Heart of Louisiana: The Capitol Huey Long Built
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - If you grew up in Louisiana, you may have toured the State Capitol on a school field trip. But in case you don’t remember much about the building, it’s full of history and maybe worth a second visit.
In the 1930′s, this Louisiana skyscraper reflected the style of America’s tallest buildings. The State Capitol opened in 1932, a year after the Empire State Building. This is the vision of Gov. Huey Long, whose bronze figure stands squarely in front of the towering structure.
“And he loved the idea of having this modern building rising out of the flatland in south Louisiana. Rising up and signaling that the state itself was on the rise as it was becoming more modern with the rest of the country,” said Lance Sullivan, a tour guide.
For nearly four decades, this was the tallest building in Louisiana. And to this day, it’s taller than all State Capitols and the U.S. Capitol.
The State Capitol lost its claim to being Louisiana’s tallest building nearly a half-century ago, but at 27 floors up, you still get a stunning view of Baton Rouge and the Mississippi River.
You can see tiger stadium to the south and activity in the port, which is the furthest point upriver for ocean-going ships. You can see oil refineries and the garden where Huey Long is buried.
“He is buried beneath the statue in the center of the main garden in front of the building,” Sullivan said.
Huey Long never served as governor in this capitol, but he became a U.S. Senator before it was finished.
“A lot of times when he would come to the Capitol building he would kick the governor out of the governor’s office and use that as his office,” Sullivan said.
Three years after the Capitol opened, Long was gunned down when he stepped out of the governor’s office in a back hallway. His accused assassin, Dr. Carl Weiss, was the son-in-law of a judge who was one of Long’s political opponents.
“Dr. Weiss stepped up from the column and shoots him once or twice, depending on whose version of the story you go with. Dr. Weiss is killed here by the other bodyguards that were present, and he’s actually shot 61 times,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan says there are still a few bullet holes you can see.
“You’ve got one on the column that’s to the left of the display case. It’s on the back side of the column itself. There’s one directly behind the case. There’s actually a big hole in the wall, you can’t miss it. And then you’ll see a statue of LaSalle on the same wall which was the only participant in the hall that night that’s still with us. And it’s just going to be to the upper right of his head,” Sulivan said.
There was another act of violence in the senate chamber in 1970 during the highly contentious debate over right-to-work legislation. About midnight on a Sunday when no one was here, an explosion of dynamite tore through the room.
“Today there is one panel in the ceiling that is lit where the only remaining piece of debris is still stuck in the ceiling,” Sullivan said.
It’s worth looking at the detail of this building. In the depths of the great depression, it seems no expense was spared here.
Sullivan said there are “about 26 different types of marble and stone from all around the world.”
The floors are cut from volcanic rock from Italy’s Mount Vesuvius. The murals, the ceiling paintings, the statues, and the carvings all tell a 1930′s version of the state’s history. The Capitol remains a giant memorial to the populist governor and his vision for the state.
To learn more about the Capitol and other historic sites around the state, click HERE.
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