In an otherwise normal house off of 20th and Mission you can take a trip like no other, with a man whose stories speak volumes of American counter culture in a room filled with his priceless artifacts. Among walls covered in picture frames and shelves overflow- ing with records I met Mark McCloud, the curator of this virtual time machine known colloquially as San Francisco’s LSD museum.
He calls LSD the renaissance pill and be- lieves music to be a cosmic experience. He tells stories about his times in court and his experience being homeless in the Louvre. Somewhere halfway through being at this museum, I realized the real attraction came from his varied stories and the timeless feel- ing you had in his home.
The hardships Mark McCloud has en- dured throughout his life contribute to the many stories he felt so comfortable to share with us, as well as to the passion he has to- wards free thinking. Growing up in Buenos Aires he remembers a time where “a lot of my friends just disappeared”, due to the tumultu- ous government at the time. Fascinated with freedom and the concept of peace, he moved to San Francisco as a boy and began a board- ing school education. Reluctant to fight in the Vietnam War, he dodged the draft by going to college in Paris, spending his nights sleep- ing in the Louvre, and his days studying the rest of the art that France had to offer.
But it was back in the states after receiving his PhD that his work really began. This is where the museum takes its shape. Each picture frame contained an individual piece that you could not find anywhere else: unique designs of blotter paper ready to be dipped in LSD. These papers became art. He spoke of these drawings with intricate stories, depicting why they were there and who he made them for. Some contained pictures of Jesus and others Felix the Cat. His most intricate and blockbuster work was design of Alice from Lewis Caroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”
The robust shelves in the corners of his living room housed stacks of CD’s and Vi- nyls ranging from The Ramones to Smash- ing Pumpkins. “There was a shift in how music sounded once society was introduced to LSD,” said McCloud. “I’ve acquired all of the pieces of the music that are representa- tive of that shift.” With his abundant music collection taking up all of his shelving space, there were virtually no books in sight until he revealed the two copies of research port- folio containing photos of individual tabs of acid taken with a forensic lense, with one being a massive 3 by 2 foot and the other be- ing a scaled down 3 by 2 inches. “Well, one to make you bigger, and one to make you small,” chuckled McCloud as he handed us the miniscule copy of the portfolio.
Every record he had was there to “induce the feeling of the psychedelic move- ment.” I heard stories of Francis Ford Coppola and his time and San Francisco, and his weekend with Albert Hofmann the first man to “discover” LSD. He spoke of his times in court like they were days at war where he successfully defeated those who did not understand his purpose.
This was no mere museum. This was a journey into a man’s life who had lived through every crucial part of recent American history. He was a product of the counter culture revolution in the 60s and 70s. He was a fighter and a believer in the progressive uses for taboo drugs like acid. But most importantly, he was a refreshing perspective on many things that are so often overlooked and under- valued. Mark embodied something that I thought San Francisco lost: its story. Every single day it seems like there is a new building, a new start up, or a new housing development. But Mark showed me that the character of San Francisco is still present if you’re willing to knock on its door. In this case, it is the door of Mr. McCloud. Without hesitation I am sure he would answer and tell you stories sim- ilar to those that I heard, taking you to a world you thought was long gone.
Nichole Rosanova contributed to the reporting.