“You don’t buy politicians. You just rent ‘em.”
Huey “Pee” Long: Public Acclaim for an Act Done in Private
The Sands Point Golf and Country Club is about 25 miles west of Manhattan, located on the northernmost tip of Cow’s Neck in Long Island. But you may know the place as “East Egg,” the fictional home of Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
In its early days, the club was better known for its polo grounds than it was for its golf course. Back then, it was called the Sands Point Bath and Country Club, which should give you a good idea about the kind of people it counted as members.
And if you know anything about Huey P. Long, then you won’t be surprised to learn that when he visited the Sands Point Bath and Country Club on August 27, 1933, he was a Kingfish out of water.
You may also know that Huey’s preferred poison drink of choice was the Ramos Gin Fizz, named in honor of Henry Ramos, the New Orleans mixologist and bar owner who came up with the concoction in 1888.
After Ramos passed away, Seymour Weiss made the drink a fixture of the Roosevelt Hotel, in no small part due to his dear friend and most prominent patron, Huey P. Long. In 1935, Weiss, the alleged keeper of the Deduct Box (that’s another story), even trademarked the name.
But it was Huey, not Seymour, who exported the drink to New York, allegedly teaching the bar staff at the New Yorker Hotel how to make the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz (It’s supposed to be shaken, not stirred, for 12 minutes, and you know it’s good if the straw floats above the drink at exactly 180 degrees).
Who is that awful man?”
On the night of August 27, 1933, Huey P. Long got himself sloshed, after being over-served by the bar staff at the Sands Point Bath and Country Club. Long was a sloppy drunk, according to one of his most trusted bodyguards, and that night, he was especially sloppy.
There are multiple versions of the story.
Long claimed he was assaulted by gang members, at least one of whom had been brandishing a knife, a tall tale that the New York Times found dubious when it recounted the incident in a front page story two days later.
The more commonly-accepted version of the story is that when Huey P. Long stumbled into the men’s room to relieve himself, he ended up urinating on the man standing next to him, an aviator named Al Williams, who, in turn, gave the Senator a shiner on his left eye.
But some scholars believe that’s not quite right either. It wasn’t Williams, they say. It was a man who worked as a pilot for the legendary mob boss, the “Prime Minister of the Underworld,” Sands Point resident Frank Costello. And in this version of the story, Frank Costello just so happened to be walking into the men’s room when an inebriated Huey P. Long was getting walloped, just in time to break up the fracas.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Mafia’s slot machines ended up in the Gret Stet of Louisiana: Frank Costello’s gallantry.
Costello’s role wasn’t known until years later, but the story of an inebriated Huey P. Long getting his ass kicked in the men’s room was already one for the ages.
After reading about the row, the publisher of Collier’s Magazine offered a medal to the man who returned fire and sent the Senator home that night with a black eye. But to claim the medal, the bathroom hero would have to reveal his true identity to the people of Gotham.
“The assailant never came forward to claim his medal, so Colliers gave the medal to the American Numismatic Society. In addition to the gold medal, Medallic Art Company struck a few in silver and a larger number in bronze,” explains the Orders and Medals Society of America. “The galvano pattern of the medal hung in the public men’s room of the Medallic Art Company’s plant for many years.”
Occasionally, one of the few remaining Huey Long Toilet Seat Medals will appear in on eBay or at an auction. But if you’re in the market for one, don’t expect to pay anything less than $500 for this piece of Americana.
Of course, it may or may not be true that Costello intervened at all that night, but we know two things for certain: Huey P. Long wasn’t at the Sands Point Bath and Country Club to watch a polo match, and Sands Point resident Frank Costello (5 Barkers Point Lane)- the “real Jay Gatsby”– received permission from none other than the Kingfish himself to ship his slot machines down to Louisiana.
Costello needed to act quickly.
Fiorello La Guardia had finally wrestled himself into the Mayor’s Office, and he’d made it abundantly clear that the ridding New York City of Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello’s slot machines— and, if he could, of the two men as well— was at the very top of his to-do list.
Years later, Costello testified that the agreement the struck with Long required him to contribute $30 every year for every machine to support some type of charity that Long was going to set up.
Or maybe he meant $30,000. Who knew, really? He thought he remembered Long saying something about blind kids. Or maybe it was deaf kids. Either way, the money was supposed to be going to a good cause.
Whatever the promised cut was (likely a 10% rake), the money didn’t go to any charity. C’mon, there’s no way anyone was buying that.
Instead, it helped finance a sprawling political Ponzi scheme that began with Huey P. Long and, following his death in 1935, Huey’s brother Earl and then trickled down into the pockets of legislators and mayors and sheriffs across the entire state.
There wasn’t anything charitable about the operation Frank Costello was running.
Carlos Marcello never met Huey P. Long; he was doing time at Angola during the majority of the Kingfish Era.
But the stories about Frank Costello and Long, while possibly embellished in their retelling, are a matter of historical fact. Costello even mentioned it under oath— that he and the Kingfish saw each other once in 1934 at the New Yorker Hotel, the only place in town that knew how to make Huey the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz.
No, that wasn’t the first time they’d met, Frank acknowledged, and for some reason, it was left at that. Although Long biographer T. Harry Williams disputed the story, most historians who have studied the subject— including Southeastern Louisiana University Professor Michael Kurtz— contend that the Prime Minister and the Kingfish actually reunited in person in New Orleans, in the spring of 1935, to hammer out the rest of the details of their agreement. After Huey’s death a few months later, Costello traveled to Arkansas for a secret meeting to draw up the necessary revisions with Earl K. Long and the man who had the Long Machine’s support in the upcoming race for New Orleans mayor, Robert Maestri.
Next page: The Prime Minister of the Underworld Moves to the Swamps