JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I think it meaningful that Huey Pierce Long was murdered on the ground level 2nd floor of the building he inspired. At 34 stories, the $5 million ($81 million today) limestone clad skyscraper remains, 80 years after its Depression Era construction, the tallest state capital building (above)in the nation. Along with this singular monument, “The King Fish” built highways, bridges, charity hospitals, schools, sewers, electrical power grids and housing for the poor. He provided free text books for every child in the state, and dragged Louisiana into the twentieth century, all in the face of fierce corporate opposition and propaganda. And if the state's metamorphoses was ruthless and ugly, then Huey's critics must bare part of the blame, because their crimes fueled his. One critic publicly complained, “Good God, I wish somebody would shoot that son-of-a-bitch.”
Standard Oil funded the impeachment of Governor Long back in 1929, after he slapped a five cent a barrel tax on oil profits in Louisiana. The assault failed, but Huey vowed to make his attackers pay, saying, “Now,...I dynamite 'em out of my path.” Even after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1933, he imposed himself on state politics with an unrelenting vindictiveness. Typical was his assault on the Pavy family. Patriarch Benjamin Pavy (above)“a large jovial man with a gray mustache and a full main of silver hair”, had been a district judge in St. Landry Parish for 25 years, and had threatened to arrest Long's poll workers in the election that saw his brother, Dr. Felix Pavy, win the district's seat in the the Louisiana House.
In retaliation the Kingfish (above) had Pavy's youngest brother, Paul, fired from his job as the principle of Opelousas High School, and then had Pavy's eldest daughter Marie removed from her job as a third grade teacher in Eunice. And when even that failed to convince Benjamin Pavy to fall into line, the first bill Huey shepherded through the special session of House this September, “House Bill Number One”, was to redistrict Judge Pavy out of his seat. And to make his defeat certain, Huey even threatened to resurrect an old smear.
Back in 1910, the first time Benjamin Pavy had run for judge, his infamous opponent, Sheriff Marion Swords had reminded voters that Pavy's father-in-law, Edward Veazie, had produced several children with a black mistress. Now, according the Huey's close aide Joe Fisher, “Huey had warned Pavy...for six months to lay off or he would say Pavy had “coffee blood”. Huey (above, right)  was like a rattlesnake. He always warned first.”
Such “black familes”, like Veazie's, were far more common in the hypocritical “Jim Crow” south than anyone on either side of the divide would publicly admit. Pavy had lived half  his life under the threat of being made a social pariah. But just three months earlier his youngest daughter, Yvonne, had given birth to a son. And Pavy's son-in-law, 29 year old Dr. Carl Weiss (above) -  “unassuming, successful...apolitical” -  was unprepared when this insidious racial smear threatened his innocent son.
Just after nine that Sunday evening of September 8, 1935, Huey Long left the House chamber, trailing a small retinue of supporters, reporters and his six state trooper bodyguards.
Huey had been receiving death threats since the impeachment trial, but lately the volume and tenor of the threats had ramped up. In January some 200 armed “Square Dealers”, an anti-Long militia, had occupied the East Baton Rouge Courthouse. The Louisiana Nation Guard had been called out. There was an exchange of gunfire and tear gas at the airport. No one had been killed, but clearly tempers were rising.
Halfway down the ornate, ten foot wide hallway (above), Huey stepped into the reception area of Governor Alvin Olin King's office, (nicknamed “O.K.” because that was invariably his response to instructions from Huey). In twelve hours the Senator wanted a meeting of “the boys” in O.K.'s office, and the governor's secretary assured him “Yes, they were all informed, and they’ll meet you at 9 o’clock.” Observed another of Huey's aides, the Governor “was in a very good humor that night.” Senator Long then resumed his lopping walk toward the Senate Chamber further down the hall, where the King Fish intended on pushing his agenda, first thing in the morning. It was just 9:20 pm.
Abruptly, a small bespectacled man stepped out from behind a decorative pillar. Dr. Weiss held a Belgian automatic .32 caliber pistol in his hand, with six rounds in the magazine and one the chamber. At four feet from Senator Long, Weiss fired his first round. It struck Huey in the right side of his abdomen, just below his rib cage, ripping through his intestines, and exited through his back. Huey yelled, and jumped away from the gun. Weiss tried to shoot again, but the empty cartridge from his first shot had jammed in the ejector. A terrified Huey escaped down the hall, past the entrance to the Senate chamber, and down the stairs.
Behind him, Officer Murphy Roden grabbed at the smoking pistol, and began to wrestle with Weiss. Both men fell, but Roden was up first, stepping back, drawing his .38 caliber pistol, and firing ten shots into the crouching doctor. At the same time three other officers emptied their .45 guns into the assassin.
 Less than ten seconds after firing his only shot at Huey Long, Dr. Carl Weiss was dead, his corpse perforated with some 62 bullets, including a single shot through the forehead and one through the right eye. Weiss probably felt only the first of them, and not even that one for very long.
Surprised at seeing Senator Huey Long, alone, staggering off the stairs onto the first floor, Public Service Commissioner James O'Connor rushed to his side. Huey blurted out, "Hell, man, take me to the hospital.” O'Connor lead Long out to the rear of the building, where they flagged down a private car. It sped them north, to “Our Lady of the Lake Sanitarium” (above), just a mile away. The hospital checked him in at 9:30 pm
Two of the best surgeons in the state were sent for. Speeding to Baton Rouge, they were forced to detour around work on one of Huey's new highways, and had an accident. They never made it to Baton Rouge.
About eleven that night, the still conscious King Fish agreed to undergo the surgery, preformed by Dr. Edgar Hull, a faculty member of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans. The operation successfully repaired most of the damage to Huey's intestine. 
But in this per-antibiotic age, bacteria from his gut had already infected his other organs. Huey never regained conciseness. He spent the last 29 hours of his life “practically moribund:”, feverish, choking and coughing, until he died at 4:10 am., on Tuesday, September 10th, 1935. He was all of 42 years old. 
The day before Dr. Carl Wiess had been buried in Baton Rouge's Roselawn Cemetery. Hundreds attended his funeral, including members and leaders of the “Square Dealers” Their numbers made his funeral “the largest ever held for an accused political assassin in the United States”. Carl's wife and son, his father and mother, also attended. When two press photographers tried to take pictures of the family, they were assaulted, and their cameras were smashed. Carl's father-in-law, Judge Benjamin Pavy was “too sick” to attend.
They buried Huey Long in his tuxedo. As he lay in the rotunda of “his” building, 200,000 people filed past his coffin. Another 100,000 attended his funeral, on September 12, 1935. 
He was buried in the gardens in front of his statehouse
Initially his grave was marked by a simple stone, but in 1940 the state erected a 35 foot tall memorial to Huey. 
Atop the stone stands an 8 foot bronze version of the King Fish, gazing upon his building. 
On the back is the inscription, “Here Lies Louisiana's Great Son Huey Pierce Long, An Unconquered Friend of the Poor Who Dreamed Of, The Day When the Wealth of the Land, Would Be Spread Among All the People.”
Huey Long was far from perfect. But then, so were his enemies. And in that regard, it was a fair fight.
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I don't know if you know this, but the Christmas carol started out as a dance, and then became a song. Whereas wassailing started out as a libation and then became a song and then darn near disappeared. Both traditions suffered their original metamorphoses for the same reason – Puritan kill-joys. The carol was revived and survives as a gentle Victorian anachronism. Still, most of the music and some of the words remain recognizable. But if somehow you could transport a 12th century English Celtic villain into a modern wassailing, the first words out of their mouth would be the medieval equivalent of “where is the booze and the broads?” Call it the cost of Christianity, or progress, or even just the march of time, but clearly we've lost some things in reaching the 21st century. And one of those some things was wassailing. Song
“Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.”
During the 2nd century C. E. when you the walked into any Inn or Public House in that far flung corner of the Roman Empire called England, you were greeted by your fellow vandals with the phrase, “Waes hael”, or “good health”. And your proper response would be “Drinc hael”, or “A drink to your health”. And what the Celtic holi-poloi would be drinking might be Mead, made from fermented honey, or a fermented version of whatever else grew locally – beer in rye growing areas, or in the hilly west counties, where the Celts grew apples, hard cider. Everybody drank these concoctions because the alcohol killed most the pathogens in the local water supply. That's why we still call consuming alcohol, drinking. Getting bombed was just a happy side effect.
“We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors' children
Whom you have seen before.”
The Inn keepers kept their mixture in a large “wassail bowl” as a centerpiece on the common table, so after dinner the paying guests could use their now empty food bowls to dip themselves an after-dinner drink. It is an oddity of these original pubs that the food cost money but the drinks were free. As the food supply increased, this pricing scheme would be reversed. On special occasions, the Mead would be added to the beer or cider, which improved the flavor and the alcohol content. And so taking a holiday drink from the wassail bowl became “wassailing”.
“Good master and good mistress,
As you sit beside the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who wander in the mire.”
All of this was ancient enough to be a Celtic tradition long before Rome was Christian. And about a month after the winter solstice the pagan Celts were even wassailing in their fields and apple orchards. They called it in Old English La Mas Ubhal (mangled into modern English as, “lambs wool”), or the celebration of the apple. On the Twelfth Night of Christmas (see these pages for Twelve Days of Christmas) apple farmers would lug a large milk container filled with cider and cider soaked cakes into their fields. In the dark and cold they would build a fire, drink and eat and dance. In song the men would threaten the trees and the women would plead the tree's defense, all to encourage them to produce apples in the coming year.
We have a little purse
Made of ratching leather skin;
We want some of your small change
To line it well within.”
It was called “An Apple Howling” or a “Luck Visit”. In Devonshire, standing under each tree, the farmers would sing “Stand fast, root! Bear well, top! Pray God send us a good howling crop: Every twig, apples big; Every bough, apples now! Hats full! caps full! Bushel-bushel-sacks full, And my pockets full, too, huzzah!” The cakes were placed in the forks of the trunk, baked apple splices were tossed into the crown, and cider splashed on the bark. It seems as if the farmers were trying to give the trees the idea of what they were supposed to produce come spring.
“Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a cheese,
And of your Christmas loaf.”
And then midway through the 5th century the Anglo-Saxons defeated the native Celts at the battle of Crayford, and over the next 600 years these invaders squeezed the Celts back into the Welsh highlands and the far west counties, which, by chance, included the apple growing regions. So, wassailing in Wales and Devon became associated more with cider, while in Anglo-Saxon England, beer and ale were what filled the wassail bowls, and the post- solstice celebration morphed into a fund raising venue. Originally, the English village leaders went house to house, singing a Wassail song at each door and offering the residents a drink from their Wassail bowl. In response, the residents were expected to make a donation to the poor. Eventually, the leadership lost control of the process and the poor themselves stepped in to fill the vacuum. You can imagine how happy the wealthy were to share their money with a bunch of dirty, young “urban types”, who came begging at their front door, something forbidden the rest of the year. Wassailing door-to-door became frowned upon, mostly by those best able to donate.
“God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go.”
In 1066, King Henry and his Normans conquered Anglo-Saxon England. The Normans not only brought French to the island, but they also brought a militant brand of Christianity. And that religion would prove to be wassailing's most determined foe. We know wassailing was still popular in 17th Century London, because just after New Years in 1625 the anal retentive Sir John Francklyn made a notation in his account book of the one pound 6 pence he paid for “the cup”
“Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.”
But after the Puritans chopped off the head of Charles I in 1649, they began to remake Britain in the their image of God. And it was a dull, dull God they envisioned. The Puritans were suspicious of wassailing, of all that drinking and dancing in the dark, and they disapproved of peasants directly asking their “betters” for money. So laws were passed, and punishments metered out. Some who celebrated the pagan days were even burned at the stake. The impact of their moral divide survived even until the end of the 20th century, as evidenced by the laws allowing advertising of wine and beer on television, but restricting the same for the sacrilegious “hard” liquors.  So if, at your next Christmas party you should find a wassail bowl bubbling away on the stove, dip a cup, and enjoy. It is a tiny taste of our shared pagan past, a harmless reminder that before Christianity, there was a god in every tree and stone, as well as every soul.
"Wassail, wassail, out of the milk pail
Wassail, wassail as white as my finger nail
Wassail, wassail in snow, frost, and hail,
Wassail, wassail that never will fail.”
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