by Michael D. Wynne
Some of the most fascinating men in history live by their choice a life different from the rest of us. They are people that we can sometimes admire, and sometimes can be amazed at. “Admiral” Dewey Phillips of Alexandria is one such person. Here is his life story in brief.
Born in Pittsburg, Camp County, Texas in 1903, the son of a Spanish American War veteran and railroad man and a stay-at-home mom, the Phillips family was living at #6 Bolton Avenue in Alexandria by 1914. At the that time, Dewey was listed on the honor roll at St. Francis Xavier School.
From that point on, Dewey seemed to just love being featured in the Town Talk newspaper; he got his name in the newspaper more than 3,000 times before his death at 91 in 1994, more than probably any other local person. From reading the various mentions of Dewey in the papers, this columnist came to realize that Dewey was a one-man self publicity machine; he apparently wrote the newspaper about everything he did, from winning minor contests, to traveling out of town on trips, to displaying exhibits at the Rapides Parish Fair, to even simply renewing his Town Talk newspaper subscription! And sometimes Dewey appeared in the paper for incidents that he didn’t want to be in the paper for. But there is one famous event that Dewey appeared not only in the Town Talk, but in newspapers around the world. That event was traveling down the Mississippi River on a mattress!
The August 30, 1930 Town Talk announced (excerpt): “Endurance contests of every description have swept the nation . But here comes Dewey Phillips, 27, of Bolton Avenue, Alexandria, with a brand new one.
“With two inflated inner tubes about him, Phillips plans to jump into the Red River at the local traffic bridge on or about September 1, and float down that stream into the Mississippi, and thence to New Orleans.
“It ought to take me about 4 days to make the trip,” Dewey reasons, “Barring flat tires and other trouble, I ought to make it to New Orleans from here in at least that time, and maybe less.”
This announcement was followed by a public invitation for all to come see the see the launch from under the Murray Street Bridge in Alexandria, but now on a ” A-B-C Quality “KAPOC” Mattress.” It was noted that the mattress was constructed of a material that would not absorb water. Dewey would be followed on his lengthy trip by his brother, A. P. Phillips, in his motor boat.
Over 300 persons were present to watch Dewey set sail on his unique adventure. Dewey carried with him letters of greetings from Alexandria Mayor Lamkin to the mayors of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Well, the trip took a bit longer than 4 days. On September 30th , Dewey wrote the Town Talk from just outside of New Orleans, “I’ve suffered tortures to make this trip,” Phillips said. “We stood day after day of blistering heat, some storms and swarms of mosquitoes. I wouldn’t do it again for anything.” The journey finally ended on October 3rd at the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans. The newspaper noted, ” …both of the mariners were tanned to a chocolate brown by the hot September and October sun. Dewey’s feet were pickled by the cold waters of the Mississippi in which his feet have been immersed for the past week, due to the fact that the mattress had about given in and it was necessary for him to place boards on top of it to keep it floating.”
Dewey would continue to appear in the newspapers in various ways: everything from breaking the Prohibition Law to being charged with assaulting Mayor Carl Close in 1953. Dewey kept a log of his 1930 trip down the Mississippi River that was partially published in the newspaper in 1955 on the 25th anniversary of the trip . (Where is that log now?)
In 1956, Dewey was “officially” commissioned as an Admiral on Governor Earl K. Long’s staff, the only man in the history of Louisiana to have such an honor.
Dewey married twice, but had no children. He later worked for the highway department and is buried in Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Green Gables, in Rapides Parish.
Admiral Dewey Phillips was a one-of-a-kind legendary figure.