San Francisco Sound Engineer Accidentally Dosed With LSD While Cleaning 1960s Radio Equipment

Published May 24, 2019
Updated July 14, 2021

The synthesizer Eliot Curtis was cleaning was quite popular in the 1960s when LSD-friendly musicians were looking for new sounds. Unbeknownst to him, they left a few remnants behind.

Eliot Curtis Closeup

KPIX5Eliot Curtis was merely trying to fix an old discarded synthesizer — when the drugs began to take hold.

When the great wave of 1960s optimism finally broke and hippiedom gave way to Vietnam and Richard Nixon, the end of an era had never been clearer. Nonetheless, counterculture remnants are still alive and well as a radio operator found out after accidentally getting dosed with 50-year-old LSD.

According to Daily Mail, KPIX Channel 5 Broadcast Operations Manager Eliot Curtis was merely trying to fix an old synthesizer he found in a cold dark closet in San Francisco Cal State University East Bay when he started feeling…different.

There had been rumors that 1960s radio operators would dip their fingers in liquid LSD and touch their devices for inspiration, but this had been just that — rumors. That is until Curtis started to tinker with a Buchla Model 100 literally covered in the drug.

After he removed a module to clean “a crust or a crystalline residue” that bothered him, however, the substance seemed to dissolve in his hand and began to alter his perspective.

“It was…felt like I was tripping on LSD,” said Curtis, who began noticing a “weird tingling sensation” 45 minutes later. Little did Curtis know that the damp, lightless, conditions had provided the perfect environment for the lysergic acid to retain its potency, even half a century later.

He then tripped for nine straight hours.

Coincidentally, Albert Hoffman, who first synthesized the substance in 1943, accidentally dosed himself with the drug in this manner as well. LSD is usually consumed orally through blotting paper dipped in the drug, or taken in liquid form directly, so the notion that cleaning an old machine could get one high was the furthest from Curtis’ mind.

Whether the psychoactive substance was secretly stashed under the machine’s module on purpose or merely forgotten there is unclear.

Don Buchla With Synthesizers

Buchla.ComDon Buchla of the eponymous Buchla Model 100 with his equipment. He was part of a large circle of musicians, artists, and San Francisco counter culture personalities, in the 1960s.

The Buchla Model 100, itself, had quite a trippy history. The device was created by Don Buchla of the University of California, Berkeley, who was friends with the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer, Owsley Stanley — a man renowned for cooking up the purest LSD at the time, and even referenced as such in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Alongside the aforementioned rumors, the fact that one of America’s most famous proponents of LSD had been in contact with this exact model could’ve tipped Curtis off. Unfortunately, he was none the wiser — until he felt the effects.

Ken Kesey Buchla Synthesizer

Wikimedia CommonsCounterculture novelist Ken Kesey had an immense passion for music, creativity, and LSD. He enjoyed having the latest, most sophisticated audio equipment, and owned numerous Buchla synthesizers. Seen here is a model specifically designed for Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters.

The university’s Assistant Professor of Music, Ines Thiebaut, explained that the synthesizer was quite popular in the 1960s. Musicians were expanding their minds, experimenting, and “looking for new ways of creating sound.”

The Buchla Model 100, commissioned by the school’s professors Glenn Glasgow and Robert Basart, is used simply by patching cords and turning knobs. Some of the modules found on the device today, however, were added later as personal refinements.

Holly Curtis

KPIX5Holly Curtis seemed to have a genuine appreciation for how this experience connected her husband to America’s counterculture.

In the end, Curtis had a seemingly stable trip and is back at work. The only unexpected shock, it seems, came from unintentionally consuming the drug — which Curtis’ wife, Holly, found quite enjoyable. Curtis has since finished repairing the machine — wearing gloves to do so.

“I think it’s super wild,” she said. “I think this whole situation is a nice chapter in the history of counterculture.”

Curtis happened to ingest decades-old LSD unintentionally and stumbled into the remnants of an era long gone by mistake. By consuming the same exact substance consumed by those who used the synthesizer, Curtis was likely the most in tune with San Francisco’s hippie scene than anyone else in decades.

Next up, take a look at the height of hippie power through 55 photos of 1960s San Francisco. Then, explore the history hippies and the 1960s movement that changed America.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "San Francisco Sound Engineer Accidentally Dosed With LSD While Cleaning 1960s Radio Equipment.", May 24, 2019, Accessed May 19, 2024.