LSD: The Psychotropic Collection of Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr.
A look at the man behind the world's largest collection of drug-related literature and paraphernalia.
This article originally appeared on VICE Colombia
The Ludlow-Santo Domingo (LSD) Library is the world's first collection of drug-related literature and drug paraphernalia. Following the death of its proprietor, Julio Santo Domingo Jr., the extensive collection was removed from his private residence and placed as part of a long-term loan at Harvard University.
Its, now deceased, eccentric creator Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. was the firstborn son of Colombian patriarch Julio Mario Santo Domingo Pumarejo – a man valued in his day at 8.5 billion dollars. Like his father (and his grandfather before that), Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. was one of the richest, most powerful people in Colombia and thus had to cope with all manner of obligation thrust upon him by lineage. Which was unfortunate given that what he actually wanted to be was a modern day Rimbaud and a literary beatnik.
His interest in all things subversive began on the west side of London's Berkeley Square, in an antique bookstore called Maggs Bros. Being a lover of poets and 19th century writers like Rimbaud and Verlaine, Julio Mario Jr. would visit Maggs Bros every time he travelled to England for business. He would wander about the store for hours, getting lost amidst the books, usually leaving with gifts for family or friends.
"He would occasionally ask for a specific title, or suggest themes," the store owner Carl Williams told me.
One day Williams asked: "What are you interested in?"
"Drugs," replied Santo Domingo.
The first "dosage" that Carl Williams gave him was a manuscript by José Luis Cuevas – a Mexican artist and writer – who in the early 1960s explored new aesthetics by injecting LSD into his body.
After that, a sort of brotherly bond was formed between Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. and Carl Williams. Williams, a graduate of Sociology and Diplomatic History, became a dealer of surreal stories for the wealthy literary junkie, who was always hungry for a new tale of cannabis or acid.
It's not hard to imagine what kind of library Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. managed to put together over the years. Located at his home in Geneva, Switzerland, it was a maze of sinuous shelves, banned titles and literature brimming with all things prohibited, extending ad infinitum.
Now considered the largest and most important in the world, his collection of countercultural literature consists of over 50,000 books, manuscripts, pulp fiction, recordings, films, objects, records, fragments of art and all kinds of drug paraphernalia.
"Santo was always a collector – he had done it since he was a child. One day he told me he had bought a travel book, a book that made him ask himself: 'What are my interests? What do I want to do?'" Williams told me. "He always liked unusual books, especially those that talked about drugs. But what really moved him was the idea of traveling. He believed that the altered states of consciousness experienced while dreaming, listening to music, using drugs, during hypnosis or while having sex, were all ways to travel with one's mind."
Williams continued: "He was also constantly travelling and wherever he went he acquired books and objects. He would buy from vendors along the Seine banks, from hippie dealers in California, bohemian Parisian collectors of old posters, gallery owners, retro soft porn distributors in Lyon, specialists in psychedelia in Greenwich Village, the coolest shops in Notting Hill, from the basement sellers of beat books as well as the big auction houses of the Western world."
All of these trips and the masses of bizarre paraphernalia he accumulated were treasures to him. Things like the journals of acid fanatic Timothy Leary; the first drawings of Vin Mariani; an elixir produced by French chemist Angelo Mariani; the beakers in which Alexander Shulgin synthesised MDMA for the first time; the cassette recordings of Jack Kerouac's psychiatric appointments or William Burroughs' Scientology manuals.
Between 2001 and 2006, Santo Domingo procured two new collections of particular cultural significance. The first, acquired in 2001, was the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Library of San Francisco, which was a merging of the catalogs of Michael Horowitz, Cynthia Palmer and William Dailey. Assembled in 1970, the collection contains close to 10,000 items, all relating to psychoactive substances. It was named in honour of Fitz Hugh Ludlow, the first American author to deal with the subject of drugs.
The second collection he bought was sexier; Having previously belonged to Swiss art enthusiast Gerard Nordmann, it was a sizeable addition containing over 1,200 items packed full of eroticism, breasts, cunnilingus and sodomy. According to the website of London auction house Christies, this addition cost Santo Domingo around £1.9 million.
The eccentric millionaire initially dubbed his library 'Phantastica'. This wasn't only a nod to the wealth of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll that it contained, but also an ode to Louis Lewin's fantastic drug-ridden book of the same name. A few years later, however, he renamed the library after his beloved dog Louise.
On one occasion, Louise almost died from hanging when her leash got caught in the elevator doors of the library. An incident that, according to Williams, could easily have made Santo Domingo abandon his entire collection. The library changed its name one last time after it absorbed the Fitz Hugh Ludlow library in 2001, and became known as LSD – a fairly appropriate renaming on many levels.
The wide and varied spectrum with which Julio cultivated his taste for counterculture reflected his ability to combine pieces of the highest cultural category with those more popular; an act which made him, according to Williams, a sort of visionary.
Not everyone felt the same though: "His father was worried about the collection. His own work had always been supremely honest and clean, and he was scared that his son's interests could ruin the reputation of the family," Williams explained.
Journalist Gerardo Reyes, in Don Julio Mario, the unauthorised biography of the Colombian businessman, described the continuous distrust that he had for his son: "On a personal level, the only concern that afflicted Santo Domingo was his son Julio. The boy definitely inherited the festive character of his father..." He also goes on to write: "Although he made great efforts, Julio Mario Jr. failed to balance his love for partying with the obligations his father had given him within the organisation. On a couple of occasions, members of the board of the Santo Domingo Group have seen him fall asleep in the middle of meetings, both while participating in person or by video conference from Geneva. The last time this happened, in 2000, his father threatened to expel him from the meetings."
Recommended: Hamilton's Pharmacopeia
I tried to establish contact with Santo Domingo's family, but it's proved impossible. In addition to several correspondences I had with close friends of the family, I exchanged a couple of emails with English journalist Peter Watts, who's in charge of writing the official document on the bibliography of Julio Mario Jr. Initially, he agreed to talk with me, but later decided against it, citing respect for the family as his main reason.
In March 2009, at the age of 51, Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. died, leaving behind a group of very powerful companies, two children, multiple beneficiaries and a huge cultural contribution, namely the world's most important library of drugs and counterculture.
The collection is both a testament and a memory. A memory that eventually became a problem for some: "There were certain documents in the collection, that Vera, the wife of Julio Mario Jr., liked. But treasuring literary rarities was not her thing. The library became this wonderful problem that she just had to deal with. Vera sought counselling from many people, including myself, until Alexander, her half-brother, had a great idea: Harvard," Williams said.
In the summer of 2012, the library was packed in about 700 boxes and given by the Santo Domingo family to the prestigious American university, so that it could be catalogued and used for research.
When I asked him about the importance of this collection, Williams summed up: "The collection is comprised of popular culture – a culture that seems trivial or irrelevant to some. I, however, cannot think of anything more relevant in our time: urban guerrillas, political protest, the sexual revolution... honestly, I cannot imagine anything that can define our century better than the contents of the LSD library."