The death of former Gov. Edwin Edwards (Louisiana’s only four-term governor) sparked a debate the other day. It was well known that Edwards wanted to be buried on the Capitol grounds. This was so well known that a political aide admitted to me that she walked the perimeter of the Capitol garden two nights in a row to see if a hole was being secretly dug. She expected one last fast one from our most colorful and controversial governor since it’s supposed to take an act of the Legislature to be buried at the Capitol. If you’re from Louisiana, you tend to expect shenanigans. I can’t explain it.
But back to the debate.
Huey Long – the political firecracker who built the State Capitol building and was gunned down in a marbled hallway there – actually is buried in the Capitol gardens. I thought his wife was placed beside him. My friend insisted it’s just Huey out there in the grounds. I looked it up – and, of course, she was right.
I’m not sure that most tourists realize there’s a grave amongst the neatly trimmed hedgerows and rolling hills of the Capitol gardens. The original marker now is in a museum. It was replaced by a towering monument with a statue of Huey looking at the State Capitol. It doesn’t look like a headstone.
By the way, there’s a crater in front of the statue that would make a great sledding hill if we got snow in Louisiana. Most Louisiana kids have slid down that hill on their bellies using a piece of cardboard. It’s great fun.
Back to Huey. He wasn’t governor in name when he was assassinated. But he was running the state as a U.S. senator with an eye on the White House. He died 30 hours after he was shot by a rather nerdy looking eye doctor in a Capitol hallway that used to lead to the Governor’s Office (now it’s where the Senate president and House speaker conduct business).
The day of his funeral was sweltering hot. Many among the 100,000-thick crowd fainted from the heat. The LSU band played. His widow wore black. His daughter wore white. From the grand Memorial Hall (wrongly called the Rotunda by most everyone), the heavy coffin was carried down the steps of the State Capitol to the Capitol gardens. It must have been a relief for the pallbearers to place it on a horse-drawn carriage for the rest of the journey to the grave. Huey’s family sat in folding chairs until the graveside service was over and they could escape the spectators to the privacy of a limo.
Here’s a newspaper account: “The sun beat down on trampled grass and dirt-caked concrete. Scraps of paper lay lifeless and hot in the windless air. It looked as though some great picnic party had encamped in the vast garden and now near dusk was straggling home. Huey Long was in his grave.”
He’s been there every since.
As I looked at the coverage of Edwin Edwards’ funeral, which was held over the weekend, I was struck by the similarities to the Long funeral. Both had a horse-drawn hearse, marching band and the difficult, final walk down the steps of the State Capitol to the Capitol gardens since both governors’ viewings were held in Memorial Hall. Edwards’ coffin didn’t stop at the gardens. It moved through and onto the Old State Capitol a few blocks away for his funeral service.
There is a rumor circulating in Louisiana right now. The speculation is that Edwin Edwards was cremated and his ashes quietly spread on the Capitol grounds to fulfill his supposed wish of wanting to be buried there. So maybe Huey’s no longer alone.