The Roosevelt Hotel’s Best Kept Secret

Noel Wolf and Teresa Bui

You should try banging on the walls of the Roosevelt Hotel. You just might find the legendary deduct box, which is said to have been the illegal campaign fund of the infamous Huey P. Long. The box is rumored to have contained over a million dollars by the time of Long’s death in 1935 (about $17,293,138.69 today considering inflation). The money was obtained through “deposited funds from corporations doing business in Louisiana, contributions from various backers, and deductions from salaries of state employees,” which is why it’s called the deduct box according to a plaque in the hotel’s entrance hall.

The Roosevelt hotel is one of the fanciest places in New Orleans. Sally Buchman, the retail manager at the Roosevelt, says “the hotel first opened in 1893 as the Hotel Grunewald.” The hotel website also says that in the 1830s, the area was home to the State Capitol, Charity Hospital, Christ Episcopal Church, and the mansions of famed Louisianians of French and Spanish descent.

When the 116-year-old hotel reopened in 2009, it had not been seen by the public eye since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Louisiana coast in August 2005. The hotel was rebuilt to celebrate the history of the building by uncovering the details that had been buried over the years, and bring back the original beauty of the hotel. Even with rooms at $239 a night, the Roosevelt is still home to many people. Don’t let the price scare you, though. The Roosevelt Hotel actually donates to charity. A recreated deduct box sits near the hotel entrance, accepting donations to the Kingsley House, which educates children, strengthens families, and builds communities.

The Roosevelt has been home to many famous guests, from presidents to royalty to movie stars.  Even Marilyn Monroe dined there, according to both the hotel’s history brochure and its website.  But of all the people who have considered the Roosevelt home, Huey Long is by far the most mysterious.  During his time as Louisiana governor and senator in the 1920s, he was a regular guest at the hotel.

According to Buchman, he basically lived there, and the hotel’s owner, Seymour Weiss, “was like Long’s best friend,” Buchman says. He oversaw both Long’s private finances and his campaign contributions. Or did he? Huey P. Long was assassinated in Baton Rouge in September, 1935 by Dr. Carl Weiss who allegedly is not related to Seymour Weiss. Here’s the suspicious part, though. Buchman mentioned that “Seymour Weiss had asked Huey Long where his deduct box was right before he died.” If Weiss oversaw all of Long’s finances, why would he ask where the deduct box was?  After Long’s assassination Weiss went to “federal prison on tax evasion charges related to business dealings with Long.” according to nola.com He was later paroled in 1942 and pardoned in 1947. Seymour Weiss’ reign over the Roosevelt ended in 1965 and he passed away in 1969.

The deduct box is the most discussed topic surrounding Huey Long’s death. It’s location remains a mystery to this day.  Many people have searched through the hotel, but they have all come out empty handed.  When we asked Sally Buchman where she thought the deduct box might be she said, “It would probably in a club which used to be called the “cave” in Long’s time. However, no one knows if the deduct box actually exist.  The only evidence we can go on is what happened between Long and Seymour Weiss before Long died in 1935.  As the story goes, Weiss came to Long’s deathbed and said, “Huey, you’ve got to tell me. Where is the deduct box? “Before collapsing into a coma, Long responded, “Later, Seymour, later.” Visitors are still looking to this day.

Some of Long’s associates have theorized that Long took the box with him when he went to Washington as senator.  Others think the box still lies somewhere in the hotel. With no clues to follow, the deduct box has long become a legend almost as strange as the legend of Huey Long himself.

Noel Wolf and Teresa Bui are freshmen at New Orleans Charter Math and Science High School.

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