Image of Hippie button that says Can YOU pass the Acid Test

Ken Kesey (1935-2001)
and the Merry Pranksters

On this page:

My article on Kesey's death
Books about Kesey and the Pranksters
Kesey's book about Mental Institutions
List of the Pranksters
Links to other Kesey sites

Although not considered a member of the Beat Generation, as was the case with Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey is considered to be the main link between the Beat Generation and the Hippies. The Beat Generation part came from his days of living on Perry Lane on Palo Alto. When they tore that down in the summer of 1963, Kesey created a new scene at his place in LaHonda. It was the activities at this location that is thought to have to paved the way to what happened later in the Haight-Ashbury, and what eventually led to Woodstock.

Much of the language unique to the Hippies, (that not used by the Beats, i.e. heads, acid, bummer) were probably coined at Kesey's place in HaHonda, one of the early experiments in communal living. In addition, the Pranksters perfected the art of living on the road in Furthur, the bus, which became a way of life for many of the Hippies that followed. Also, many of the psychedelic art forms, multimedia in general, and particularly ultraviolet light and the liquid projections were experimented with at Kesey's place in LaHonda before being taken on the road for the Acid Tests.

These two books are both about the Great Bus Trip of 1964

Two more good books about Kesey and the Pranksters

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. This book probably gives the best coverage of Ken Kesey and the Pranksters from the Perry Lane days to the Acid Test Graduation. I like the way this book is written. It does a good job of telling the story. It's written more like a novel than a history book, which makes it more enjoyable to read. It's also good because it attempts to probe the dynamics of what's happening. The chapter called The Unspoken Thing does a good job explaining the experience of taking LSD in a group, the way the Pranksters did.

Although this book provides good coverage of the Pranksters, it doesn't cover much of what else was going on with the counterculture. It is for this reason that I recommend that it be read with other books that can fill in some of the other parts of the story. This book is a little hard to use for research because it isn't indexed. You just have to remember where everything is. I'm hoping that someday the publisher will release a searchable CD of the book.

The Haight-Ashbury: A History by Charles Perry. This is more like a history book and it is indexed. Actually, this one is more about the Haight-Ashbury than Kesey and the Pranksters, but they're in it. This is the book that you need when you need to look up a person to see what they were involved with. It's a good who's who of the Haight-Ashbury. It covers the Haight-Ashbury from 1965-1967. I use this book probably more than any other for information for the web site.

There's several things missing in this book. First of all, it doesn't cover how the Hippies got their name very well. The second thing that's missing is it doesn't do a very good job of explaining exactly how the Summer of Love came to be. For example, who's idea was it to have a Summer of Love? Did anyone object to the idea, and if so, who? Finally, the book doesn't do a very good job of explaining what brought the Haight-Ashbury era to an end. I found the answer to the latter question in Allen Cohen's Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties CD-ROM, which I have reviewed elsewhere. These are some of the important questions that should be on those history exams. My hope is that this web site will help answer some of those questions that the history books fail to answer. A good place to start is the How the Bohemians Were Named page.

Just what everyone needs: A freaking funny farm in their back yard

Kesey's novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest was a smashing success. Published in 1962, it was a precursor to some of the philosophy of the Hippies. It echoed many of the themes of the counterculture, and the patients even smoked marijuana in the story. In 1975, the book was made into a movie (without Kesey's permission) which was also a hit, but was generally not appreciated by the counterculture, because it did not accurately follow the story. If you have only seen the movie, you should definitely read the book. Certain parts of the movie were not done right. McMurphy did not wear the right clothes in the movie, nor did he sport the tattoos mentioned in the book or even have the right color of hair. The worst flaw in the movie is the climax, where they roll the gurney into the ward and it's supposed to say lobotomy on it and in the movie, it says nothing, so you have no idea of knowing how they ruined the patient for good unless you've read the book before seeing the movie. Anyway, here's some links about the many different ways the Cuckoo's Nest ruins patients for good. 

The Merry Pranksters

According to Tom Wolf's book, it was Kesey's friend, Ken Babbs who came up with the idea of the pranks. I don't think the pranks were ever thoughtless practical jokes, as the name might imply. Instead, they were more like what later became known as street theater, skits done on the street in public to prove some point, to make people think about something they normally wouldn't, especially about pollution and later, nuclear power, but certainly not limited to that. The best examples of street theater I have seen are in the Billy Jack series of movies. I think that Pranksters was a bad choice of name for the group, as was Acid Test for their happenings. 

Of course, the Acid Tests were the ultimate prank, on the government, as well as on Timothy Leary himself. The big problem with the Prankster style of Acid Test was it was indeed possible to flunk it. Although it didn't happen very often, it did happen often enough to create such a hysteria in the press that LSD was made illegal. 

The Acid Tests were really a mixed bag as to whether they made society for the better or for the worse. On the negative side, they were one of a series of events that put an end to psychedelic drug research, but on the plus side, they made LSD available to anyone who wanted to have the experience. The same can be said of Timothy Leary's "research," which may have started out in the name of science, but also turned into a series of LSD parties, although probably more controlled and not as wild as Kesey's. The end result in both cases was that millions of people who probably would have never had the psychedelic experience, got an opportunity to have it, and as I said, the vast majority of them were able to pass the Acid Test. Now with that introduction complete, here's my list of some the Merry Pranksters. The ones marked with a * were on the bus trip to New York.

Real Name: Prankster name: Comments:
Carolyn Adams Mountain Girl Second wife of Jerry Garcia
Ken Babbs * Intrepid Traveler   
Ron Bevirt * Hassler  
Ron Boise   Sculptor  who died in 1966
Page Browning * Zelot Died, but I don't know when
Jane Burton * Generally Famished   
Kathy Casano * Stark Naked  Was on the bus until Houston
Neal Cassady * Speed Limit  
Peter Demma   Hip Pocket Bookstore
John Evenson    
Paul Foster   Was busted at the Watts Acid Test
Mike Hagen * Mal Function   
Norman Hartweg    
Bradley Hodgeman    
Denise Kaufmann Mary Microgram Member of the band, Ace of Cups
Chuck Kesey *    
Ken Kesey *   Died 11-10-2001
Steve Lambrecht    
Sandy Lehmann-Haupt * Dis-MOUNT Died 10-29-2001 - Wired the bus for sound 
Margie Piaggio Marge the Barge   
Paula Sundsten * Gretchen Fetchin  
? * Brother John  
George Walker * Hardly Visible  
Anthony Dean Wells The Hermit   

Links to other sites about Kesey and the Pranksters

Copyright © 1995-2002, Colin Pringle (
The mail link automatically fills in the subject field so I will know which page you're commenting on.
Filename: kesey.htm