Upstairs Lounge Fire, 1973: News Coverage

Stop 3 of 5 in the Upstairs Lounge Fire tour

National press coverage of the Upstairs Lounge fire was rather light and short-lived, considering the scale of the crime. Coverage in New Orleans was very insensitive and callous; newspaper reporters described “bodies stacked up like pancakes” and groups of “mass charred flesh.” The New Orleans States-Item detailed the investigation of the fire, mentioning that “in one corner, workers stood knee-deep in bodies [and] … the heat had been so intense, many were cooked together.”

In its front-page article about the fire, The Times-Picayune featured a photograph of the burned body of MCC pastor Reverend William R. Larson stuck in between the burglar bars blocking a window on Chartres Street. Eyewitness Stewart Butler remembers, "The press and news sources treated this horribly. The Times-Picayune printed the names of those who perished in that fire. If they had been in the closet, they weren’t in the closet any more."

The hysterical and homophobic reporting of the local and national press reached its zenith when WVUE Channel 8 reported, on air live, an anonymous phone call saying that “the bar was fire-bombed by a vigilante group that has declared war on homosexuals in New Orleans. The caller, a woman, said the group calls itself black momma, white momma." The news anchor further stated that the group was made up of “several women, as well as five men, who have been sexually attacked by homosexuals.” The newscaster concluded by stating that the caller “said the group is planning more attacks and has maps outlining their future targets.”

Only the alternative newspaper the Vieux-Carre Courier editorialized against the horrible visual and written representations of the fire victims; the mainstream media quickly lost interest and little else was published about the fire and the ensuing investigation. One of the most likely suspects in the arson investigation later committed suicide. The crime was never officially solved.

Images

Courtesy of the Times-Picayune View File Details Page

Courtesy of the Times-Picayune View File Details Page

Courtesy of the Times-Picayune View File Details Page

Courtesy of The Times-Picayune View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jennifer Conerly, Drue Hardegree, and Robert Rickey, “Upstairs Lounge Fire, 1973: News Coverage,” New Orleans Historical, accessed July 26, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/517.
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