10 Fascinating Facts About Huey Long

Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Governor, senator, and potential presidential nominee, Huey Pierce Long Jr. would have been as fascinating a politician in the current era as he was in his own. By all accounts he was crass, commanding, and vengeful, with massive popularity as a Depression Era populist who was further to the left than Franklin Roosevelt and touted a campaign slogan of “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.”

Long rose from the extremely impoverished Winn Parish in Louisiana to the national political stage with zeal, towering ambition, and a charismatic knack for attracting followers and powerful devotees. Here are 10 facts about the ostentatious politician who gave himself the nickname "The Kingfish."

1. HE WAS A TALENTED STUDENT WHO WAS EXPELLED BEFORE GRADUATING.

Since there was no public school in Winn Parish when he was growing up, Huey Long was home-schooled before his father and other neighbors pooled money together for a teacher to create a “subscription school.” He started at public school in fourth grade, and later managed to convince his teachers to let him skip seventh grade. He was on the cusp of graduating from Winnfield High School in 1910 following the 11th grade when a 12th grade was added to the curriculum.

Long was kicked out of school for circulating a pamphlet decrying the extra year and, as a result, he never finished high school (though he was awarded a diploma posthumously). As revenge for his expulsion, he launched a petition calling for the principal to be fired and got enough signatures from the townspeople to see the principal removed.

2. HE RECEIVED A SCHOLARSHIP TO LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY, BUT STILL COULDN’T AFFORD TO GO.

Though he didn't graduate high school, Long's talent for winning arguments got him noticed by colleges. Long came in third at a Louisiana state debate competition, and won a scholarship to LSU as a result. Since room, board, and textbooks weren’t included in the offer, Long had to pass on the opportunity. Instead, he worked as a traveling salesman, hawking medicines and books all over the state.

3. HE PASSED THE BAR EXAM AFTER ONLY ONE YEAR OF LAW SCHOOL.

After half-heartedly trying his hand at seminary school at Oklahoma Baptist University at his mother’s insistence, Long—who claimed to have a photographic memory—later transferred to the University of Oklahoma College of Law, but was distracted by the local casinos and ended up staying for just one semester. In 1914 he attended Tulane University Law School for only a year before convincing the school board to let him take an oral bar exam. He passed and moved back to Winnfield as a lawyer.

4. HE WASN’T AFRAID TO GET HIS KNUCKLES BLOODY.

Long was irascible and, more than once, physically assaulted those who challenged him. That included a newspaper editor and one elderly, outgoing governor who called Long a liar (and was punched in the face by Long as a result). He was also accused of blackmailing and bullying his opponents, including a Baptist minister whom he tricked into entering a hotel room he’d staged with liquor and a prostitute. Beyond bloody knuckles, Long also got his hands dirty by rigging elections with fraudulent votes from “Babe Ruth,” “Charlie Chaplin,” "Clara Bow," and other celebrities.

5. HE WAS A HERO TO THE POOR.

Long’s mandate when he became governor of Louisiana in 1928 (with 96.1 percent of the vote) was to aid the poor with publicly-funded projects, including new roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools and free textbooks for students. Before he took office, Louisiana had a 25 percent literacy rate, only 300 miles of paved roads, and three major bridges. By the end of his term, adult literacy programs had taught 175,000 to read, and there were 9000 miles of roads and more than 100 bridges. A lifelong enemy of the oil industry after Standard Oil caused him to lose money on an investment by refusing to buy any of his well’s oil, Long pushed for a tax on petroleum products to help fund his social programs, also enacting a tax on the wealthy to benefit the poor.

He invested in LSU’s campus, ordered construction on a new capitol building, and effectively gave Louisiana a head start with the kinds of programs President Roosevelt would enact nationwide in response to the Great Depression. However, Long was also anti-union, opposed progressive child labor laws, saw the state debt balloon under his leadership, and failed to bring economic growth to the very people who supported him.

6. HE RAN THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE LIKE A DICTATORSHIP.

In Freedom From Fear, historian David Kennedy wrote that Long lorded over “the closest thing to a dictatorship that America has ever known.” In winning the governor’s mansion, Long overturned the power of the Regular Democratic Organization political machine (also known as the Choctaw Club) and ousted hundreds of political opponents from jobs in the state bureaucracy, replacing them with loyalists who paid part of their salary into his campaign war chest. He strong-armed and cajoled legislators, diminished Standard Oil’s power in governance, installed Oscar K. Allen as a puppet governor to follow his orders once he became a United States senator, and reportedly had armed thugs change voter rolls, all while overseeing a massive redistribution of wealth in the state.

7. AN ATTEMPT TO IMPEACH HIM TURNED INTO A RIOT.

In 1929, Shreveport representative Cecil Morgan, who was aligned with the Choctaw Club, sought to impeach Long on a variety of charges, including of corruption, incompetence, and blasphemy. Speaker of the House John B. Fournet, who was loyal to Long, moved to adjourn the special session abruptly and faked a vote count to say that the adjournment motion had passed. Enraged, Morgan’s and Long’s allies attacked each other.

According to Huey Long’s Louisiana Hayride: The American Rehearsal For Dictatorship, the right honorable lawmakers “beat each other with ink wells, slugged with both fists. Shirts were torn off, eyes gouged, heads butted on desks,” in what would become known as “Bloody Monday.”

8. LONG STAYED ON AS GOVERNOR FOR THE FIRST YEAR OF HIS TENURE AS A SENATOR.

His term as a United States senator should have begun March 4, 1931, but he stayed almost long enough to finish his four-year term as governor through the following year. His entrenchment blocked his rival, Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr, from assuming the governorship. In October 1931, Cyr declared himself the rightful governor, citing Long’s election to a different office, so Long had the state National Guard surround the capitol, and then successfully argued to the Louisiana Supreme Court that Cyr had left the office of lieutenant governor vacant by declaring himself governor. Cyr was blocked from both positions, and Long’s ally Alvin King became lieutenant governor before assuming the top post in January 1932. Long then handpicked Oscar K. Allen as his successor; Allen easily won the special election, and Long felt comfortable finally leaving Louisiana for Washington, D.C.

9. FDR CONSIDERED HIM ONE OF THE "MOST DANGEROUS MEN IN THE COUNTRY."

Long was initially a big supporter of President Roosevelt, but he acted as one of his most vocal critics when, in Long's opinion, federal programs didn’t go far enough to redistribute wealth. Roosevelt once said, “It’s all very well for us to laugh over Huey, but he really is one of the two most dangerous men in the country.” The laughter was meant for Long’s flamboyancy, loud costume-esque attire, and flagrant self-serving speeches. The fear was for his incisive political acumen, devoted voting bloc, and revenge-obsessed modus operandi. (The other “most dangerous” man Roosevelt referred to was General Douglas MacArthur.)

10. HE WAS ASSASSINATED BEFORE HE COULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT.

Having always planned to seek the top office, Long wrote a book called My First Days in the White House, which (fictionally, and with much hubris) recounted how the people backed his message with such fervor that they whisked him into the presidency with a roar that drowned out the outgoing president. Before he could make that fantasy a reality, he was killed by the son-in-law of an ousted political rival.

In 1935, Long lorded over a special session of the state legislature to influence a vote to remove Judge Benjamin Pavy from his seat, which was the last in a long line of humiliations Long had dealt the Pavy family. After the vote removed Pavy from office, Pavy’s son-in-law, Carl Weiss, shot Long with a revolver. Long died on September 10, 1935. My First Days in the White House was published posthumously. 

A Colorful History of Paintball

kadmy/iStock via Getty Images
kadmy/iStock via Getty Images

Having spent a month arguing with no end in sight, Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel decided to resolve their conflict the old-fashioned way. They agreed to a gun duel at 20 paces.

It was the late 1970s and Gaines, a writer and fly fisherman best known for authoring Pumping Iron, a book later turned into a documentary that helped usher Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, had been verbally sparring with his friend Noel about who would be better-equipped as a survivalist. Gaines believed someone with outdoors skills like himself would excel. Noel, a Wall Street stockbroker, thought his urban instincts would prove superior.

After going back and forth like this while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Gaines returned home to New Hampshire and spotted something in an agricultural catalog. It was the Nel-Spot 007, a gun powered by carbon monoxide (CO2) gas and used to mark trees or cattle using a gelatin ball filled with oil-based paint. Gaines thought it would make for an interesting combat simulator. Instead of testing survivalist skills with ammunition, they could test it with globs of paint.

After getting the guns, Gaines and Noel engaged in a duel that Gaines won—this according to Gaines—and also crept around in the woods hoping to snipe the other, a situation which both men later said they had gotten the upper hand in.

These conflicting narratives failed to settle their argument, and so the two friends decided a bigger, more involved experiment was in order. Purely by accident, they created the game of paintball in the process.

A person playing paintball is pictured
PogodakPB/iStock via Getty Images

Weapons that shoot projectiles using compressed air are nothing new. In the 1940s, Britain’s commercial freighter ships used steam-powered cannons to launch grenades at enemy aircraft. When they were bored, the sailors used the cannons to shoot potatoes or beer bottles instead. Much later, sports teams would adopt T-shirt cannons powered by the same principle to dispense apparel to fans in the upper decks.

The idea to use CO2 for paint came from the Nelson Paint Company in the 1960s. Hoping to assist foresters with marking trees that weren’t easily accessible on foot, the distributor marketed the Nel-Spot 007, which shot the gelatin balls with a resounding splat. Farmers also used them to indicate cattle that had been bred. (Because the paint was used for marking, the guns were and typically are still called paintball markers, not paintball guns.)

By the time Gaines became aware of the device in 1979 or 1980, it still had no practical use outside of agricultural purposes. Along with Noel and another friend, a ski shop owner named Bob Gurnsey, the trio decided to arrange a combat simulator using the Nel-Spot 007. The duel had proven that being hit with the paintballs resulted in no serious injury. (Gaines reportedly tried it on his wife, Shelby, as well, who reported that “It didn’t hurt much.”) Gurnsey developed a rudimentary set of rules for the competition, which would see the three men and nine other competitors attempt to capture flags from four stations in a 100-acre field in Henniker, New Hampshire, a site not far from Gaines’s home. The object would be to grab the flags and head for a premarked exit without being shot.

In order to maintain the central conceit of their debate, Gaines and Noel tried to recruit a cross-section of personalities for the event. There were outdoorsmen like a forester and Vietnam veteran along with would-be urban tacticians like a trauma surgeon and an investment banker. All were armed with the Nel-Spot 007, goggles, camouflage, paintballs, CO2 cartridges, a compass, and a map.

People playing paintball are pictured
JackF/iStock via Getty Images

The competition was held on June 27, 1981. For two hours, the men stalked around the premises, lurking behind foliage and doing their best to seize the flags without being bombarded by paintballs. Gaines grabbed two flags before getting into a stand-off with a Green Beret, who was holed up in an abandoned woodshed. The trauma surgeon wound up shooting nearly half of the dozen players by himself. But in the end, it was the forester, Ritchie White, who emerged the victor, utilizing a stealth strategy that allowed him to covertly grab all the flags and get out without firing a single shot.

Did the event resolve the debate between Gaines and Noel? Not really. But they were having too much fun to care. So was Bob Jones, a participant and writer for Sports Illustrated who published a story on the competition in 1981. Along with other coverage from TIME and Sports Afield, Gaines, Noel, and Gurnsey were inundated with letters and requests for more information about the rules of the game and the necessary equipment.

Sensing a business opportunity, the three formed the National Survival Game, a business devoted to the burgeoning recreational activity. Gurnsey continued to refine the rules while the others assembled kits consisting of the Nel-Spot 007 and the paintballs. Gaines was able to negotiate a deal with the Nelson Paint Company to license the guns and ammo for non-agricultural purposes.

Soon, they were licensing the National Survival Game brand to franchisees, who opened paintball fields and held organized competitions. By 1982, the National Survival Game was promoting a World Championship, and enthusiasts were modifying the weapons to include pump-action loading, larger magazines, and automatic firing. Because other organizations besides National Survival Game were popping up, the more generic name of paintball was introduced. More importantly, the paint became water-based rather than oil-based for easier clean-up.

While paintball exploded in popularity throughout the 1980s, not everyone was on board. In New Jersey, the guns were considered firearms due to their ability to shoot projectiles at velocity. To acquire a paintball marker, one needed a firearms permit. And even if you had one, you might still leave yourself open to legal problems if you used it to “shoot” at another human being.

The issue wasn’t resolved until 1988, when a paintball enthusiast named Raymond Gong sued the state’s attorney general and Monmouth County prosecutor John Kaye to remove the weapons from the New Jersey Gun Control Act. Judge Alvin Milberg asked for a demonstration and watched as a human target was hit roughly a dozen times without suffering injury. The defense also proved the CO2 cartridge used in a paintball marker was not the equivalent of a cartridge used in a real firearm, a term used to describe ammunition. Gong won and was able to open his own paintball field.

Gaines sold his share in National Survival Game early on, leaving the business to Noel and Gurnsey. The activity has since grown far beyond their initial ambition to settle a friendly debate, with players spending upwards of $169 million annually on equipment. Despite the inherently aggressive nature, it doesn’t seem to be particularly risky, with just 0.2 injuries reported per 1000 participants. While not quite as popular as it was in the early 2000s, there’s still plenty of demand to demonstrate survival skills with one well-aimed paintball.

How Accurate Are Punxsutawney Phil's Groundhog Day Weather Predictions?

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

On Sunday, February 2, people all across the country will tune in to the biggest spectacle of the season. That’s right—this weekend, Punxsutawney Phil will crawl forth from his tiny tree trunk abode and tell us whether or not to expect six more weeks of winter.

Considering that the legendary groundhog has been predicting the weather since the first Groundhog Day in 1887, it seems safe to assume that he’s gotten pretty good at it by now. The stats, however, indicate that practice doesn’t always make perfect when it comes to mid-sized meteorological rodents. As Live Science reports, the Groundhog Club’s records show that Phil has predicted more winter 103 times, and an early spring just 19. Based on data from the Stormfax Almanac, that means Phil’s accuracy rate is an abysmal 39 percent.

If you only look at weather records dating back to 1969, which are more reliable than earlier accounts, Phil’s job performance review gets even worse: those predictions were correct only 36 percent of the time.

Almost starting to feel sorry for an apparently lousy employee who only has to work for a few minutes each year? According to meteorologist Tim Roche at Weather Underground, Punxsutawney Phil is much more successful when he doesn’t see his shadow.

“Out of the 15 times that he didn’t see his shadow and predicted an early spring, he got it right seven times,” Roche told Live Science. “That’s a 47 percent accuracy rate.”

While Phil is far from infallible, human meteorologists are, too. As National Weather Service meteorologist David Unger told Live Science, “If our forecasts are about 60 percent accurate or higher, then we consider that to be a good estimate.”

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