I first encountered Dr. Bob at this year’s Artscape. He was sitting in the middle of Charles Street, next to his “We The People” Biodiesel Artcar. The car, the only biodiesel Artcar in the state of Maryland, is a mural on wheels, filled with symbols and knowledge hidden just below the surface.
Though in the bustle of Sunday afternoon Artscape madness I did not take the time to unlock the car’s inner secrets, I would soon come to learn that Dr. Bob’s Artcar is a traveling commentary on the Founding Fathers, the League of the Iroquois, the Great Seal of the United States, the Tree of Life, Benjamin Franklin, the Yellow Submarine, and so much more.
Intrigued by the car, I quickly noticed that Dr. Bob was sitting next to Telesma’s Ian Hesford. I said hi to Ian, who introduced the two of us. This first encounter was brief, but genuine. Later in the day, Ian told me that Bob was one of his three favorite people in Baltimore, and after experiencing Ian die and come back to life, I have learned not to take his words for granted. The next week, I reached out to Dr. Bob, and we scheduled an interview.
Aside from my brief introduction at Artscape, I knew very little about Dr. Bob. Through a series of conversations over the past several months, I have come to learn quite a bit about his life, his work, his creations and his ideas.
At 69 years old, Dr. Robert Richard Hieronimus, Ph.D. has led quite a full and busy life. His list of experiences and accomplishments in some ways seem impossible for one man to have had, and yet he continues to work more hours in a day than not, as he tackles his never-ending to do list—his roadmap to transforming reality.
Dr. Bob’s great adventure truly began in the 1960’s, when he found himself traveling with rock and roll bands to share information on esoterica, as well as design posters and album covers. He spent meaningful time with Jimi Hendrix and Peter Rowan of Earth Opera, and also rubbed shoulders with Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley. In later years he also befriended Sir George Martin, Graham Nash, Willie Nelson, Ziggy Marley and Steve Boone of the Lovin’ Spoonful among others.
He has created large symbolic murals, including the 2,700 square foot prophetic “Apocalypse” at the Johns Hopkins University, and the “Honoring Hampden” mural in its namesake neighborhood. He’s painted several cars, including the famous “Woodstock bus”, which was photographed by the Associated Press and Rolling Stone at the original 1969 Woodstock, and is still seen today regularly reprinted in media all over the world.
Also in 1969, Dr. Bob co-founded the Aquarian University of Maryland that became the AUM Esoteric Study Center, the only State approved esoteric study center in the United States. The university offered certificates in Religious Metaphysics, Occult Sciences and the Mystical Arts. The building, which sat on the land adjacent to the Cylburn Arboretum, is now home to the Ruscombe Mansion, a holistic healing center run by his wife, Dr. Zohara Meyerhoff Hieronimus, DHL (or, Zoh, for short).
Dr. Bob has authored several books, including United Symbolism of America: Deciphering Hidden Meanings in America’s Most Familiar Art, Architecture and Logos, a book which examines how the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, the flag, the eagle, the Great Seal, and Washington DC became American icons. Additionally, he has published Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic, and Founding Fathers, Secret Societies: Freemasons, Illuminati, Rosicrucians and the Decoding of the Great Seal, which has now been translated into German, French, Russian, and Spanish.
In 1988, Bob and Zoh launched 21st Century Radio®. The weekly radio show, which the duo trade off on, first aired on WFBR in Baltimore, then on over 100 stations nationwide on the American Radio Network. The show presents the unusual findings or opinions of experts in a wide variety of fields, including “Consciousness, Paranormal, UFOs, Conspiracies, American Symbols and Symbology, Cryptozoology, Energy News, Magic, Environment, Food Safety, Health, History Rewritten, Art, Mystic and Occult, Planetary Research, Religious Studies, Science News, and more!” Every week for the past 25 years, Dr. Bob and Zoh have read at least one book, and interviewed its author on the air.
The more I learned about Dr. Bob, the more I saw that his Artcar, the object that drew us together in the first place, was in many regards the synthesis of a lifetime of his ideas, which had emerged from years of exploration and study. As I headed up 83 North on my way to our first interview, I had my list of questions prepared and I found myself trying to imagine what our conversation would be like. I was told to pull into the driveway and up to the gate with an owl on it. I pressed the call button, and soon after the gate slowly opened, I pulled up the long driveway, parking right beside Dr. Bob’s Artcar.
I was prepared to talk about mysticism, consciousness, and all forms of magic, but on this day, Dr. Bob had other things on his mind. He excitedly shared with me the painting he was finishing up. This was just prior to the election, and his latest work, “Red States, Inc.”, was his current effort to sway public consciousness into realizing the depths of the greed of corporations and “the nefarious political manipulators behind their all-consuming power.” He speaks of his plans to have the painting turned into an animation.
We speak of the role and responsibility of the artist to utilize their art to say what needs to be said, even if it encounters resistance or refuses to be heard by the mainstream. We talk of poisoned crops and oil spills, corrupt politicians and obscene profits.
When Theresa Keil arrives to capture the photographs that accompany this story, the three of us sit down in a room as unique as the man with whom we sit. A geodesic dome lingers above us, as I stare at a Woodstock poster on the wall. This room, whose appearance is neat, organized, and free of clutter, is where Hieronimus and company see guests and visitors. And yet I did not truly begin to understand Dr. Bob until we took a trip downstairs, into the less “public” depths of his operation.
The wall lining the staircase is filled with baseball memorabilia. He speaks of his passion for bringing Negro League Baseball players the recognition they deserve, and proudly points to pictures of two visits to the White House he helped arrange for representatives of the Negro Leagues Baseball Players Association.
As we make it to the end of the stairs, suddenly we are lost in a maze of bookcases, piles of papers, and boxes of old recordings. I feel an overwhelming sense of what it really takes to make things happen, and of just how much stuff one accumulates when they devote their life to discovery and creation. We move past the small recording studio where the weekly radio shows are broadcast and then we arrive at a door, which we are told only a small handful of people have ever been through.
This is Dr. Bob’s secret lair. He keeps some of his most precious possessions in this room. Backstage concert passes line the ceiling, and overflowing bookcases fill the walls. He shares some of his collectible books, many showing rare photos of rock stars throughout their career. In this room, Rock and Roll is alive and well.
I depart this first encounter with my mind swirling, and with slight concern as I realize I hadn’t even asked a single question. I quickly schedule a second meeting, which ends up going much like the first. Two hours fly by, and we touched on topics ranging from organic foods to shamanism. I depart once again with a mind full of ideas, and the same list of questions with no answers.
Our final meeting takes place post-election, and the angst has settled. Dr. Bob’s mind is off to a million other things, and I know the time has finally come to ask the questions that have been waiting patiently in my notebook for several months now. I make it clear that we have to focus. I wanted to know what makes Dr. Bob tick, what drives him, and what has guided his unique path through life. How exactly does someone end up devoting their life to what most of the world considers to be fringe thinking?
The answer, as it turns out, is actually rather simple. Dr. Bob explains, that “to see the big picture you have to acquire a large base of information. The larger the picture you wish to have, the more number of fields you must be familiar with.”
He continues, “Every field of knowledge is interconnected. Once you start using your intellect, and not your emotion, you realize that you need to learn more. Every field of interest leads you to the next, and the more you explore, the more you see that everything is connected, and everything is one.”
It seemed as though Dr. Bob had not directly chosen to embark on a path that would lead him to the far reaching areas of interest and knowledge he has come to embody, but rather that the desire to know what’s really going on, has demanded that he learn at least a little bit about a lot of things.
At some point in his life, as one discovery led to another, he found himself confronted with cosmic truths, each which then led him to explore further. “Consciousness allows you to see likenesses instead of differences,” he explains, “and you learn quickly that you can’t depend on any one source. You must move from source to source to learn that everything is one. When you look closely, there are larger patterns that you will discover.”
I ask Dr. Bob a question I have asked thousands of people…What is Magic? He thinks for quite some time before responding with a succinct and proper definition: “Magic is bringing the unseen worlds into what we consider to be reality.”
He continues, “The imagination is not immaterial. It can manifest unseen things. The better and higher the imagination, the more complete the magic.”
With these statements, I feel like I have found what I was after. Perhaps I was looking for confirmation of what I already knew—never stop searching, never stop creating, and always know that imagination and magic can be accessed at any time.
I look at my watch and another two hours have passed. Satisfied at several pages of notes, I pack up my things and prepare to depart. I feel an overwhelming sense of optimism and confirmation, and a strong desire to read more and make something. Perhaps this is why my path crossed with Dr. Bob’s— to be inspired to live a creative life infused with boundless questions and just as many answers. To be reminded that we should never stop looking, and embrace the magic that is all around us.
We step out the front door, and walk past Dr. Bob’s Artcar, filled with symbols and ideas from a lifelong pursuit of truth. I realize fully that I am in the presence of a true artist, who has dedicated his life to expressing the ideas that would otherwise remain locked inside.
As we approach my car, we share a hug, and I a get a kiss on the cheek. We have taken the time to get to know one another and now we are friends. As I get inside and prepare to drive off, Dr. Bob takes a moment to appreciate the feathers which sit on my dashboard, and shares a parting thought.
“I have so much more to learn,” he says.
So do I.
Photos by Philip Laubner