Thursday, August 14, 2014

The UpStairs Lounge Fire, New Orleans, LA,

June 25, 1973, AP - The Abilene [TX] Reporter-News, Arson Eyed in New Orleans Fire, by Eric Newhouse, Associated Press Writer,

New Orleans, La. (AP) -- The 29 charred bodies of victims killed in a cocktail lounge fire were stacked in the city morgue today, and officials said identification was difficult because most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

The brief, intense fire, which swept through a Sunday night beer bust at The Up Stairs Lounge in the French Quarter, trapped most of the victims behind burglar bars.

A police official, calling the lounge a homosexual bar, said identification was made even more difficult because some of the men could have been carrying false identification.

Fifteen men, some of whom got to the fire escape and leaped to the sidewalk one story below, were injured, and six remained in serious condition today. Hospital spokesmen said they feared some would die. Because of the almost unbelievable speed of the blaze, officials said they were checking the possibility of arson.

"There are hints of a fire bombing," said Chief of Detectives HENRY M. MORRIS, "but no evidence has turned up to support it. Every story we get conflicts with every other story."

He said no arrests were anticipated immediately.

One survivor said he believed somebody dashed an inflammable liquid on the stairway to the lounge and lit it.

When the fire broke out, the bar, known locally as a hangout for homosexuals, was packed. Sunday was its biggest day, featuring a 5 to 7 cocktail hour with all you could eat and drink for $2, followed by partying until the wee hours.

Coroner's assistants said they would have to check dental records to get identification for some of the charred bodies.

Some small persons managed to escape by squeezing through the burglar bars on the lounge's front windows and then leaping to the street. Others left the building by smashing a side window and climbed onto a fire escape. A few made their way to another fire escape in the rear.

The bodies of those who did not make it lay jammed like logs against the front windows, with four huddled under a charred grand piano.

Some of the injured apparently were hurt in jumping to the street.

Authorities said there was only one woman among the dead.

Fire headquarters is but three blocks away. Units were on the scene in two minutes, said Supt. WILLIAM McCROSSEN. The fire was out 18 minutes later.

ADOLPH MEDINA, 32, of San Antonio, Tex., said flames engulfed the bar in a short, panic ridden moment after fire broke out on the front stairway. He said, "I was panicked about jumping, but two guys urged me to jump and I was small enough ... Some big guy on the ground caught me, and I kept looking back but my friend never got out."

LINN QUINTON, 25, of Houston, Tex., said, "The place just went up. Everyone panicked and started running for the windows. I jumped to the window in the left corner, opened it, swung out, grabbed a pipe and slid down."

"I turned around and broke a couple of other people's falls, but there were one or two who just wouldn't jump."

QUINTON said: "The bigger people just couldn't get out."

"BILL LARSEN, a pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church, got caught in the window, and I just watched him burn. He had one arm out, and I heard him scream: 'O God! No!"

"In the next window beside him, three people burned to death while I could only watch."

The bar was at the corner of Charters and Iberville, one block off Canal Street and across the street from the back entrance to the Marriott Hotel.

Marriott security guard KENNETH MEYNARD said, "It went up real quick. Second floor, flames were already at the windows when people started jumping."

Police said the floor above the fire-gutted bar included three single-room apartments that were empty at the time.

A bar downstairs and one next door were damaged but there apparently were no injuries in them, police said.

Hundreds of persons swarmed from the busy Quarter area to watch firemen remove the bodies, lowering them one at a time with a snorkle truck.

A bartender set up a bar on the sidewalk across the street and did a brisk business with the spectators.


Three Unidentified White Males.

June 23, 2013, Nola Defender, Upstairs Lounge Fire Memorial, 40 Years Later, by M.D. Dupuy,

After Pride-goers close out a weekend full of performances, parading, and celebrating, the LGBT community will memorialize a sorrowful time in New Orleans' history. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the Upstairs Lounge Fire, an arson attack on the city's LGBT community in 1973 that left 32 people dead.

At the time of the fire, cities across the United States, including New York, Chicago, Boston Dallas, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, were celebrating Pride weekend. In New Orleans, however, LGBT clubs and gatherings were still underground.

The fire occurred at what is now Jimani Lounge and Restaurant (141 Chartres), on the second floor of a three-story building. According to their website, the space temporarily housed the New Orleans chapter of the nation’s first gay congregation, the Metropolitan Community Church. Chapters in Nashville and Los Angeles were attacked earlier in the year.

That Sunday night, someone firebombed the building, and eyewitnesses told reporters on the scene that they smelled gasoline before the arsonist set the stairs ablaze. There were approximately 60 people in the bar at the time, and 29 died that night. Another three died later from injuries.

With no emergency exit and windows barred shut, most were unable to escape. MCC Reverend Bill Larson died in between the bars, his lifeless body visible to witnesses throughout the investigation.

The story disappeared from the public radar within a day of the incident, and news reports used denigrating language to describe the horrific scene. New Orleans Chief Detective at the time, Major Henry Morris, was quoted about the victims in the States-Item. “We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.” No one was ever arrested for the murders.

The first memorial service will take place at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church (1130 N. Rampart Street) at 5pm. The son/grandson of two of the victims will speak. At 6:30pm, a solemn street side memorial will take place at Iberville and Chartres, the former site of the Upstairs Lounge. At 8pm, Upstairs the musical will close out its five-show run at Cafe Istanbul.

June 29, 2014, The Truth About, Mass Killings, New Orleans, and the Mind of a Gun Grabber, by Robert Farago,

TTAG reader CM writes:

I've got a friend that believes in the 2nd amendment…but….she thinks people only "need" revolvers and bolt action rifles. To make matters worse, she spent a semester abroad in Australia and thinks that we should do everything they have done because there is no more “gun violence” down under. You've probably guessed by now on Facebook she likes to “share” and “Like” propaganda from the Moms demanding action, along with other pro gun control posts . . .

She has a lot of pro gun friends, all of which respond to her in respectful, informed ways. I've offered to give her an education on guns (not politics or opinions, just an intro to guns, maybe I can get her to the range), which she hasn't taken me up on yet, but says she might.

Anyway, the other day she shared a post on Facebook that seems even more relevant today given the shoot-out on bourbon street this morning. All I saw was the title: "Remembering the Upstairs Lounge: The U.S.A.'s largest LGBT massacre happened 40 years ago today." I wasn't familiar with the incident, and my first thought was, “oh boy, here we go. More commentary for gun control”. So to educate myself I clicked on the link. You can read the article here.

Thirty-two people killed in New Orleans in 1973 for no other reason than they were gay. And they were killed by… Not gun fire, plain old fire. Ignited by a lighter or match and a whole lot of lighter fluid. With the possible exception of better fire codes, it would be just as easy to do this today as it was 41 years ago. Lighters and matches are easy to buy anywhere, with no background checks. Lighter fluid is everywhere, as is gasoline and other fuels. And nobody cares. Nobody blames the tools. It was a crazy, hateful person who wanted to kill a bunch of people.

If you changed one simple detail, the tool, the narrative would have been completely different. Because she doesn't fear fire or perceive it as a threat, she has no comment other than how horrible the tragedy was. Had it been a gun that was used, she would have had another 52 comment thread on her hands about gun control.

It's been stated and restated a bunch of times on TTAG. A lot of the people that support gun control fear guns because they don’t have any knowledge about them. And this is no different. Matches and lighter fluid are different. People need that stuff so what are you going to do? But guns, those are only for killing innocent people. Especially the evil semi-auto ones.

And so it goes. A pro gun control person that needs an education. And a pro gun person that is politely, and gently, offering one. I will keep at it, carefully. Move to quickly and you scare them off. But I know there are cracks. She was appalled recently at an article where it took the police an hour to show up to a home invasion robbery. Suddenly, the police were no longer seconds away in her mind. And her pro gun friends pointed out that she and her husband were on their own for protecting themselves and their daughter. Yeah, there is that.

June 24, 2013,, Friendly Atheist Blog, Remembering the UpStairs Lounge: The U.S.A.'s Largest LGBT Massacre Happened 40 Years Ago Today,

June 24, 2013 by Terry Firma, 936 Comments,

The 24th of June in 1973 was a Sunday. For New Orleans' gay community, it was the last day of national Pride Weekend, as well as the fourth anniversary of 1969′s Stonewall uprising. You couldn't really have an open celebration of those events — in '73, anti-gay slurs, discrimination, and even violence were still as common as sin — but the revelers had few concerns. They had their own gathering spots in the sweltering city, places where people tended to leave them be, including a second-floor bar on the corner of Iberville and Chartres Street called the UpStairs Lounge.

That Sunday, dozens of members of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the nation's first gay church, founded in Los Angeles in 1969, got together there for drinks and conversation. It seems to have been an amiable group. The atmosphere was welcoming enough that two gay brothers, Eddie and Jim Warren, even brought their mom, Inez, and proudly introduced her to the other patrons. Beer flowed. Laughter filled the room.

Just before 8:00 pm, the doorbell rang insistently. To answer it, you had to unlock a steel door that opened onto a flight of stairs leading down to the ground floor. Bartender Buddy Rasmussen, expecting a taxi driver, asked his friend Luther Boggs to let the man in. Perhaps Boggs, after he pulled the door open, had just enough time to smell the Ronsonol lighter fluid that the attacker of the UpStairs Lounge had sprayed on the steps. In the next instant, he found himself in unimaginable pain as the fireball exploded, pushing upward and into the bar.

The ensuing 15 minutes were the most horrific that any of the 65 or so customers had ever endured — full of flames, smoke, panic, breaking glass, and screams.

MCC assistant pastor George "Mitch" Mitchell escaped, but soon returned to try to rescue his boyfriend, Louis Broussard. Both died in the fire, their bodies clinging together in death, like a scene from the aftermath of Pompeii.

Metal bars on the UpStairs Lounge windows, meant to keep people from falling out, were just 14 inches apart; while some managed to squeeze through and jump, others got stuck. That's how the MCC's pastor, Rev. Bill Larson, died, screaming, "Oh, God, no!" as the flames charred his flesh. When police and firefighters surveyed and began clearing the scene, they left Larson fused to the window frame until the next morning.

This news photo is among the most indelible I've ever seen:

Thirty-two people lost their lives that Sunday 40 years ago — Luther Boggs, Inez Warren, and Warren's sons among them.

Homophobia being what it was, several families declined to claim the bodies and one church after another refused to bury or memorialize the dead. Three victims were never identified or claimed, and were interred at the local potter's field.

When the Rev. William Richardson, of St. George's Episcopal Church, agreed to hold a small prayer service for the victims, about 80 people attended, but many more complained about Richardson to Iveson Noland, the Episcopalian bishop of New Orleans. Noland reportedly rebuked Richardson for his kindness, and the latter received volumes of hate mail.

The UpStairs Lounge arson was the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and the largest massacre of gay people ever in the U.S. Yet it didn't make much of an impact news-wise. The few respectable news organizations that deigned to cover the tragedy made little of the fact that the majority of the victims had been gay, while talk-radio hosts tended to take a jocular or sneering tone: What do we bury them in? Fruit jars, sniggered one, on the air, only a day after the massacre.

Other, smaller disasters resulted in City Hall press conferences or statements of condolence from the governor, but no civil authorities publicly spoke out about the fire, other than to mumble about needed improvements to the city's fire code.

Continuing this pattern of neglect, the New Orleans police department appeared lackluster about the investigation (the officers involved denied it). The detectives wouldn't even acknowledge that it was an arson case, saying the cause of the fire was of "undetermined origin." No one was ever charged with the crime, although an itinerant troublemaker with known mental problems, Rogder Dale Nunez, is said to have claimed responsibility multiple times. Nunez, a sometime visitor to the UpStairs Lounge, committed suicide in 1974.

Watch the trailer for Royd Anderson's new documentary about the UpStairs Lounge:

For more information on the massacre, check out these sources:

New Orleans' UpStairs Lounge Still Burns, Out and About Nashville,
UpStairs Lounge Arson Attack, on Wikipedia,
The Haunting Tragedy of the UpStairs Lounge,,
The Horror Upstairs, Time magazine, (paywall)
Let the Faggots Burn, Johnny Townsend

The UpStairs Lounge Fire (2013 trailer), [YouTube Comments]

First the Horror -- Then the Leap, by Walt Philbin,

You can reach the producer at for information on viewing the film online.

The worst mass murder of gays in U.S. history occurred in the French Quarter, New Orleans, on June 24, 1973. This documentary examines the tragedy of the UpStairs lounge fire.

There are interviews with an eyewitness, a son who lost his father, a rookie firefighter called to the scene, author Johnny Townsend, and artist Skylar Fein, whose exhibit about the tragedy gained national prominence.

Roger Clemons, 8 months ago,
" Most people think it was a hustler named Rodger Dale Nunez, who had just been kicked our and said he would burn them out. "
Every article fails to note, Roger was a homosexual. 

In this weeks US version of "TIME" there is a story. Do a Google search for "Upstairs Lounge Fire." There is a short documentary and other sources. YouTube does not allow links in comments.

1 year ago
in reply to DarkBrotherhood129
Technically it is an unsolved case. It was never declared arson from what I've read because the investigators
couldn't start a fire with dry wood similar to that of the stairway, lighter fluid like the can of lighter fluid the found in the stairwell and fire. However, most people think it was a hustler named Rodger Dale Nunez who had just been kicked our and said he would burn them out. He also claimed to have started it several time after. You can google upstairs lounge fire and read about it.

1 year ago,
in reply to DarkBrotherhood129,
The book Let the Faggots Burn is also interesting. It is 95% about the people and about 5% about the fire itself. He was a medical student in New Orleans and tried to document the event years ago. He collected info on the people and put it in a depository to years and years hoping a writer would put out a book. He finally did it himself.

1 year ago,
After forty years, on Monday, June 24, 2013, I was able to give a decent "Goodby," to my longtime friend Dr. Perry Waters, DDS. Most of us were still deeply closeted. I hid myself in the army. In the "Times" article they said there was no national coverage, which is untrue. I heard a news show from Atlanta, GA, the day after the fire as I prepared to go on leave to New Orleans, my home, before being deployed overseas. It said 32 dead in an upstairs bar. I knew where and who, home to confirm.

The UpStairs Lounge Fire (2013 trailer), [Screenshots]


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