Jim Bradshaw: Dentist took on Huey Long over notorious death in St. Mary
I was once told that the lovely old Albania plantation home near the Iberia-St. Mary Parish line on La. 182 is haunted by seven ghosts. Some people say they are there to make sure no descendants of Huey Long set foot in the house.
That may or may not be true.
It is true that after Emily Cyr Bridges bought the house in 1957, she insisted that Long’s name would never be spoken there. She had good cause.
Her father was Paul N. Cyr, a feisty Jeanerette dentist who became one of Long’s bitterest enemies.
Huey picked Cyr as his lieutenant governor in the 1928 campaign because Long needed to expand his political base in south Louisiana. According to a biography by Richard D. White Jr. ("Kingfish," New York: Random House, 2006), Huey also “liked having the muscular Cyr near his side in case a political gathering turned rowdy.” Cyr was a sturdy 200-pounder who didn’t shy away from confrontation. One of his nicknames was the Wild Bull of Jeanerette.
As it turns out, one of Long’s rowdiest fights was against his would-be protector. As White notes, “on the campaign trail ... they maintained a cool but harmonious relationship.” After the election, “it took only a few months for [Long and Cyr] to despise each other.” Cracks began to appear when Long (who under state law could not succeed himself as governor) realized that he had no more political use for Cyr and Cyr realized it, too.
“Smoldering hatred” between the two men exploded over a notorious St. Mary Parish murder case in which Ada Lebouef and Dr. Thomas Dreher were convicted of killing Ada’s husband.
Huey signed their death warrants, but Ada and the doctor asked for clemency from the State Pardon Board.
The board rejected the plea by two votes to one. Paul Cyr, a friend of Dr. Dreher’s, not only cast the dissenting vote but declared he would take over as acting governor and reverse the decision if Huey left the state.
In White’s words, “The hanging of the two lovers also killed the fragile friendship between Huey Long and Paul Cyr. From then on, the governor and the lieutenant governor of the state of Louisiana, two cussedly stubborn and vindictive men. Never exchanged a friendly word.”
Cyr did not get the opportunity to undo the death sentence, but he followed through on the rest of his pledge. He declared himself acting governor every time Long left Louisiana, even for a day or two, and he twice proclaimed himself governor after Long wouldn’t vacate the office when he’d been elected to the U.S. Senate.
After Cyr had himself sworn in as governor in 1931, Long sent out the National Guard to keep him out of the capitol and mansion, ordered Cyr arrested as an impostor, and took the case before hand-picked state judges.
He claimed that Cyr vacated his own office of lieutenant governor when he took the governor’s oath.
The judges, as expected, voted with Huey, but Cyr refused to resign as lieutenant governor. Long had him removed from the state payroll, saying he was “no longer lieutenant governor, and he is now nothing.”
Cyr tried again to take over the governorship in January 1932, and set himself up in “executive offices” in the Heidelberg Hotel in Baton Rouge.
Long called the hotel manager and had Cyr evicted. Outgunned, Cyr went home to his dental practice, but not happily.
He said he planned to run for governor in the 1932 election, but withdrew when several other anti-Long candidates with better chances signed up. One of the most virulent of those was Dudley LeBlanc, who found colorful things to say about Huey and his cohorts in both English and French.
That was the last political venture for Paul Narcisse Cyr, although he did find voice from time to time to denounce Huey. as “the worst political tyrant to rule the state.”
One of his most quoted criticisms was the declaration that Long was a pig, and not even a very good one. Long, Cyr said, “belongs to the hog family, and the piney woods, razorback type at that.”
Cyr died in August 1946 at the age of 67, unreconciled with the Long machine or anyone who had anything to do with it.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, "Cajuns and Other Characters," is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.