As he waited for Gov. Huey P. Long on Sept. 8, 1935, journalist C.E. Frampton, of The New Orleans Tribune, was suddenly confronted by a scene of shocking violence.
“There must’ve been 40 to 50, maybe 100 reporters at the State Capitol the night Huey was shot,” Frampton recalls in an interview, included as an audio clip in a new exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection, commemorating the 80th anniversary of Long’s death.
“Out of that number of reporters, I was the only one who was on the scene and actually saw the shooting.”
Dr. Carl Weiss, who is believed to have fired the shots that killed Long, was immediately gunned down by the senator’s bodyguards. Long died two days later. He was 42.
“From Winnfield to Washington: The Life and Career of Huey P. Long” includes the journalist’s tale and many items never before exhibited at the collection. The free display will remain on view through Oct. 11.
From 1918 until his death, Long was hard at work as the classic Louisiana politician. His election as governor in 1928 redefined the Louisiana political landscape. Later, he became a senator, fueling rumors of a run at the presidency.
“If you look at his accomplishments, he managed to accomplish a lot in a short career,” said co-curator and Assistant Director of Museum Programs Amanda McFillen. She ticked some off: “Thousands of miles of paved road, Charity Hospital, the Huey P. Long Bridge, the State Capitol.”
The collection presents a series of maps that show the development of the state under Long’s care, oral histories, newsreels, interviews, objects and photographs. But the curators are most excited about papers that the public hasn’t seen before, including political newspapers and circulars announcing rallies and other events in Long’s career.
“I like to call them the little forgotten corners of historical material,” said co-curator and Director of Museum Programs John Lawrence. “When people see these and realize they were of the moment, then I think they gain a greater understanding of what Huey Long was all about.”
Two new collections provide greater context to Long as a politician and a deeper understanding of his death.
The Anna Wynne Watt and Michael D. Wynne Jr. Collection is not focused exclusively on Huey Long, but it does contain a great deal of Louisiana political material. The Joseph M. Mardesich III Collection, a gift of Mardesich’s sisters, includes Mardesich’s specific focus on the circumstances of Long’s death.
“They’ll walk away with a very detailed knowledge of his entire political career,” McFillen said.
Many Louisianians already have opinions about Long, who was controversial in his lifetime.
“We also tried to represent all kinds of different sides,” McFillen said. “He was certainly a very polarizing political figure, so we wanted to make sure people understand why, and the different sides of the debate, hopefully creating a nuanced understanding of who he was and what he did for the state.”
It’s tough to take on a subject whose entire life has been scrutinized by the public for the past 80 years, the curators said.
“I think anybody who is aware of Huey Long is rarely neutral on the subject,” Lawrence said. “There are opinions people have, sometimes they’ve been transferred generationally, sometimes they’re firsthand experiences, and sometimes they’re from their own reading and study.”
The exhibit aims to present the facts, and any conclusions are left to the visitor to make.
“Our approach was to make this as neutral as possible,” he added, “to present this life as not just a series of outrageous episodes, but to really show that this was a person who had a goal, went after that goal and we’ll leave it to the visitors to decide whether he was successful in pursuit of that goal or not.”
Frampton was expecting to meet Long outside the governors office, and walked out into the hallway. His retelling of the shooting puts the listener in the scene.
The journalist said: “Just as I opened those doors, this man who I didn’t recognize, in a white suit, who’d been leaning against a marble column on the opposite side of the corridor, moved away and took a couple of steps without saying a word, pulled his hand out from under his coat and fired point blank at Huey.
Almost simultaneously, Huey spun around and shouted, ‘I’m shot!’”
Mardesiche interviewed Seymour Weiss, a Long confidant, New Orleans hotel magnate and civic leader, when the historian was only a high school student in the early 1960s.
Weiss, a loyal member of Long’s inner circle who ironically shares the same name as Long’s assassin, brings a personal perspective to the loss of the Louisiana leader.
“Huey Long was my friend,” Weiss says in the interview, “one of the most brilliant men I have ever known, one of the most colorful. Very much interested in education, he had the most retentive mind ever given to anyone. He never forgot anything he had heard or read. The state of Louisiana was the beneficiary of his efforts.”