Thursday, July 02, 2009

One of Our Finer Capitols

"The House and the Senate chambers are both open, and you'll want to see them, since they're gorgeous, and back there you can take an elevator to the 24th floor, where you can catch a smaller elevator to the observation deck," the woman behind the information counter at the Louisiana state capitol told me.

Observation deck? Wow, this is one great capitol, I thought. A free observation deck. But before I could say anything, she spoke again.

"Huey Long was shot in front of the old governor's office, right around the corner over there," she said, pointing.

"Do people still ask about that?" I was going to ask, but I'm eccentric that way.

"Yes, they do."

Now that's what I call posthumous fame. Long might smile at the thought that he's one of the few Depression-era state governors (or U.S. Senators) remembered so well. How many others can you think of without looking them up? Of course, it helped to have Robert Penn Warren write a novel about him, sort of, and Broderick Crawford to play him in the movie, sort of.

I saved my visit to his assassination site for last, but I'm not saving it for last here. Across the hall from the entrance to the former office of the governor of Louisiana -- Long was the first governor to have his office there -- is this plaque:

Next to the plaque is a display case with pictures, contemporary news clips, and other information about the assassination. Conclusion: Maybe Dr. Weiss did it. Maybe Long's trigger-happy bodyguards, who shot Weiss into Swiss cheese, accidentally got the boss, too. Note that the plaque merely says "a bullet wound." We'll never know for sure.

But that's not all. In front of the capitol, there's a large statue of Long. Even better, he's buried under the statue.

The grounds and the building are, of course, much more than a monument to Huey Long, even though as boss governor he persuaded the legislature to build this magnificent art deco building, in the midst of the Depression, no less. So in a sense all of it is a monument to him. Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

I was especially impressed by the Memorial Hall, just inside the main entrance, with its rich gelded ceiling, enormous lamps, murals, double life-sized sculptures of governors, and the massive, ornate bronze doors leading into the House and Senate. On the floor is a large bronze relief map of Louisiana, encircled by the names of the state's 64 parishes.

There are also flags. The capitol's web site lists them: "Castile and Leon, Bourbon France, Bourbon Spain, England, French tricolor, 15-star U.S. flag, flag of the Republic of West Florida, Louisiana national flag, Confederate Battle flag, Confederate Stars and Bars, Louisiana State flag, and the modern U.S. flag."

Louisiana national flag? See "The Flags of 1861" on at I didn't know there was a such a flag. The flag of the Republic of West Florida, which lasted for all of about a month in 1810, was later known as the Bonnie Blue Flag.

The observation deck had some fine views. Downtown Baton Rouge. The Mighty Mississippi and bridges spanning it. The city's enormous chemical industry. Well, that wasn't so picturesque, but it's good to know that Baton Rouge doesn't subsist mostly on state government and its hangers-on, as some capitals do.

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