The Fire at 73 Upstairs

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A gay nightclub in New Orleans caught fire on June 24 1973, in an arson that some say may have been a gay-on-gay crime. 32 people died in the Upstairs Lounge in the 2nd floor of a club at the corner of Iberville and Chartres.

Huffington Post | 14237

“This was the worst mass murder of gays in U.S. history,” said local historian and filmmaker Royd Anderson, who has produced a documentary about the fire. Ignited in the front stairwell, the fire prevented people from running out of the entrance, while iron bars prevented them from escaping through the windows. “Once someone opened up the door, they were pretty much trapped. There was a back draft that shot into the lounge.”

A bartender led about 20 people to safety through a back door behind a stage, but investigators found the bartender unintentionally trapped dozens of others inside when he locked the door to prevent the fire from spreading, as a safety measure.

Even before investigators found an empty can of lighter fluid at the bottom of the charred stairs, eyewitnesses at the incident were sure that it was a case of arson.
No one was ever arrested, but suspicions focused on a man who got into a fight and suffered a broken jaw in the bar shortly before the fire. “He told them, ‘I’m gonna burn this place to the ground,’” Anderson said. “A few minutes later the place was burning.”
That suspect was called Rogder Dale Nunez who went on to commit suicide.

The fire took place in a time of rampant homophobia and authorities did not seem interested in dealing with the matter. “What I learned from it was the politicians kept their mouth shut. You know, Gov. (Edwin) Edwards and Moon Landrieu who was the mayor, they made no public statement of sympathy for the victims. They chose politics over what was right,” Anderson said.

A flyer for the bar | Public domain | 14238

Anderson’s documentary includes the personal story of a man who died in the fire after dropping his sons off at a theater to see a movie and was never able to pick them up.
Duane Mitchell, whose parents were divorced, didn’t know his dad was gay. “He was a kind and gentle person, and he was a hero,” Mitchell said. “I don’t care what anybody says. He was a hero.”

The worst gay mass murder in the US is commemorated by a plaque on the sidewalk beside the building where it happened.

There is a book called “Let the faggots burn” by Johnny Townsend about the incident.

The memorial plaque | Huffington Post | 14239

The people who died in the fire are: Reverend Bill Larson
Douglas “Buddy” Rasmussen
Luther Boggs
Duane George “Mitch” Mitchell
Louis Broussard
George Stephen “Buddy” Matyi
Joe William Bailey
Clarence Joseph McCloskey, Jr.
Willie Inez Warren
Eddie Hosea Warren
James Curtis Warren
Dr. Perry Lane Waters, Jr.
Douglas Maxwell Williams
Leon Richard Maples
Larry Stratton
Reginald Adams, Jr.
James Walls Hambrick
Horace “Skip” Getchell
Joseph Henry Adams
Herbert Dean Cooley
David Stuart Gary
Guy D. Andersen
Donald Walter Dunbar
John Thomas Golding, Sr.
Adam Roland Fontenot
Gerald Hoyt Gordon
Kenneth Paul Harrington
Glenn Richard “Dick” Green
Robert “Bob” Lumpkin
Ferris LeBlanc
“Unknown White Man”
“Unknown White Man”
“Unknown White Man”

Updated on 16 November 2014. One of the original sources used is no longer available.

Sources

Yahoo News
Huffington Post


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