Hunter S. Thompson's Owl Farm to become a museum, artist's retreat

Aug 17, 2017

The entry point into The War Room at Owl Farm.
Credit Carolyn Sackariason/Aspen Public Radio News

Writer and journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s widow, Anita Thompson, has big plans for Owl Farm. She’s turning the late writer’s home into a museum and retreat for artists.


It used to be that Anita Thompson wouldn’t let just anyone in The War Room. After all, it is where Hunter S. Thompson wrote the cult classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and orchestrated his anti-establishment campaign for Pitkin County sheriff in the 1970s, otherwise known as The Freak Power Movement.

“It’s special, it’s not something that I take lightly. [There’s] a lot of history down here,” she said.


Soon, the public will be exposed to that history. Pinned to the walls are years of polaroids, press passes and letters, including one from an editor of The Nation magazine after Hunter S. Thompson lost his bid for sheriff. Miscellaneous things clutter his handbuilt desk, but the War Room is mostly empty. That’s because in the early ’90s …


“When he stopped coming down here this became a storage room and this is where he stored his archives,” she said.


Today, Johnny Depp actually has most of the boxes in a climate controlled safe in L.A. The actor has played a couple of the writer’s characters, including Raoul Duke in the 1998 film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.


About two decades ago, Hunter S. Thompson hired now Anita Thompson to help with his archives. This was before they were married. At that point, The War Room had become a safe for the late writer’s records. Since her husband’s death, Anita Thompson’s has continued to log his tape, although it’s difficult for her.


“Personally, I’m probably not the best one to do it because it takes a lot out of you emotionally,” she said.


Upstairs, the kitchen area is where Hunter S. Thompson gravitated to write in his later years. To-do lists, like the one that reads: “Number one: get bomb out of basement,” which has been marked “urgent.” Further down: “Call Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut.” Mantras are stickered all over the place, like one on the TV, which reads, “No music plus bad TV equals bad mood and no pages.”


Hunter S. Thompson was known for his first person immersion in his stories. His Gonzo style originated out of the new journalism era, which sprung up out of the 1960s.


At first, Anita Thompson held onto everything she could because it gave her a sense of comfort.


“I wouldn’t let anybody dust,” she remembered. “I left all of the food in place, even the perishable food in the refrigerator I didn’t want to move for too long, but then finally I did.”


Three months went by before she fed what had spoiled to the peacocks and went back to school, returning home once a month to check up on things. It was when she finished her degree that the significance of Owl Farm as a literary landmark became clear to her.


“It seemed like a museum suddenly, in addition to my home,” she said. “So for that reason I kept everything, even though it could sometimes be a little depressing, and my family would worry about me becoming Miss Havisham.”


She’s not quite like the character from the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. Although,  Anita Thompson has committed to preserving her late husband’s spirit at Owl Farm.


“My lawyer asked me, ‘So, every gum wrapper you save?’” she began. “I said, ‘Well basically yes.’ Why do I need to make a decision? I don’t decide what gets thrown away. I just save everything. Would you throw Mark Twain’s gum wrapper away?”


Anita Thompson’s been working on restorations to the property for a little more than a year. So she can open her home, including The War Room, to Thompson’s readers by appointment only. She’s using the Georgia O’Keefe and Ernest Hemingway estates as a model for Owl Farm.


“He’s my husband and my loved one, but I also have to keep in mind he’s a great American writer,” she said.


One side of the house will be a museum. The other, a place where writers and musicians can stay for weeks at a time to work on long term projects.


“And just keep it creative and keep creativity flowing through Owl Farm as it should be,” said Anita Thompson.


Anita Thompson’s aiming to be ready in two years, acknowledging it may not be done by then, and that’s okay. Because she’s not rushing it. She wants it done right.


“So that when guests come they feel like they can come back in time or go back in time and also be here in the present moment,” she said.


And thus turn to the next chapter of Owl Farm and the Gonzo writer’s legacy.