For many people, the first time that Ludwig Montesa noticed you, came running down Main Street and said hello – when you got into his good graces – was a rite of passage: You’d become a part of the New Paltz’s social fabric. He was always quick with a hug, a high-five, a goofy face or a smile.
“Once you met him, you were instantly his best friend,” explained Rebecca Rotzler, a longtime friend of Ludwig and the Montesa family.
Ludwig Montesa – one of New Paltz’s most well-known and beloved citizens – was found dead April 7 at the age of 34. He died at home in bed, apparently of an epileptic seizure.
In the week that’s followed, a shrine dedicated to his memory between 60 Main Street and Cafeteria coffeehouse emerged spontaneously. Signs saying “R.I.P. Ludwig” were posted anonymously on shop windows throughout town. Concerts and open-mic nights were put on in his name. The shrine, which started with a few flowers and a candle, has since quintupled in size.
Most people who’ve been to New Paltz have at least seen Ludwig, whether they realized it or not. He was as much a part of life downtown in the village core as breakfast at the Main Street Bistro or a walk in Hasbrouck Park.
Amanda Sisenstein, a barista, shop clerk and community activist, has been friends with Ludwig for almost a decade – since she was a college undergrad at SUNY New Paltz. On the day of her 21st birthday, before she really knew Ludwig, she got an unexpected gift.
“My friend Rhonda came in with a card for me from Ludwig. She was saying, I was talking to Ludwig, and he was saying you’re having your birthday at Snug’s tonight. So he got this card for you,” Sisenstein said. “And I was like, Who’s Ludwig? Everybody looks at me astonished, like what do you mean who’s Ludwig?”
Just about everybody in town knows that Ludwig was just “Ludwig” in the way that Cherilyn Sarkisian is just “Cher” or the way that Paul Hewson is just “Bono.” Ludwig was a legend on Main Street. He walked around wearing his black trench coat, sporting a satchel and dressed to the nines in the finest shoes. He’d stop at the various shops to play pranks on his friends or greet people on the sidewalks. He’d talk about the train ride down to Flushing. And if he liked you, he’d show you his MetroCard for the New York City subway.
“He literally gave me a birthday card before I knew who he was – but he knew who I was,” Sisenstein said. “I was floored. That was kind of my first real connection with Ludwig.”
Like many other musicians, artists, poets, writers and journalists, I met Ludwig first at an open-mic night in New Paltz. Ludwig’s act was always playful. He’d set up a timeworn Discman, pick out his favorite CD, and sing karaoke to Frank Sinatra or Barbara Streisand. Or he’d bring his huge silver Casio keyboard and play slow renditions of Disney songs, like “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. He sometimes signed up to play under lengthy aliases just to make people laugh. I remember one was “The Rockefeller Ice Rink at Christmastime.” He made almost every open-mic night he physically could.
Sometimes he’d collaborate with other musicians in town. In hard-rock circles, Ludwig is still known as “Bloodwig” for the time he jumped on stage to sing with a metal act at Snug Harbor.
Ally Ferrara is one of the people helping to set up Ludwig Day on May 25. It’ll begin with a memorial service in Hasbrouck Park from noon till 2 p.m., followed by a day of music at Oasis Café, Snug’s, Cabaloosa, Cafeteria coffeehouse, The Bakery, Rhino Records, Water Street Market and Bacchus Restaurant & Bar. Organizers are still waiting for approval to use the park, but they’re hopeful it’ll happen. They’d also like to see the occasion as an annual event.
Ferrara moved to New Paltz from Long Island. She didn’t have many close friends other than her boyfriend when she started working at Kon-Tiki Trading Co. on Main Street, which is owned by Ludwig’s parents. Meeting Ludwig brought her out of her shell.
“He’d be like my little shadow,” she said. “Even if I took a break, I took a break with Ludwig.”
Ludwig lived with his parents upstairs from the shop. So he spent a lot of time in the store. The time she spent with him in the Kon-Tiki are memories Ferrara said she’ll never forget. “I think that Ludwig being Ludwig allowed me to be me,” she said.
Ludwig had a timeless quality about him – so much so that people who figured out he was in his thirties were often shocked to hear it. The Montesas moved to New Paltz in the 1990s, and Ludwig attended Highland High School’s special education program until his graduation in 1996. After that, he took classes at SUNY New Paltz. In those almost 20 years, Ludwig made friends with many college kids, teens, artists, musicians and young professionals.