New Paltzians remember Ludwig Montesa with celebration

Speaking at Ludwig Montesa's memorial, his sister Farah is pictured along with his parents, Virginia and Oscar.

Speaking at Ludwig Montesa’s memorial, his sister Farah is pictured along with his parents, Virginia and Oscar. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Church bells tolled as the people huddled under ponchos and umbrellas, gathered in the cold and rain in Hasbrouck Park, to celebrate the life of the man known as New Paltz’s ambassador, Ludwig Montesa.

The group, of about 100, included his friends and family. His friend Amanda Sisenstein urged people to take the example of acceptance Ludwig displayed in his life and spread it.

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“We all need to work on being a little kinder, more compassionate, willing to love and be loved. We must work on being less judgmental, less selfish and finding more reasons to be a part of and give back to the community,” Sisenstein said.

Ludwig, 34, was a staple on Main Street and at open mic nights in town. He passed away at home on April 7, following an epileptic seizure.

Mayor Jason West also spoke at the memorial service in the park. He first met Ludwig in about 1995 as a college student at SUNY New Paltz. He noted that the celebration did not have a funereal vibe. People came dressed in bright colors. Off to the side of the pavilion, a model of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s No. 7 train to Flushing was set up. It featured a picture of Ludwig looking out the back window of the subway car.

“Ludwig would have loved this. He would have loved the 7 train mock-up being used to haul the drums around. He would have loved the pins, the T-shirts and the attention,” West said.

For most of the time he’s been here — even before his two stints as mayor — West knew Ludwig. Both men are roughly the same age, so that’s for what now amounts to almost half the mayor’s life.

“I met Ludwig in the fall of 1995 or the summer of 1996, when I first moved to New Paltz,” he said. “I met him when I was an 18-year-old, pompous poet at Creations Coffee House, reciting bad poetry.”

The mayor noted that Ludwig gave everyone he met a lesson in tolerance.

“The first question most people had when people met Ludwig the first time was, ‘What’s wrong with him?’” he said. “You didn’t ask that a second time — because the second time you met Ludwig, you forgot about that part.

“The third time you met Ludwig, you got mad when someone else asked what was wrong with him. And from the fourth time on, you stepped up and defended him from all these goddamned strangers messing with one of our neighbors.”

West said he thought it spoke to New Paltz’s tolerance that the community went out of its way to protect Ludwig from harassment by outsiders. Following his remarks, the mayor unveiled a pronouncement from Ulster County Executive Michael Hein declaring that May 25, 2013 is an official county holiday: Ludwig Day.

That remark drew loud cheers from the crowd.

Margaret Casey, who helped set up the Ludwig Day festival, said the first time she ever met Ludwig was at an open mic night at the then-Muddy Cup Coffeehouse. She was working behind the counter.

“For some reason I found it to be the strangest thing ever that someone was singing Mariah Carey. I heard it come on and it was like ‘what the deuce is going on right now?’ I look up, of course Ludwig is going up the back stairs,” Casey said. “For some reason, I thought he was going to walk out the back door with microphone in hand. And then he flips around and just ever so slowly just starts sliding down the banister — never missing a single Mariah Carey lyric.”

Ludwig performed at nearly every open mic night he could make. It endeared him to poets, musicians and artists in town. His act usually consisted of taking the stage under a humorously complex fake stage name, and then singing show tunes or karaoke.

Carl Welden served as the open mic night host for Creations Coffee House back during the mid-1990s. He became fast friends with Ludwig. He remembered the first time Ludwig came up for open mic.

“Ludwig came on. As the host, I introduced him not knowing what he would do. He stood up in front of a packed room. It was limited seating, so the floor was covered with people — artists, students, everybody,” he said. “And from memory, he recited the entire Metro-North train schedule.”

Welden recalled an old joke about New Paltz being the land where broken toys — outcasts from society or misfits — go to live. He thinks that vibe is what made people so accepting of Ludwig.

Ludwig’s sister, Farah Montesa, also spoke during the memorial. She talked about his unconditional love, but also his unconditional enthusiasm.

“I feel so lucky to have someone like that in my life. I feel like we’re all so lucky to have someone like that — to have experienced that,” she said.

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The Montesas own Kon-Tiki Trading Co. on Main Street in New Paltz, which meant that Ludwig had a huge presence downtown. He lived upstairs with his parents and worked at the shop. Since his death, Ludwig’s friends have latched onto his gentleness and kindness — seeing it as an example they’d like to follow.

“He hated to see the people that he loved be sad, or hurt, or in pain. And that today is a day of joy, and of celebration, he would have loved that,” Farah said.

Ludwig Day was an all-day event, with shows following the memorial service at venues around town. Organizers hope it can become an annual event.