Psychedelic Pioneer Peggy Mellon Hitchcock Dies at 90

Margaret “Peggy” Mellon Hitchcock, a rich heiress who funded Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, and partied with the Merry Pranksters, recently passed away.
Courtesy Patricia McInroy

Margaret “Peggy” Mellon Hitchcock, an ultra-wealthy heiress who grew up in the Andrew Mellon estate and its fortunes, funded LSD-fueled adventures for Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard “Ram Dass” Alpert, passed away on April 9 and an elaborate obituary was written by Penelope Green for the New York Times on May 3.

“Pretty Peggy Hitchcock was an international jet-setter, renowned as the colorful patroness of the livelier arts and confidante of jazz musicians, racecar drivers, writers, movie stars. Stylish, and with a wry sense of humor, Peggy was considered the most innovative and artistic of the Andrew Mellon family,” Leary wrote in his 1983 autobiography, Flashbacks. The debut 1974 issue of High Times and April 1978 issue contained excerpts from Leary’s writings.

Both psychedelic gurus were kicked out of Harvard: Leary was kicked out of Harvard for allegedly missing teaching responsibilities (but more likely for advocating for LSD), and Alpert was kicked out of Harvard for giving psilocybin to an undergraduate student. In Leary and Alpert’s experiments, including the Harvard Psilocybin Project, graduate students from Harvard and other schools in Boston were given psilocybin and asked to write a report about their trips. In another experiment, they offered psilocybin to prison inmates in the hope it would diminish recidivism. Both LSD and psilocybin were legal at the time, however.

They both benefited from Hitchcock’s money and ability to host psychedelic activities, where they continued for about five years. Hitchcock was remembered for being nurturing, but also being a force of nature in the fields she chose to entertain.

“She was a vibrant person, very enthusiastic,” her brother Billy Hitchcock told New York Times. “She had a completely open mind. Generous hearted to the point where people could take advantage of her. She had a lot of pain in her life, she was unlucky in love, but you would never know it. She was a real force. Whatever she did, she threw herself into.”

The documentary Dying to Know on Netflix, interviews Hitchcock, who discusses her involvement with LSD. Hitchcock tried acid when it was a legal experimental drug. “It really confirmed a lot of things that I had hoped were true, that I had sort of glimpsed at various times in my life, that there was a larger reality than what my everyday, humdrum experiences were,” she said.

The Hitchcock Estate

Hitchcock and her brothers allowed Leary to set up camp at their family estate called Daheim (German for “at home”), also known as Millbrook or the Hitchcock estate. It was built by an early 20th-century resort architect named Addison Mizner. A five-year run of psychedelic adventures ensued, attracting people like Allen Ginsberg, Charles Mingus, and R. D. Laing to join for the ride. The New York Times reports that Hitchcock was at the estate when Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters rolled up to the mansion in Furthur, their psychedelic school bus. Leary described it as “a psychedelic summer camp” and it was basically converted into a psychedelic research center as well.

Leary rented the 64-room mansion that was owned by Hitchcock’s brothers in Millbrook. He paid $1 per year in rent and turned it into a psychedelic haven and research center. You can see a giant face painted on the side of the mansion during his stay.

French Toast reports that Hitchcock also helped fuel the cannabis movement, as she frequented smoke-filled jazz club performances and the psychedelic movement often involved copious amounts of cannabis. The 1960s counterculture movement was very alive, and the mansion served as one of its headquarters.

How did she get control of this mansion? Mellow was one of the longest-serving Secretaries of the Treasury and helped shape the Industrial Revolution. In addition, Hitchcock’s grandfather was William Larimer Mellon, a founder of Gulf Oil. Peggy’s mother was a Mellon heiress and her father, Thomas Hitchcock Jr., was a leading polo player and a partner at Lehman Brothers. Standard Oil President Walter C. Teagle purchased an estate in Millbrook, New York and eventually sold it to the Hitchcock family, for whom it’s named today. Heirs to the Mellon fortune—siblings William Mellon “Billy” Hitchcock, Tommy Hitchcock III, and Margaret Mellon “Peggy” Hitchcock—opened the doors of their estate to Leary.

Hitchcock married Walter Bowart, a counterculture journalist, who was a founder of The East Village Other counterculture newspaper. In 1966, Bowart testified before the Senate Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and urged the committee members to try LSD for themselves. High Times reprinted several East Village Other articles, such as a reprint of Leary’s 1968 article, “Deal for Real.”

Hitchcock bankrolled a publishing house for her husband called Omen Press, which published books on metaphysics and spirituality. They divorced in 1980.

Without Hitchcock’s involvement, it’s unlikely Leary and Ram Dass would’ve become the household names they are today.

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