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Ludlow, Fitz Hugh (1836-1870)

Novelist, Playwright, Short Story Writer, Travel Writer

Growing up in Poughkeepsie, New York, Fitz Hugh Ludlow began sampling various drugs at the age of sixteen. He went to Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he continued to experiment with drugs, especially hashish (Martin 51-2). His most well-known work, The Hasheesh Eater (1857), was written in the tradition of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) and was based on his personal experiences under the influence of the drug. The Hasheesh Eater was positively reviewed in New York’s The Knickerbocker and became a best-seller when its author was only twenty-one years old.

Ludlow became a fixture at Pfaff's in its early days following the publication of The Hasheesh Eater , yet despite the book's success, he struggled financially and was a "dirt-poor celebrity" (Martin 55). Nevertheless, according to several scholars, Ludlow influenced many Pfaffians to celebrate hashish in their literary works. For example, according to Tracy Auclair, Ludlow's meeting with Walt Whitman at Pfaff's on several occasions may have influenced Whitman’s use of drug-inspired imagery in the "Calamus" poems (231). Like other frequenters of Pfaff’s, Ludlow expressed interest in the stage and wrote a children’s play to support the activities of the New York Sanitary Commission. Ludlow had numerous interactions with the Bohemians during their height of existence. Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich retells the story of the Ludlows’ appearance at a party thrown by Richard and Elizabeth Stoddard. Following the Booths was “Fitz Hugh Ludlow, a writer of good stories, and a smoker of hasheesh -- seeing visions. Mrs. Ludlow’s picture had a charm all its own of youth and beauty; brown hair, brown eyes, slight figure, tartan plaid dress -- greens and blues in happy mixture, with a final touch of the blue snood that bound her hair, with just a curl to two escaping" (18).

Ludlow continuously struggled to follow up on the success of his first work, and so he took a job at the New York City Customs House, where Thomas Bailey Aldrich also worked, to supplement the small income he received as a writer. In May 1863, he set off on a journey to the West with painter Albert Bierstadt. He arranged to publish his travel accounts in The New York Post . During his journey out West, he, along with several artists, created a group modeled after Clapp's New York Pfaffians in San Francisco. This group met at the Occidental Hotel and published a weekly paper called The Golden Era (Martin 183). Ludlow's long-awaited book detailing his travels out West called The Heart of the Continent was finally published in 1870, a delay that would cause his work to be considered inconsequential as the trans-continental railroad was completed the year before, making travel accounts less marketable as individuals could now see the West for themselves. Ludlow’s died at the age of thirty-four. While the official cause of his death was tuberculosis, his persistent use of drugs throughout his lifetime likely contributed to his early death (Martin 248).