Herbert Asbury, in Chapter IX, Section 2 of The Gangs of New York, mentions that Lower Manhattan had its own vampire, an old German called Ludwig the Bloodsucker, who frequented two Bowery dives, Bismarck Hall and the House of Commons. Asbury remarked on Ludwig’s copious terminal hair coming out of his ears and nostrils, and that he drank blood like wine. Other writers after Asbury added that Ludwig preyed on the drunken customers that stumbled out of saloons.

Ludwig wasn’t mentioned in any of Asbury’s listed sources, and in fact can’t be found in any 19th century books. Many people, such as the article contributors of Wikipedia, have concluded that Ludwig was a myth, an urban legend. It’s a good premise, to imagine that the Bowery area had its own monster to rival Whitechapel’s Jack the Ripper, preying on the lost souls of impoverishment.

Happily, after 140 years, I can announce to the world that Ludwig the Bloodsucker was not a myth. His name was Franz Ludwig (sometimes Americanized as Francis Louis) Hellreigel, born in Germany in 1824. Hellreigel and his wife, Margaretha, raised a large family and resided at times on the Lower East Side and across the river in Brooklyn. They were not poor, and owned their own property. He was a tailor by profession.

Hellreigel’s peculiar taste in liquids was publicized in the New York Mercury, and later reprinted in the National Police Gazette:

Hellreigel, alas, was not quite alone. There are contemporary newspaper accounts that relate that some doctors, following quack theories, prescribed the ingesting of blood to alleviate certain medical complaints, especially consumption (usually tuberculosis). Though Hellreigel started his practice as a child for similar reason, he stands apart in his adult preference for blood as refreshment.

That’s odd–I can’t find Hellreigel’s death record.

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