High times: Composer of Union’s alma mater gets fresh look in new exhibit

Publication Date

Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Class of 1856, was many things in his brief 34 years: a short story writer, poet, drama and music critic, explorer and drug treatment pioneer.

And as a student, at the urging of President Eliphalet Nott, Ludlow composed Ode to Old Union, which became the College’s alma mater.

Ludlow’s adventurous life and works are the subject of a new exhibit, “Beyond the Hasheesh Eater: Fitz Ludlow, A Nineteenth Century Writer and Adventurer,” on display in Beuth Atrium in Schaffer Library.

An opening reception will be 12:50 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, featuring Don Dulchinos ’78, co-curator of the exhibit with Sarah Oswald, Archives and Special Collections librarian. The Eliphalets, one of the College’s a cappella groups, will perform the alma mater.

The exhibit coincides with the publication next month of Dulchinos’ book, “The Collected Works of Fitz Hugh Ludlow,” a seven-volume set.

The title of the exhibit refers to Ludlow’s best-selling book, “The Hasheesh Eater.” Published in 1857, the cult-classic was the first example of American drug literature.

In it, Ludlow takes readers on his hash-induced psychedelic journey, sharing his deep thoughts on topics of religion, philosophy, medicine and culture. It has been written that Ludlow consumed such large quantities of hash regularly that his hallucinations have been likened to those experienced by opium addicts.

Following the Civil War, he became a leading expert in the treatment of opium addiction.

The exhibit features Ludlow family letters, a first edition of “The Hasheesh Eater,” other short stories and publications, images related to his travels out west, an original manuscript of Ode to Old Union and a Fitz Hugh Ludlow Day T-shirt. For a decade or so beginning in 1979, the College hosted a campus-wide festival that included honoring a person from Union’s past each year.

Dulchinos became aware of Ludlow while at Union. Years later, while working at the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service, he discovered Ludlow’s prolific writing career. In addition to publishing four books, Ludlow contributed to top publications as Vanity Fair, Harper’s and The Atlantic. More impressive, he accomplished all this before dying of tuberculosis in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 34.

Believing Ludlow had been ignored by critics and historians, in 1998 Dulchinos wrote “Pioneer of Inner Space: The Life of Fitz Hugh Ludlow.”

His latest book has Union connections: Steve Crimi ’81 founded Logosophia Books, which published the collection. The cover art for each volume was designed by Jack Taylor ’82.

“Fitz Hugh Ludlow burst on the American literary scene in 1857 with the unlikely best seller The Hasheesh Eater,” said Dulchinos, who lives in Boulder, Colo. “This exhibit illustrates a career as a perceptive and prolific novelist, journalist and adventurer in the mid-19th century, with friends and colleagues ranging from Walt Whitman to Brigham Young to Mark Twain.”

The exhibit runs through March.