Upstairs Lounge Fire, 1973: In Memoriam

Stop 5 of 5 in the Upstairs Lounge Fire tour

The Upstairs Lounge had served as the home of a religious denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church; however, no church would allow a prayer service for those who died, except for the pastor of St. George’s Episcopal Church. Father Bill Richardson held a small prayer service for the fire victims on June 25, 1973, for about 100 people, and he was severely criticized for it.

On July 1, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church held a larger prayer service and memorial for the victims of the Upstairs Lounge; almost 300 people attended. This memorial was more public than the one at St. George’s, and many journalists and photographers waited outside the church in order to document the event and also expose members of the closeted gay community in New Orleans.

Stewart Butler attended the July 1st services, and he remembers that everyone was offered the option of exiting through a back door of the church in order to avoid being affiliated with the memorial. No one chose this option; instead, everyone decided to face the media and present a unified front to honor those who had died in the fire.

In the decade after the fire, a museum exhibit presented the history and contributions of the New Orleans Fire Department, but the tragedy of the Upstairs Lounge, with the largest number of fire-related deaths in city history, was not included. In 2003, after thirty years of neglect from the larger community, a plaque dedicated to the victims was installed in the sidewalk in front of the door that led to the Upstairs Lounge.

The plaque is small, and embedded in the sidewalk, so not many people notice it. The fire is featured in some city tours, but these are mostly ghost tours that highlight the "supernatural" and grisly events. Such tours do not mention the implications that the fire had for the city's gay community. Many believe that in the long term, the Upstairs Lounge massacre served as New Orleans' version of the Stonewall Rebellion. It began the process of uniting more of the gay and lesbian community.

These stories are shared in memory of those who perished in the Upstairs Lounge fire:

Joseph Henry Adams
Reginald Adams, Jr.
Guy D. Anderson
Joe William Bailey
Luther Boggs
Louis Horace Broussard
Herbert Dean Cooley
Donald Walter Dunbar
Adam Roland Fontenot
David Stuart Gary
Horace "Skip" Getchell
John Thomas Golding, Sr.
Gerald Hoyt Gordon
Glenn Richard "Dick" Green
James Walls Hambrick
Kenneth Paul Harrington
Rev. William R. Larson (MCC Pastor)
Ferris LeBlanc
Robert "Bob" Lumpkin
Leon Richard Maples
George Steven Matyi
Clarence Josephy McCloskey, Jr.
Duane George "Mitch" Mitchell (MCC Assistant Pastor)
Larry Stratton
Mrs. Willie Inez Warren
Eddie Hosea Warren
James Curtis Warren
Dr. Perry Lane Waters, Jr.
Douglas Maxwell Williams

Three unknown white males buried in New Orleans' Potter’s Field remain unidentified.

Images

Baton Rouge Advocate View File Details Page

Baton Rouge Advocate View File Details Page

Memorial Plaque

Memorial Plaque

In 2003, the city of New Orleans dedicated this plaque to the memory of the victims of the Upstairs Lounge. The inscription reads: "At this site on June 24, 1973 in the Upstairs Lounge, these thirty-two people lost their lives in the worst fire in New Orleans. The impact went far beyond the loss of individual people, giving birth to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Movement in New Orleans." The names of the victims are inscribed along the sides of the triangle, and in the bottom corners are two fleur-de-lis, the quintessential symbol of New Orleans. Photo, Jennifer Conerly View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jennifer Conerly, Drue Hardegree, and Robert Rickey, “Upstairs Lounge Fire, 1973: In Memoriam,” New Orleans Historical, accessed May 28, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/513.
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