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Election Night at the Monteleone

ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION

Working his way through the crowded ballroom, the old man approached the stage to which he had been invited. There was a problem though. So many people were offered a spot on the platform that wristbands had been distributed. The old man had none. An official in the crowd who didn’t know who the old man had stopped him. If only the intervening authority knew that this particular man, through the decades, had been on the stage at the Monteleone Hotel several times. Back then everyone knew who he was.

Moments later the crowd in the hotel’s La Nouvelle Orleans ballroom erupted with cheers as John Bel Edwards, who that evening had been elected governor of Louisiana, approached center stage, The governor-elect thanked family and friends, and told about how special the Monteleone had been in his personal history. In 1927, Bel Edwards told the crowd, his grandfather had run for sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish. On the afternoon of Election Day, he and his wife drove to New Orleans to stay in the Monteleone. The next morning, the new governor continued, “his grandfather bought a copy of The Times-Picayune to see if he had won.”

Besides sanctioning a future governor’s grandfather’s election, there were many big stories in The Times-Picayune in 1927, the biggest being the Great Flood that devastated the state and flooded towns along the rivers and bayous. There was so much suffering that year that the mood was right for a populist who would promise to fix things for the little people. In ’27 little-known Huey Long, a state Public Service Commissioner, was plotting his gubernatorial campaign, which would lead to his election in ’28.

Long would tax the oil industries and build a state government that provided free services. His innovations included what would be known as the Charity Hospital system, a model for state-run free care. Among those that the new governor thanked that night was his mom, who had been a “Charity Hospital nurse who taught us all about compassion for our fellow human beings.”

Also in 1927, in the town of Marksville, a future governor was born. His name was Edwin Edwards, and he would be raised in the formative years of Huey Long’s populism. Edwards would be elected four times – more than any other governor. He was a bit of a scoundrel and very much an achiever. All of his election nights were spent at the Monteleone. It didn’t take long for someone to recognize Edwin Edwards as the guest without a wristband, and he was quickly escorted to the stage. Though he and the new governor share the same last name, they are not related. Their common bond was in being Democrats in a land of Republicans. For the former governor, the night presented one more opportunity to share in the hurrah from the stage at the Monteleone.

During Edwin Edwards’s day his election night suite was No. 1450. This night it belonged to John Bel Edwards, though rest would be slow in coming. By 3 a.m. the victor was ready to retire, but some West Point buddies reminded him of a promise he had to keep. JBE and pals went to the rooftop terrace where they smoked cigars to celebrate the evening. According to a story by Tyler Bridges of The New Orleans Advocate, they were there until around 4 a.m.

Once can only imagine what it must have been like at that moment, to have just won a long-shot election and to be governor-elect. Below, the noises from the French Quarter, even at this late hour, could still be heard. In the distance were the skyline and the lights from bridges. Nearby is the mighty river that flooded in ’27, but that’s now tamed so that it can better channel the nation’s commerce. Downriver was the site where Andy Jackson defeated the British. Standing guard over it all is the magnificent steeple of the St. Louis Cathedral.

Between puffs, the governor elect might have sensed the history that surrounded him. Now he was part of it.

 

 

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