March 8, 1957: Four days before beginning a two-year prison sentence, Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), an Austrian psychoanalyst and medical doctor who lives and works at his estate, Orgonon, in Rangeley, signs his last will and testament, creating an agency now known as the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust.

Reich’s many books and other writings influenced other professionals in the field of body psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy, biogenergetics analysis and primal therapy. He also promoted controversial theories about the role of the energy of orgasms in promoting and maintaining health, a force he called “orgone energy.”

Dogged by accusations of fraud, Reich was sentenced for a criminal contempt of court conviction in connection with his violation of a court order banning the interstate shipment of orgone accumulators, devices the size of a small phone booth in which his patients would sit in an effort to connect with the energy force for therapeutic reasons. Newspaper reports described the devices as sex boxes designed to cure cancer. Filmmaker Woody Allen appears to parody the orgone accumulator in the 1973 movie “Sleeper,” calling the film’s machine the “Orgasmatron.”

Six tons of Reich’s professional publications were burned in 1956 in accordance with a U.S. federal court order.

Reich dies in prison before completing his prison sentence. His 175-acre Orgonon estate now is the home of the trust and the Wilhelm Reich Museum, open since 1960. The museum receives visitors from July through October.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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