Traveling Around - Winnfield, LA - Louisiana Political Museum
The Interest In The Museum
For several years I had read about a small museum in central Louisiana that contained lots of information and memorabilia of the Long family. With a special interest in Huey Long, we decided to make a stop there.
After leaving Destin, Florida, with Dallas, Texas, as the destination, we decided we could find an overnight in that area and visit the museum as part of the trek.
Sitting next to an active railroad track in Winnfield, LA, is a train depot that was moved there in pieces to serve as the "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". It had served as the L & A Railroad Depot since 1905 and was donated to the City of Winnfield in 1988. Volunteers and financial donations led to the museum opening on what would have been Huey P. Long's 100th birthday - August 30, 1993. In 2003 the museum was given official statewide recognition by the legislature.
The museum is divided into three major areas.
The front entrance leads into the office area where there are several desks and the office of the museum director. A small gift shop is also open there. Originally this area was the waiting room of the station and encompassed the ticket counter.
Just to the west of the office is the first major room of the museum and it is mostly devoted to the Hall of Fame. This second area is where the ticket agent worked.
Added to the back of the ticket agent room was a large area that opened onto the tracks and allowed freight to be moved. That room is up a ramp from the ticket agent and is much the largest room in the museum. The major exhibit area encompasses the freight area. In addition to the memorabilia associated with the honorees, there are additional exhibits about Huey P. Long and Earl Long.
The Hall Of Fame
There are 140 men honored in this area. Each year nominations are made to a board of directors who select a limited number for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Each of them is honored with a pen and ink caricature and pertinent memorabilia in a display case. Many of the pen and ink drawings were created by renowned cartoonist Pap Dean.
Three of the original honorees - Oscar (O.K.) Allen , Huey P. Long, and Earl Long - were born and raised in Winnfield. Two additional governors were born in the parishes that adjoin Winnfield.
Oscar "O.K." Allen served as governor of Louisiana shortly after Huey Long went to the U.S. Senate. Although his background was sound and he was a viable candidate, Allen was elected governor in the shadow of Huey Long and apparently remained his lackey. There is a story (quite likely false) that a leaf blew into Allen's office one day and that he signed it, thinking it was legislation from Long.
Allen died in office in 1936. At the time of his death he was a candidate to fill Huey Long's seat in the Senate. He was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall Of Fame in 1993.
Huey P. Long was born in Winnfield in 1893 and quit school in 1910 to become a traveling salesman. He entered Tulane Law School but dropped out before graduation. He passed the bar in Louisiana in 1915 and practiced law in Shreveport for 10 years. He won his first election to the Railroad Commission in 1918. He was elected governor in 1928.
He believed that concentrated wealth was the greatest danger facing our society. Because of term limits in Louisiana, he ended his governorship and became a senator from Louisiana. He vigorously campaigned to implement laws on the federal level to combat this concentration of wealth. Because of this and his personal appeal , many people thought he would probably defeat Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election. On September 9, 1935, he was assassinated on the steps of the capital building in Baton Rouge, LA.
Another of the exhibits in the museum is a recreation of the dining room at their residence in New Orleans.
Earl Long was drawn into politics by his older brother Huey. Becoming a consummate politician and extemporaneous speaker, he was governor 3 times in Louisiana. He lost many elections but seemed to regroup and try again. He became known as "Uncle Earl".
Earl Long became governor in 1939 to complete the term of Richard Leche who resigned. He was governor in 1939-40. In February, 1940, The American Progress (a Louisiana newspaper) predicted that Earl Long would win the governorship by more than 100,000 votes. Earl Long lost that election but was already planning his next run for the office. He ran for lieutenant governor in 1944 but lost that one in a runoff. He was, however, elected governor in 1948. Louisiana law prevented him from running again in 1952 but in 1956 he was again elected governor. He lost the election for lieutenant governor in 1959 and died in 1960.
Earl Long was a very colorful politician as is evidenced by the exhibits in the museum. The automobile that he used for campaigning is in the museum. It is a 1951 Chevrolet sedan that was converted by Earl Long into a campaign vehicle. It is painted loudly as well have having its own loudspeaker system built on top the car. In the museum at the location of the vehicle several of Earl Long's spontaneous speeches are excerpted so that the visitor can experience his personality. The vehicle is in immaculate condition and was donated to the museum in 1998.
There are many citizens of the state that looks upon him as a great governor and many that see him as its most corrupt. According to exhibits in the museum he is quoted as saying "the people of Louisiana will elect good government and when they do, they won't like it". He enjoyed being escorted by very loyal campaign workers to the less than legitimate delights available in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and demanded absolute loyalty and discretion from those workers.
Exhibits about the Earl Long part of the dynasty fill much of the museum.
We spent probably an hour and a half at the museum and if our interests had lain more in a generalized field of Louisiana (rather than concentrating on the Long family), we could have spent considerably longer. After spending that time in the museum and expecting to see much history about Huey Long, I realized that the notoriety surrounding Huey was probably because of his ascendency to national politics and his assassination. The real legacy of the Long Family was in the history of Earl Long. Much of the history in the museum is associated with Earl Long's many decade control of the state's political machinery.
Carolyn Phillips is the director of the museum and is happy to greet visitors and to help them understand what they see in the museum. The museum is open to the public during the week, Monday through Friday, from 9 AM to 5 PM. There is no admission charge.