Today in French Quarter History, September 8th, 2018


Today in French Quarter History, on September 8, 1935. At 9:22 at night, lone assassin, Dr. Carl Weiss, shot and killed US Senator, Huey Long at the Capitol building in Baton Rouge. Huey Pierce Long’s bodyguards, in turn, shot and killed Weiss, riddling his body with sixty-one bullets.

A number of legends surround Long’s death. Did Weiss kill Long or was it Long’s bodyguards who shot and killed him accidentally? On the evening of September 7th, had someone else attempted to assassinate Long in the Sazerac Bar of the Rosevelt Hotel in New Orleans?

Huey Long and New Orleans

Beginning with his first failed bid to become Governor in 1924, Huey Long always preferred to stay in his suite at the Roosevelt Hotel whenever he was in New Orleans. Folklore has it that he even built Airline Highway so he could travel from the statehouse in Baton Rouge to the Roosevelt Hotel quickly.

Whatever people may think about Long and his style personally, he did a lot for the people of New Orleans. This includes building the Huey P. Long bridge, the first bridge to span the Mississippi River in the city. Long also pushed through numerous road improvement projects for New Orleans. In addition, he built the Lakefront Airport and Charity Hospital. He also established the LSU Medical School in New Orleans. Critics claim all of these improvements came about after Long, as Senator, cut a politically expedient deal with his rivals in New Orleans. Long would take care of New Orleans so long as the city political machine supported Long in his bid to consolidate power over the state.

Huey Long sends 2,500 troops to occupy New Orleans

Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley and Huey P. Long just didn’t get along. Once a Long ally, but now Long’s adversary, Walmsley won the election over Long’s candidate in the January 1934 mayoral election. Walmsley controlled the “Old Regulars” who were vehemently opposed to Long’s populist agenda. The democratic party primaries were to take place the following September. Walmsley supported one slate and Long supported the other.

Huey Long knew that he would have to win the primaries to secure total control of the entire state. He claimed that the Walmsley New Orleans political machine was overrun with corruption, graft, and shady dealings. He held “hearings” in the city and broadcasted them on WDSU. In July of 1934, Long ordered the entire Louisiana National Guard to occupy New Orleans. He claimed this was the only way to guarantee a “fair” election. Walmsley countered by deputizing 500 of his supporters. He armed them with sub-machine guns. Both sides agreed to mediation and there was no violence on election day. Long’s slate won in a landslide.

Murder in Baton Rouge

We will almost never know with certainty how Huey Long died. The widely accepted version is that Dr. Carl Weiss shot him with a pistol and that Long’s bodyguards shot and killed Weiss. However, there are many problems with this take on the story. In fact, there have been several investigations in the intervening years since Long’s death.

While officially the “murder weapon” was recovered, it disappeared for more than 50 years. In 1991, it was discovered in the estate of the man who had originally led the investigation into the assassination. Along with the pistol were two intact bullets and a spent bullet. Ballistic tests revealed that the spent bullet did not match Weiss’ pistol. Weiss’ pistol was .32 caliber, but the wife of one of the surgeons who operated on Long stated shed had been told a .38 caliber bullet had been removed from Long’s body. The official report claimed no bullet had been found.

Was Dr. Carl Weiss unarmed?

A respected colonel in the Louisiana State Police reported eyewitness accounts by his own officers that Weiss was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Furthermore, nurses who were present during Long’s surgery testified that he pointed to his lip and said, “This is where he hit me.” Later, Dr. Weiss’ son would have his father’s body exhumed from his grave. X-rays revealed a fracture in his hand that would be consistent with throwing a hard punch. Many people believe that Dr. Weiss never intended to physically harm Long, that Long verbally accosted him, and that Weiss punched Long in the face in anger. It was then that guards opened fire, accidentally hitting Huey Long.

Huey Long and the Sazerac Bar of the Roosevelt Hotel

New Orleans is famous for its folklore, and one story says that someone fired at Long while he was drinking at the Sazerac Bar. This supposedly occurred the night before the assassination. There is even a bullet hole in the wall at the bar. Every week, visitors to the bar ask about the bullet hole and if the bullet was meant for Huey Long. Most of the bartenders answer that they don’t know for sure, but some will say that it can’t have anything to do with Long because the Sazerac Bar opened several years after he died.

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Today in French Quarter History, Huey Long


Today in French Quarter History, September 3rd, 2018

Today in French Quarter History, on September 3, 1814. Officers from HMS Sophie landed at Barataria Bay (40 miles below New Orleans) and offered Pirate Jean Laffite a captaincy in the Royal Navy and $30,000. The British expected Laffite to turn over his ships. They also wanted him to and provide guides to help the British capture New Orleans. The ensuing four months would change US history forever, and Jean Laffite and his pirates would become heroes of the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.

HMS Sophie arrives at Barataria Bay

Around ten in the morning, Royal Navy Captain, Nicolas Lockyer, navigated HMS Sophie to Barataria Bay and Grand Terre Island. This was the headquarters of the pirates Laffite. Lockyer spotted a ship attempting to enter the bay through Barataria Pass. He ordered his crew to fire some warning shots. Those shots set into motion a fantastic sequence of events that would end with a very improbable American victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.

The British meet Jean Laffite but don’t know it

After hearing the shots and seeing HMS Sophie drop anchor, Laffite had some men row him towards it in a pirogue. The British then lowered a small boat with a flag of truce and rowed to him. When the boats met, Lockyer introduced himself as the Captain of HMS Sophie and asked to be taken to Jean Laffite so he could deliver some papers. Laffite offered that he would bring them to the camp so they could meet him. A little later, Laffite dropped the ruse and admitted that he was the Jean Laffite they were looking for.

The British make their offer

Once on dry land, the British made their offer to Laffite. It is definite that they wanted to give him a captaincy in the Royal Navy and land to settle in America after the British victory. Some scholars believe that a verbal offer was also made for a cash payment of $30,000, though this has fallen into the realm of folklore. In return, Britain expected him to turn over his ships and men. They also wanted to land troops on Laffite’s island and use it as a base of operations for an attack on New Orleans. The attack would come about with the help of the Baratarians showing them the way through the bayous.

Not so fast!

Captain Lockyer had not chosen an opportune time to arrive at Barataria Bay. In the days before his arrival, Laffite found himself in the throes of a mutiny by a faction of his men. At the time, there were at least four hundred pirates on the island, and the presence of the Englishmen only made things worse. Many of the pirates wanted to hang Lockyer, and Dominque Youx reportedly wanted to take the Sophie as a prize. Though Laffite had no intention of accepting their offer, he pretended to go along with the British plan but asked for more time. He explained that he needed a fortnight to put his affairs in order. After that, he would be ready and at their service. The Sophie departed and though she was expected back two weeks later, she never returned.

Laffite warns the government and is betrayed

Jean Laffite sent all of the offer documents the British gave him to a friend, who was a member of the city legislature. His friend brought the papers to Governor Claiborne, but after a meeting with military leaders, he decided the papers were fake. Plans were already underway for an attack on the Barataria Bay stronghold under direct orders of the Secretary of the Navy. The attack went ahead as scheduled and the US Navy arrived at and destroyed the pirates’ nest on September 16th. Laffite had given orders not to fire on the American flag. Many of the pirates escaped, including the Laffites, but many pirate ships and a large amount of booty were captured. Some eighty pirates were taken prisoner and spent the next four months in jail at the Cabildo.

The pirates become heroes

During this time, the Laffites proclaimed their loyalty to the US, and Jean clandestinely contacted his attorney, Edward Livingston. Laffite wanted Livingston, who also happened to be the general’s aide de camp, to intervene on the pirates’ behalf. Livingston and Jackson had also served together in Congress and were good friends. At first, Jackson refused to consider letting the “hellish banditi” become part of his army. However, persevering, Livingston convinced Jackson to change his mind.

The Barataria Pirates entered into the service of the US military and fought with distinction at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. Most scholars believe that without the Baratarians, the Battle of New Orleans would have been lost. The accepted reason is that the Baratarians were instrumental as artillerists who decimated the British troops as they marched in formation towards Line Jackson. Folklore has it that the Laffites supplied much-needed flints and that is why the battle was won. In any case, General Jackson publicly lauded the pirates as the ablest of men. President James Madison issued a public proclamation of full pardon for all of the Baratarians.

Life and death after the Battle of New Orleans

Some of the Baratarian Pirates, like Dominque Youx and Renato Beluche, gave up piracy for good. For Jean and Pierre Laffite, however, the call of adventure on the high seas was too alluring. Scholars believe that both of the brothers died at separate times in different places as a result of their piracy.

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