Showing posts with label Gris Gris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gris Gris. Show all posts

Monday, April 03, 2017

They paved paradise

  No, we didn't save the Paramount Theatre.

Yes, we did raze it and put up an Allright parking lot in downtown Baton Rouge, which specializes in not knowing what it's got till it's gone.

(Advertisement image from Gris-Gris weekly, May 21, 1979)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Favogs don't come from nowhere . . .
or, 'People are just different down there'

I like to think of this blog, and the Revolution 21 podcast, as an ongoing conversation betwixt you and me. And I like to think -- like most great conversations -- it's about a lot of stuff.

SOMETIMES, I wonder whether y'all know what the hell to make of me. That's been happening to me a lot ever since I moved to Yankeeland with my Yankee bride.

So maybe it's time you know a little more about where I'm coming from, which has a bunch to do with where I come from -- the Gret Stet of Loosiana. Perhaps the best little story that tells the big story of the DNA of us folks hailing from the Gret Stet is one that happened a couple of years before I was born, the story of when the governor went nuts.

FOR WHATEVER REASON, I've been poring through old newspapers and newsweeklies I've saved over the last few decades. I guess, if nothing else, they've ended up as occasional fodder for the blog.

Tonight, I've been going through old issues of
Gris Gris, a long defunct Baton Rouge "alternative weekly," while enjoying Eddie Stubbs' tribute to the late Porter Wagoner on WSM out of Nashville. Anyway, I ran across the issue of June 15-21, 1976, which featured "I Remember Earl" as the cover story.

"Earl," of course, is the late Gov. Earl Long. And note that in Louisiana, the four major industries are petrochemicals, tourism, seafood and Uncle Earl stories.

THIS ONE -- Uncle Earl goes nuts -- will tell yo
u a lot of what you need to know about where I come from, and the . . . uh . . . eccentric milieu I stewed in for my first couple of decades or so. The fine story, which I love to reread every so often, is by Bruce Macmurdo:

Probably the most incredible saga of Earl's life occurred in his last years, when the irreconcilable pressures of integration, his own insatiable ambition and his crazy living pace finally took their toll. His famous nervous breakdown of 1959 made nationwide headlines and brought the Eastern press scurrying.

But the actual story of his commitment has never been published. We put together this story from some of the people who were there.

Earl had hit upon the fatal combination of pills and booze. He would take four or five Benzedrine, wash it down with whiskey, and then to calm himself down, he would take a few Milltowns, a barbiturate. By the time this was discovered, a family doctor said the blood vessels in his brain were bursting.

The family, including his nephew U.S. Senator Russell Long, gathered at the mansion to see what could be done. Earl was sitting up in his bed upstairs, screaming for something to drink. Besides whiskey, his favorite drink was grape juice, but when a nurse would bring him that, he'd pour it over his head. He believed that Russell was trying to murder him, so he refused to sleep. He had literally pinched his arms black and blue staying awake for 72 hours.

It was essential to get him to an institution out of state so that the lieutenant governor could take over. The state constitution had no provision for governors going crazy. But no institution anywhere in the country wanted anything to do with the Governor of Louisiana.

Finally the family called on labor leader Victor Bussie for his assistance. When Bussie arrived at the mansion, they called J0hn Seely Hospital in Galveston and told the doctors that they had this sick man, a labor leader named Victor Bussie, who was suffering from such delusions as thinking he was the Governor of Louisiana.

The hospital said bring him over, so the family, Bussie and some state troopers loaded the Governor into a car, much against his will, and drove him to Texas. They brough Earl into the hospital, naked to the waist, covered with grape juice stains and presented him as Victor Bussie, labor leader gone mad.

"G**damit to hell," raged Earl. "I'm not that sonofabitch Bussie. I'm Earl Long, Governor of Louisiana."

The doctors and nurses nodded as if to humor him and filled out the admission papers.

Once that was done and before they left, Bussie felt it only fair to tell them the truth: "You know that is the Governor of Louisiana."

The shocked doctors refused to admit him.

"Sorry about that, but you've got him," said Victor and walked out the door

"You WERE Dr. Belcher"

Earl managed to get a habeas corpus hearing in Galveston. Brooks Read, former WBRZ news director, recalls that the legendary sheriff from St. Landry, "Cat" Doucette, was at the hearing with the thickest roll of bills Read had ever seen.

"I come to bring my gubner home," said Doucette.

Long was released after agreeing to voluntarily enter Ochsner's [Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans -- R21] Less than 24 hours in Ochsner's and Earl was off heading toward Baton Rouge. Earl was committed again by his family, to Mandeville [Southeast Louisiana State Hospital, located in Mandeville -- R21] this time.

Even in these traumatic conditions Earl's wit didn't leave him. When he was greeted by an administrator at Mandeville, "Hello, I'm Dr. Belcher," Earl shot back, "You were Dr. Belcher."

He observed that most psychiatrists were nuttier than the people they treat. "Mostly self-anointed. It's not unusual in their profession for a man to lose all sense of equilibrium."

David Bell managed to crawl to Earl's window and tap $100 bills wrapped around toothpicks through a screen to the Governor to bribe the guards. Earl didn't have to use the money, as it turned out. He fired the Director of Hospitals, Jesse Bankston, and hired a new man who certified that he wasn't nuts.

Earl was released but he was never the same man. Those around him say he was much more bitter toward his enemies and much more suspicious of others than he had ever been before.
SO, YOU SEE, we folks from Louisiana don't know so much about good government, good schools or good roads, but in such situations, life does offer its tender mercies. We have a lifetime of great stories, a pot full of good coffee and -- usually -- a gut full of tasty vittles.

We're just different. But that's not necessarily all bad, once you get used to it. I am hopeful that, someday, my Omaha-born wife of 24 years will make the adjustment.

And since I did mention the importance of a pot of good coffee, here's another Uncle Earl story to close with -- again, as told by Bruce Macmurdo in Gris Gris:
"Best Coffee in D.C."

A former aide of a U.S. Senator recalled that he was awakened in the middle of the night by Earl, who insisted he come over to his hotel room and have some coffee. "Best coffee in D.C."

When he arrived, he was treated to the sight of a U.S. Congressman and two state legislators using whiskey bottles to pound pillowcases full of the unground coffee beans Earl had bought.