Guest Post: Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s Moral Vision of Hashish

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is written by journalist and biographer Justin Martin, author of the new book Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians (Da Capo Press, 2014).  His post today is a reflection on psychedelic pioneer Fitz Hugh Ludlow. 

Fitz Hugh Ludlow was a psychedelic pioneer and author of the 1857 classic The Hasheesh Eater. I’ve just completed a book about his circle of Bohemian artists, which hung out at Pfaff’s saloon in Manhattan. As I researched, one of the things that struck me was how Ludlow made a distinction between drugs that promised enlightenment, and those that offered only empty sensation.

Portrait of Ludlow (Special collections, Schaffer Library, Union College)
Portrait of Ludlow (Special collections, Schaffer Library, Union College)

Nowadays, this is a common view. Drugs tend to be sorted into two distinct categories, at least among the lay public. Those such as LSD, mushrooms, and peyote are viewed as means to heightened perceptions, albeit at the risk of one’s mental stability. Those such as cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin are viewed as agents of sensation, for use by people seeking sexual thrills or mere numbness. It’s akin to the classic mind/body split explored for eons by philosophers.

But Ludlow published The Hasheesh Eater at a time when drugs occupied a very small role in popular culture. This was more than a century before the Grateful Dead peddled their vision of psychedelic bliss, say, or the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman furnished the umpteenth Hollywood cautionary tale about the dangers of heroin use. Circa the 1850s, Americans made recreational use of everything from alcohol to opium to chloroform. Crucially, however, moral distinctions about the properties of different drugs didn’t yet exist.

Ludlow – always supremely modern in outlook – made those distinctions just the same, promising that hashish offered “insight” rather than “indulgence.” And that seems to have been a key to his book’s success. It was one of the year’s best sellers, quickly going through four printings. It even sparked a short-lived vogue for hashish in the United States.

The Hashish Eater (1903 edition,  personal collection of author)
The Hashish Eater (1903 edition, personal collection of author)

A reporter for the New York World ingested the drug and then wrote about his experiences, concluding, “For me, henceforth, Time is but a word.” As a student at Brown University, John Hay – later Lincoln’s personal secretary and secretary of state under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley – was also inspired to try the drug. “The Hasheesh Eater had recent appeared (1857),” a classmate reminisced, “and Johnny must needs experiment with hasheesh a little, and see if it was such a marvelous stimulant to the imagination as Fitzhugh Ludlow affirmed.” Hay himself would look back on Brown as a place “where I used to eat Hasheesh and dream dreams.”

After getting to know Ludlow, several members of the circle at Pfaff’s saloon felt compelled to celebrate hashish, at least in their literary efforts. Thomas Aldrich wrote a poem called “Hascheesh.”  Walt Whitman – the mainstay of this Bohemian group – also made allusions to the drug in some of his work from this time. Given Whitman’s moderate drinking habits (no one at Pfaff’s ever saw him so much as tipsy), he is unlikely to have indulged. More likely, the poet – always ultra-receptive to societal trends – simply wished to attend to a current fad.

Ludlow was ahead of his time, touting hashish for qualities that were morally acceptable, even desirable. If only the ill-fated Ludlow had held fast to his own instincts.

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A Genealogy of Disclosure: Alcoholism, Celebrity, Feminism

Lately I have been investigating what I call a genealogy of disclosure, asking how the tightly controlled personal narrative of Marty Mann, which she offered in service of a public health mission as she launched the organization that is now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, morphed into our own cultural moment, wherein “Intervention” is a reality television show and the successive admissions of young celebrities to rehabilitation for addiction is considered newsworthy. Of course, a generation ago, First Lady Betty Ford served an important role bringing public awareness to women’s addictions, including alcoholism. Yet even though she stands as perhaps the most famous female alcoholic of the twentieth century, Ford was not the first or even the only one to step forward. Professional women, including physicians, who were alcoholic had worked to shape policy and treatment, while alcoholic actresses testified before Congress beginning in 1969 to support the bill that established the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This activism has been dubbed the “women’s alcoholism movement” and it led to the official identification of women as a “special population” of alcoholics in the context of new federal funding for research and treatment. [1]

The March into the 1977 National Women's Conference (l to r): Billy Jean King, Susan B. Anthony II, Bella Abzug, Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy Kokernot, Michele Cearcy, Betty Friedan (courtesy Jewish Women's Archive).
The March into the 1977 National Women’s Conference (l to r): Billy Jean King, Susan B. Anthony II, Bella Abzug, Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy Kokernot, Michele Cearcy, Betty Friedan (courtesy Jewish Women’s Archive).

An especially fascinating figure who played an important role during this period was Susan B. Anthony II.

Read More »

On E.M. Jellinek’s Trail

Note:  Readers are encouraged to send potential leads, sources, or thoughts relating to E.M. Jellinek’s life to Judit Ward, at jhajnal@rci.rutgers.edu, or Ron Roizen, at ronroizen@frontier.com.  With thanks in advance, from both of us.

Edna Jellinek Lindh Pariser, E.M.'s younger sister, in a 1921 passport photo
Edna Jellinek Lindh Pariser, E.M.’s younger sister, in a 1921 passport photo

Who was E.M. Jellinek?

As a great many Points readers will already be aware, Jellinek rose to prominence in mid-20th-century America as a spokesman for “a new scientific approach” to alcoholism and alcohol.  Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the temperance movement and its paradigm were discredited, and the nation was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, looking for a new perspective on its longstanding problematic relationship with Demon Rum.  For a variety of reasons, Jellinek proved to be an excellent instrument for inviting the nation to embrace a new and more scientifically oriented disposition toward alcohol-related problems.  He also published two very useful artifacts with respect to the modern alcoholism movement:  a widely employed description of alcoholism’s progressively unfolding symptomatology and a formula for estimating the prevalence of alcoholism.  E.M. Jellinek’s name is still revered today in both the alcohol science community and in Alcoholics Anonymous.

For the past several months,  we — i.e., Judit Ward and her staff at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies library and Ron Roizen in Idaho — have been collecting material on E.M. Jellinek’s life, loves, career, and times.  In part, we’re searching for elements of his past that may have prepared him for the profound role he played in transforming our society’s relationship to alcohol and alcoholism.  Yet — and also — he’s just a damn interesting guy to learn about.  So far, it’s been both an intoxicatingly exciting adventure and a very frustrating task.

One of the project’s strengths is that one of us (viz., J.W.) is a native Hungarian speaker.  This advantage holds considerable promise for ultimately sorting out Jellinek’s currency trading caper in 1920 and his rapid and ignominious departure from Budapest the same year.  It’s also an advantage with respect to new work being done of late by Hungarian scholars on Jellinek’s life and relationships (see Kelemen and Mark [2012], Mark and Brettner [2012], and Hars [2009]).  To date, the American readership of these articles might not stretch far beyond the two of us – with, of course, J.W. doing the translating and R.R. doing the attentive listening.  Yet, this tick up in Hungarian interest is certainly a very welcome sign.  We’ve had the privilege, too, of communicating directly with Gabor Kelemen, one of the Hungarian scholars.  He reports, among other things, that he’s currently at work on an examination of Jellinek’s 1917 monograph on the ethnographic history of the shoe (Jellinek, 1917).

Was that the shoe?!

Not the least engaging aspect of our biographical project is how colorfully varied Jellinek’s many intellectual pursuits were.Read More »

Being Outed

Editor’s Note:   Readers will recognized “Matthew J. Raphael” as the pen name of well-known literary scholar who authored the outstanding biography Bill W. and Mr. Wilson; he recently reviewed the documentary Bill W. for Points.  Here he muses on the poor fit between academic values, Amazon.com, and AA’s 11th Tradition.

U. Mass Press, 2000

When Bill W. and Mr. Wilson appeared in 2000, it was featured by the Chronicle of Higher Education, largely because of its pseudonymous authorship – so rare an anomaly for this journal that it begged explanation. It seemed eccentric, if not vegetarian, for me to be renouncing explicit recognition for anything within academe’s carnivorous realm, where clawing for visibility names the game. The Chronicle reporter wondered earnestly whether or not the book would appear on my updated CV. If not, would I forfeit a salary bump for meritorious work?

I explained the AA tradition of anonymity at the level of press, radio, and film (later expanded to other public media). I added that the tradition did not preclude revealing my identity, if I pleased, under less public circumstances, such as submitting my CV.

In 2000, there was no great mystery, below the public level, about who had written Bill W. and Mr. Wilson, particularly among those in the incipient field of Alcohol and Addiction Studies. I think my authorship has since become more or less common knowledge, although “Matthew J. Raphael” remains the author when the book appears in the bibliographies of related studies; and it is not placed among my other publications at, say, Amazon.com. More on that presently.

I had originally regarded Bill Wilson skeptically:  as a braggart and egoist, quick on the draw in promoting himself. My first impression was confirmed to a degree. Read More »

The Points Interview — Mark Christensen

Editor’s Note:  Those who follow the Points Interview series know that Joe Spillane has managed this aspect of the blog since our founding.  While in today’s iteration we mourn Joe’s departure, we are also delighted to announce that Contributing Editor Ron Roizen has agreed to take over as our official interview steward.  A member of the merry research staff at the Alcohol Research Group at “Berzerkeley” in the early 1970s, it’s fitting that his first Points Interview is a “Freaky Friday” confab with Mark Christensen, another denizen of the Wild West.  In addition to publishing several novels, Christensen has written for Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Oregon Magazine.  Here he graces Points with his replies to our series of probing interrogatives on Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy (Schaffner Press, 2010).

How did you come to write Acid Christ?  And what’s its focus?

I was contacted by a former editor working for my eventual publisher, Tim Schaffner.  Tim had an idea for a new kind of nonfiction book,  a “shepherd and his sheep” biography in which the writer would tell the story of  a major modern “culture changer” and the change the “shepherd” brought from the writer’s own  perspective. As one of the sheep.  That would be me.  A former upper middle-class “suburban-urchin,” I’d written about counterculture icons like David Crosby, Richard Pryor and Paul Krassner for Rolling Stone and High Times and, so to speak, the paradise that was “pre-AIDS ‘Freak Freely’ America.” So I guess I was a good get.

As for the shepherd, larger than life Ken Kesey was an easy choice.  By age 28 he had two critically acclaimed bestselling novels, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, a feat never bested by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow or John Updike.Read More »

Bill W.: A Remembrance and a Review, Part 2

U. Mass. Press, 2000

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part look at Kevin Hanlon’s documentary Bill W.  In yesterday’s installment, biographer Matthew J. Raphael recounted his own experiences trying to capture and contextualize the life of AA’s co-founder for the book Bill W. and Mr. Wilson.

Bill W., an excellent new film from 124 Productions, takes a qualitative quantum leap over My Name Is Bill W. (1989), an ABC made-for-television movie starring James Woods as Bill Wilson and James Garner as Dr. Bob Smith.  Bill W.’s widow, Lois Wilson, lived just long enough to read and approve that script, and the lead performances, especially Woods’s, are convincing. But as Norman K. Denzin asserts in Hollywood Shot by Shot: Alcoholism in American Cinema (1991), the fusion of Bill W.’s life with the “origin myth” of AA makes this film “a piece of official A.A. ideology that reproduces this organization’s version of its place in American society.” In effect, it employs biography as a means to place Wilson and AA alike “outside history, politics, and power.”  What I referred to yesterday as “the bedtime story” becomes an agreeable fairy tale for the New Agey Twelve-Step Recovery communities of the 1980s and 1990s.

Bill W., by contrast, connects Wilson directly to the history, politics, and power that bore on his life both inside AA and, to a lesser degree, in the outside world. The film takes account of such social conditions as the Great Depression, the shady new devices (some invented by Wilson) for boosting Wall Street profits, the gaudy excesses of the 1920s, in which Wilson eagerly participated, and the stark racial divisions that Bill W. finessed by encouraging “separate but equal” meetings in the South.

The overall treatment of race, however, seems a bit underdeveloped and thus slightly evasive.  Only one of the shadow-enshrouded AA members interviewed for the film is African American – a detail viewers might fail to recognize if he did not (at the director’s prompting?) move his tell-tale black hand into the light. The film gives a brief depiction of the Bowery as the ultimate hell-hole into which alcoholics can fall. But while the context suggests white alcoholics, the illustrative old photographs show only black down-and-outers.

Not Pictured in “Bill W.”: Whiteness

Still, only a zealot of political correctness would find much fault here.Read More »

Bill W.: A Remembrance and a Review, Part 1

Editor’s Note: Matthew J. Raphael is the author of the biography Bill W. and Mr. Wilson: The Legend and Life of AA’s Co-founder (U. Mass. Press, 2000).  He uses a pen name in deference to AA’s 11th Tradition of anonymity. Recently retired from a long career as a critic and historian of American literature, he here turns his attention to the latest Bill W. bio, Kevin Hanlon’s documentary film of that name.

The first and only time I was lunched by a literary agent, he offered to get me a 50K advance for a trade book biography of Bill Wilson.

The Setting was Something Like This

At the time, little in this vein existed beyond Robert Thomsen’s novelistic Bill W. (1975) and the official AA book, “Pass It On” (1984). But soon thereafter, things began to pop. In the same anno mirabilis, 2000, were published: Bill W.: An Autobiography, based on interview tapes he made with Thomsen; Mel Barger’s My Search for Bill Wilson; Francis Hartigan’s Bill W.; and my own Bill W. and Mr. Wilson– all of them soon to be followed by Susan Cheever’s authoritative My Name Is Bill (2004).

Obviously, I demurred about that advance, which might have been just the start of some hefty royalties if the book caught on. The agent knew I could write well enough for the job and also handle the research. My candidacy was enhanced by the AA membership we had in common. I even had a leave coming up, and the advance would have allowed its extension for an additional semester or two. If only I would put my scholarly project aside and take up the biography!Read More »

Dr. Bob’s Home, Part III: Creating a Fellowship of Historians

Last fall I described the process through which a team of graduate students from the University of Michigan researched and wrote the nomination for Dr. Bob’s Home, the residence of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Dr. Bob Smith and his wife Anne, to be a National Historic Landmark (NHL).  This week we completed the next step in the process, the formal presentation of the nomination to the Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service.   Like our trip from Ann Arbor to Akron to see Dr. Bob’s Home for ourselves, which I recounted in previous posts, this step required a literal journey, as we drove from Michigan to Washington, D.C. for the presentation.  It has been a journey in other ways as well, as we have learned even more about collaboration, about fellowship, and about the many ways that history matters.

After months of research and writing a lengthy and detailed document, the students were charged with compressing their argument about the significance of Dr. Bob’s Home into a ten-minute presentation, following the protocol of the Landmarks Committee meeting.  Dr. Bob’s Home was one of approximately a dozen properties presented there over two days.  The meeting itself was a fascinating mix of procedural formality and impassioned statements about the power of historic places.  We were joined in Washington by a representative of the Founders’ Foundation, the non-profit organization that has restored and now maintains Dr. Bob’s Home as a museum—the same person who had served as our host when we visited Akron and who has partnered with us through this process.  Sharing this experience with him and his family deepened our appreciation of the importance of fellowship and the power of history.Read More »

“They Call Them Camisoles”: The Short Life and Tragic Death of Wilma Wilson

They Call them Camisoles (Lymanhouse, 1940)

They Call Them Camisoles is a tantalizing document– Wilma Wilson’s first-person account of her 1939 commitment for alcoholism to the Camarillo State Hospital in California. Published in 1940, the book had recently been out of print.  I learned of it myself a few years ago, and discovered only yesterday that it has been republished in a volume compiled by Kirsten Anderberg, which includes material on Wilson’s death and many photographs of Camarillo State Hospital as it looks today.  The title refers to restraints that some patients had to wear, and much of the narrative recounts Wilson’s observations of the mentally ill patients around her.  Not surprisingly, the book has been understood—both at the time of its publication and now—primarily as an expose of the conditions and practices inside mental institutions.  There is no question that it is an important source of evidence in that regard.  But I am also interested in exploring what it can tell us about gender and alcoholism during the 1930s and 1940s.

Given the stigma and secrecy that often surrounds women’s drinking, I am fascinated by instances when women choose to divulge their excessive drinking.  I’m tracing what I call a genealogy of disclosure, from Marty Mann, who revealed her alcoholism during the 1940s when she founded what is now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; through Betty Ford in the 1970s; to today’s climate of reality television and celebrity tell-all memoirs.  In some of these cases, the women were already famous for other reasons, making the acknowledgment of a drinking problem all the more shocking.  In others, the disclosure itself creates a kind of renown.Read More »

Remembering a Drug Activist: Siobhan Reynolds: 1961-2011

I didn’t keep up with my drug-related news over the holidays. I didn’t check Facebook or read any blogs. My mother was in town, and I was playing tourist. What could possibly happen, anyway, I thought, with legislators on holiday and courts out of session? Apparently, a lot.

Siobhan Reynolds, 1961 - 2011

I got an email last week alerting me to pain relief activist Siobhan Reynolds’ unexpected death. I couldn’t believe it; I searched the Internet wildly, hoping to prove this was just a rumor. But pieces at Time Magazine, The Logan (OH) Daily NewsDrug War Rant, Reason, TalkLeft, StoptheDrugWar.org, and the American Thinker confirmed that Siobhan had, in fact, perished in a plane crash on Christmas Eve. She died with her partner, attorney Kevin P. Byers (who was piloting the small aircraft), and his mother, Eudora Byers, during an unfortunately unsuccessful attempt to land at the Vinton County Airport in Ohio.Read More »