Upstairs Lounge Arson, 1973: Aftermath

Stop 4 of 5 in the Upstairs Lounge Fire tour

32 people died in the Upstairs Lounge Fire, making it the deadliest fire in the history of New Orleans. In the fire's aftermath, many New Orleans residents revealed prejudice against gays and gay culture. Survivor Stewart Butler recalls the silence he had to endure the day after the fire: "The next morning I still -- so many people, especially those who witnessed any of it were almost immobile. I had to go to work, and I was in the closet at work, so I couldn’t say one word about it.”

Of the 32 people that died in the fire, four of the bodies were unclaimed because the families refused to identify them out of fear that others would find out that their loved ones were gay. Many members of the New Orleans community, even those who were assigned to investigate the fire, either largely disregarded the fire or refused to take it seriously.

Many people with strong religious convictions had interpreted the fire as a form of divine retribution, punishing those for being gay. Instead of releasing the unidentified bodies to the Metropolitan Community Church for proper burials, the city buried the four bodies in a mass grave for the indigent. In addition to this blatant disregard for the victims and the survivors, no one was ever prosecuted for the crime.

Images

New Orleans Fire Department Report

New Orleans Fire Department Report

NOFD report depicted the locations of each victim. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library. View File Details Page

New Orleans Fire Department Report

New Orleans Fire Department Report

The rear exit, unmarked in the building at the time of the fire; not nearly as many lives would have been lost if this door had been properly marked. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library. View File Details Page

New Orleans Fire Department Report

New Orleans Fire Department Report

17 bodies were found in this one corner of the lounge. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library. View File Details Page

New Orleans Fire Department Report

New Orleans Fire Department Report

5 bodies were found in the bathroom area of the lounge, which is located on the other side of the staircase. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jennifer Conerly and Drue Hardegree, “Upstairs Lounge Arson, 1973: Aftermath,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 24, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/512.
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