History of the Archives of the Orgone Institute
On March 8, 1957, four days before he was taken to a federal prison, Wilhelm Reich
signed his Last Will & Testament. By this time his orgone energy accumulators and
many of his publications had already been banned and destroyed by order of a United
States Federal Court injunction, starting on June 5, 1956 when three orgone energy
accumulators were destroyed outside of Reich's Student Laboratory at Orgonon in
Three weeks later, several boxes of his publications were burned under the supervision
of Food and Drug Administration agents outside the Student Laboratory. A month after
that, in July, the panels for about fifty orgone accumulators were dismantled in the town
of Rangeley, Maine by the local contractors who had built them.
And exactly one month after that--on August 23, 1956--several tons of Reich's
publications, including the titles of 10 hardcover books as well as medical and scientific
research bulletins and journals, were burned under FDA supervision at a New York City
municipal garbage incinerator on Gansevoort Street.
All of which undoubtedly weighed heavily on Reich on March 8, 1957, four days before
he would begin a two year prison sentence for criminal contempt of court. In the opening
paragraph of his Last Will and Testament, Reich wrote:
"I made the consideration of secure transmission to future generations
of a vast empire of scientific accomplishments the guide in my last
dispositions. To my mind, the foremost task to be fulfilled was
to safeguard the truth about my life and work against distortion
and slander after my death."
And to accomplish this task, in his will he created a Trust, originally known as the
Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust Fund. This Trust was so-named because of Reich's belief
that the only real solution to eliminating psychological disturbances and their subsequent
somatic illnesses was prevention, and that this prevention was possible only by ensuring
what he called "the unspoiled protoplasm" and the "unarmored life" of infants who he
called "The Children of the Future."
Thus, on March 8, 1957, Reich's concerns and his practical solutions for transmitting his
legacy to future generations after his death, culminated in the signing of this Last Will
Four days later--on March 12, 1957--Reich entered the Federal Penitentiary in Danbury,
Connecticut. Ten days after that--on March 22nd, two days before his 60th birthday--Reich was transferred to the Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to serve his
two-year sentence. Seven-and-a-half months later--on November 3, 1957--he died in
the Lewisburg Penitentiary of heart failure and was buried several days later at Orgonon.
In his Last Will & Testament, Reich had named his daughter, Dr. Eva Reich, as the sole
Trustee of The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust Fund. She was the individual now charged
with carrying out Reich's final wishes as stipulated in his will. And among the will's
principal stipulations was this:
"To operate and maintain the property at Orgonon under the name
and style of The Wilhelm Reich Museum."
In the will, Reich elaborated on this stipulation, by enumerating some specific
responsibilities. He says:
"I have collected all of the pertinent materials, such as instruments
which served the Discovery of the Life Energy, the documents which
were witnesses to labors of some 30 years the library of a few thousand
volumes, collected painstakingly over the same stretch of time,
and amply used in my researches and writings.
"All of these things and similar things should remain where they are
now to preserve some of the atmosphere in which the Discovery of
the Life Energy has taken place over the decades. The grounds
should be kept neat and clean, and repairs should not be neglected."
Well before his imprisonment, Reich had stored his archives in two separate locations in
- In a photographic dark-room on the first floor of the Orgone Energy
Observatory, which is the major building at Orgonon, and is now
- And in a large closet off of Reich's study and library on the second
floor of the Observatory.
And in his will, immediately after his stipulations about the Museum, Reich begins his
discussion about his archives:
"In order to enable the future student of the Primordial Cosmic Energy
Ocean, the Life Energy discovered and developed by me, to obtain
a true picture of my accomplishments, mistakes, wrong assumptions,
pioneering basic trends, my private life, my childhood, etc., I hereby
direct that under no circumstances and under no pretext whatsoever
shall any of the documents, manuscripts or diaries found in my library
among the archives, or anywhere else, be altered, omitted, destroyed, added to, or falsified in any other imaginable way. The tendency
of man, born from fear, to ‘get along with his fellow man' at any price,
and to hide unpleasant matters is overpoweringly strong.
"To guard against this trend, disastrous to historical truth, my study
including the library and archives, shall be sealed right after my death
by the proper legal authorities and no one shall be permitted to look
into my papers until my Trustee, hereinafter-named, is duly-appointed
and qualified and takes control and custody thereof.
"These documents are of crucial importance to the future of newborn
generations. I therefore direct my Trustee and his successors that nothing
whatsoever must be changed in any of the documents and that they
should be put away and stored for 50 years to secure their safety from
destruction and falsification by anyone interested in the falsification
and destruction of historical truth."
What is heartbreaking about Reich's will is his implicit hope that his daughter--with the
support of his colleagues and students, and with everyone fueled by a singular vision and
resolve--would work together to carry out his final wishes regarding the transmission of
his legacy to future generations.
And in that hope Reich was completely mistaken.
Regrettably and understandably, Eva Reich was so emotionally devastated by the tragedy
of her father's death that months later she let it be known that she didn't feel she could
assume the awesome responsibilities of the Trusteeship, that someone else had to be
found to do this.
Yet no one among Reich's colleagues and students stepped forward to assume the mantle
of the Trusteeship and carry out the specifics of Reich's Last Will & Testament. No
cohesive group ever assembled after Reich's death to categorically insure the fulfillment
of his final wishes, and not someone else's.
That task ultimately fell to a woman, barely 34 years old--a former patient of Dr. Chester
Raphael's--a woman who was unwilling to see Reich's historical legacy possibly lost
forever and who stepped forward to offer her services.
That woman was Mary Boyd Higgins.
In the early 1959, during the winter, Mary traveled to rural Rangeley, Maine to visit
Reich's over-200 acre property at Orgonon for the first time. The Student Laboratory
and the Orgone Energy Observatory were abandoned, boarded up and vandalized,
unattended and unprotected for nearly two years against the harsh New England
Inside the Orgone Energy Observatory, Wilhelm Reich's archives were gone: removed
illegally the previous year by Aurora Karrer, the last woman in Reich's life, who had
transported the archives hundreds of miles away to the house that she shared with her
mother in Bethesda, Maryland.
And to make matters worse, when Reich's Last Will & Testament was finally probated
and all specific personal bequests were fulfilled, $823 was all that was left for Mary
Higgins to turn this situation around and carry out Reich's final wishes.
Today, that would translate into approximately $5,800. Less than $6000 to transform
Orgonon from the ruin that it was into the beautiful and vibrant property and museum
that it is today. Less than $6000 to retrieve and protect Reich's archives for future
generations, according to the dictates of his will.
Shortly after that first visit to Orgonon, Mary Higgins traveled to Bethesda, Maryland.
And during several face-to-face meetings, Ms. Karrer repeatedly denied that she had
these archival materials. Only when Mary Higgins took legal action against her, did
Ms. Karrer and her attorney produce suitcase after suitcase after suitcase with these
archival materials, which the Court subsequently turned over to the Trust.
But many archival materials were still missing. And the Trust's legal efforts to retrieve
additional materials from Ms. Karrer would stretch across over four decades.
In terms of Reich's final wishes to establish a Museum: living in Rangeley was a
gentleman by the name of Tom Ross who for years had been the caretaker at Orgonon
while Reich was alive. In fact, for a time he and his wife Bea and their daughter Kathy
actually lived in one of the cottages at Orgonon (which is now our rental cottage called
Bunchberry). The entire Ross family became close friends with Mary Higgins. And with
their assistance, their generosity of time and hard physical work, Mary was able to open
Orgonon to the public in 1960 as The Wilhelm Reich Museum.
Today, Orgonon comprises 175-acres of fields and forests and trails which are open daily
to the public:
The Orgone Energy Observatory--which had been abandoned, boarded up and
vandalized--is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for
tours in the summer and early fall, and by special tours.
The Student Laboratory--which had also been abandoned and vandalized--is now the
Conference Building and the location of the Museum and Trust offices.
Jumping back now to 1959, the first year of Mary Higgins' tenure as Trustee: a third
area of responsibility began to emerge for the Trust, in addition to creating a Museum
and safeguarding the archives. That third responsibility was re-publishing Reich's books,
although publishing was not a specific stipulation in Reich's Last Will & Testament.
This is the way it happened:
A young scholar named Leo Raditsa--who was interested in Reich's work--approached
Roger Straus of Farrar, Straus & Giroux which, at the time, was a flourishing 13-year
old New York publishing house. In 1959, there was still considerable interest in Reich's
work. But it was difficult or impossible for people to find copies of Reich's books--except maybe in second-hand bookstores--because a 1954 Court Injunction had banned
Reich from distributing them and because tons of Reich's books, from his Orgone Institute Press in New York, had been burned in 1956.
Raditsa explained to Straus that perhaps there was an audience for these books. And he
wondered if Straus might explore the possibility of bringing them back into print.
The result of this was a wonderful and productive 45-year professional relationship
between Roger Straus and Mary Higgins, as well as a genuine personal friendship,
during which time all of Reich's hardcover books were re-published and several new
titles were brought out. Starting in 1960 with the publication of Selected Writings -
An Introduction to Orgonomy.
The concept of this book was actually Roger Straus's who felt that an anthology of
excerpts from Reich's books might be the best way to introduce his work to a broader,
more mainstream audience. This was followed by the publication of:
At the time of Mr. Straus's death in May 2004 at the age of 87, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
had published 21 titles by Reich, including three volumes of his diaries and journals,
and the correspondence between Reich and A.S. Neill. And because of the publishing
house's strong international presence, Reich's books now appear in over 21 languages.
What is so moving about Mr. Straus's relationship with the Trust is this: he was the first
to admit that he had no great personal interest nor understanding of Reich's work, and
that his decision to publish Reich's books was because of his sense of outrage and his
need to take a principled stance against book-burning in America.
Roger Straus is truly one of the unsung heroes in transmitting Reich's legacy to future
generations, first as a publisher, and second as the individual who brought The Wilhelm
Reich Infant Trust to the attention of the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard
University, one of the world's premier medical libraries.
For years after Mary Higgins had legally retrieved the bulk of Reich's Archives from
Aurora Karrer, she kept these materials at her home in Forest Hills, New York where she
lived up until 2001. And during this time, she visited several institutions, looking for a
permanent repository for these materials, including the Library of Congress and several
Meanwhile, Roger Straus contacted someone that he knew: a man named Richard Wolfe,
the Chief Librarian of the "Rare Books and Special Collections" at Harvard's Countway
Library. Mr. Wolfe felt that Reich's legacy was an important one and that these archives
would be a welcome addition to the library's other collections.
Consequently, in October 1973 an agreement was signed between the Trust and
the Countway whereby Reich's archival materials would be periodically given to
the Countway Library over the years, to be stored in their Rare Books and Special
Collections with the Trust retaining all copyright title and publishing rights.
Today at the Countway Library, Reich's archives are kept in a temperature-controlled
environment in the Rare Books and Special Collections which renamed and is now
known as "The Center for the History of Medicine." Reich's archives comprise well over
200 archive boxes of materials. And starting in November 2007--50 years after Reich's
death--these archives became accessible to scholars and researchers.
The Trust also disseminates and safeguards the truth about Reich’s life and legacy—and about the Trust’s activities—through its presentations at Orgonon’s summer conferences, at fundraising events, and at the invitation of other organizations.