression that some birds were trying to communicate with me.” The Beatles jumped on the bandwagon with ‘Day Tripper’ in 1966 and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ in 1967. “The first time I took LSD, it just blew everything away,” said George Harrison. “I had such an incredible feeling of well-being.”
Not everybody was all in. “We don’t take trips on LSD in Muskogee, we are living right and free,” Merle Haggard sang on ‘Okie from Muskogee.’ Living free in the home of the brave is one thing. Living right is in the eye of the beholder. The city is on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. It is home to a museum of Native American history and the USS Batfish, a WWII submarine with an onboard museum. Between 1858 and 1872 the Texas Rangers and U. S. Cavalry battled Creeks Kiowa Comanche Native Americans in more than a dozen major engagements, eventually wearing them down, rounding them up, and telling them to stay the hell on the reservation. In the 1970s the Batfish stayed becalmed bewildered on the river, many miles from its native ocean hunting grounds.
After we left Haserot’s Angel we drove to the Garfield Memorial. It’s the final resting place of assassinated President James Garfield, who was from nearby Mentor. The memorial is built of Ohio sandstone in a combination of Gothic, Byzantine, and Romanesque styles. It took five years to build and was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1890. James Garfield, and his wife, Lucretia, are entombed in the crypt.
The circular tower is 180 feet high. We stood on the broad front steps and looked up. Before we went in, we gave the once-over to the bas-reliefs depicting President Garfield’s life and death, which included more than one hundred life-size figures. Inside was a gold dome and a statue of the main man. Below the Memorial Hall were two bronze caskets and two urns, the urns holding the ashes of the presidential couple’s daughter and her husband. I followed Bill and Bonnie up a stairway to a balcony with a view of Lake Erie. We stayed for a half-hour, taking a long gander at the downtown skyline before we left. It was like IMAX a year before IMAX happened, but without the motion sickness.
“My feelings about LSD are mixed,” said Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. “It’s something that I both fear and love at the same time. I never take any psychedelic, have a psychedelic experience, without having that feeling of, I don’t know what’s going to happen. In that sense, it’s fundamentally an enigma and a mystery to me.”
“The function of the brain is to reduce available information and lock us into a limited experience of the world” said the Czechoslovakian psychiatrist Stanislav Grof. “LSD frees us from this restriction and opens us to a much larger experience.”
When he was dying of cancer Aldous Huxley asked his wife to inject him with LSD. The drug has analgesic properties for the terminally ill. When the acid trip was over so was his trip on earth. He died that night. The doors of perception closed on the man who wrote “The Doors of Perception.” Two years later Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek named their new band The Doors.
In no time LSD was scaring the bejesus out of Washington D. C. They thought it was undermining American values and undermining the war effort in Vietnam. The Air Force might have dropped puff powder bombs of it on Charlie instead of napalm to keep the dominoes in place, but they didn’t. It was made illegal in the late 1960s. It was classified as a substance with no legitimate medical use and a lack of accepted safety. The DEA said it had a high potential for abuse. Although the drug had never caused any documented deaths, that was that. If you wanted to be in the sky with diamonds, once you landed your next bus stop might be prison.
After we left Garfield’s Memorial, we left the Olds 88 where it was and set off on foot. The memorial is on a hill which is the boneyard’s high point. We rambled downhill in the sunshine, making our way on twisty paths, stopping at the graves of Charles Brush, Elroy Kulas, John D. Rockefeller, and Garrett Morgan.
Charles Brush was an inventor with fifty patents to his name. His arc lights were the first to illuminate Cleveland’s Public Square. When he later sold his company, it merged with the Edison Electric Co. to form General Electric. Elroy Kulas was the president of Midland Steel from the day it was organized in 1923 until his death in 1952. He was one of the driving forces behind the city’s steelmaking. During World War Two he built hulls for tens of thousands of M4 Sherman Tanks. The Nazis had a low opinion of them, but in the end the Sherman’s played chin music with the Panzer’s, blasting them to kingdom come. The Kulas Auditorium at the Institute of Music is named after him.
We found John D. Rockefeller’s grave without any problem. It was at the base of an almighty obelisk. We didn’t stay long, only long enough to pay our respects to the Age of Oil. John D. was a son-of-a-gun, bleeding anybody everybody who crossed him bone dry. It was how he made it to the top of the world, making himself the richest man in the world. He gave it away at the end so no one would spit anymore when they heard his name.
Garrett Morgan founded the Cleveland Call newspaper for the Negro community. He patented a breathing device that was used in 1916 during a mining disaster in gas-filled tunnels under Lake Erie to rescue workers and bring back those who died. Twenty-one men died. He and his brother rescued two of them and recovered four dead. He developed the modern traffic light and was the first black man in town to own a car.
We went full flaneur hoofing it around the garveyard, spending all day there. By early evening we were dog tired and coming down fast from the LSD. We needed bread and water. We hopped into the Olds 88 and drove down to Little Italy. Instead of bread and water we had espresso, ham sandwiches, and biscotti.
When Bill and Bonnie dropped me off back home it was nighttime. I ignored the mail, fed Ollie my Siamese cat, who was meowing up a storm, brushed my teeth, and got into bed. Ollie jumped up and got comfortable beside me.
I had spent the day with the dead but felt incredibly alive. More than one hundred thousand men women and children are buried in Lake View Cemetery, their eyes closed forever. My eyes had never been more open. I didn’t drop much acid after that, and when I did, stuck to small doses. I didn’t think it was especially dangerous, but it is unpredictable stuff that can go wrong, like kids one minute are laughing their heads off and the next minute bawling their eyes out.
I thought maybe I would take it again when I was dying, like Aldous Huxley, and go out on a high note.
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”