I find 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 that 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" said Joe, "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 8 September, 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 "OK" 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 own .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 led 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, 10 September, 1935. He was all of 42 years old.
The day before Huey died, 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 12 September, 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 at least a fair fight.
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