1. On June 24th, 1973 a popular gay bar, The Upstairs Lounge, was brimming with patrons even though it was a Sunday. It was the last day of Pride week.
A Time Magazine article described the bar as a, “safe haven for gays in 1973. Every Sunday night from 5pm to 7pm, the second-floor bar held its weekly “beer bust”—all you can drink drafts for $1. It was a refuge where patrons could laugh, love, and even worship without fear. The Metropolitan Community Church, the only denomination at the time that welcomed gays and lesbians, often held services in the bar’s back-room theater.”
On that night one man, Luther Boggs, ran down the stairs to answer the doorbell. What he did not know was the man at the door had doused the steps in lighter fluid and set it alight.
The next 20 minutes were complete chaos; 35 quickly made it to safety, 15 got out injured but alive, 29 died immediately in the fire, and 3 died later due to injuries.
2. The Upstairs Lounge was on the second floor of a three-story building, and was only two blocks away from the fire station.
Firefighters were slowed down by stalled vehicles in the street and crowds of drunken bar goers. By the time the first responders arrived on scene, flames were shooting from the building.
3. Lambert, a 32-year-old member of the NOFD, recalled that men were struggling against the security bars on the windows and a “sickening smell hung in the air.”
4. “These people, they were literally roasted alive. When your skin is exposed to open flames, you just melt, like candle-wax. It’s horrific,” recalled Terry Gilbert, a 22-year-old rookie firefighter.
5. The arson was the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and the largest massacre of LGBT people in the U.S. to date.
6. The Upstairs Lounge arson was never solved and no one was prosecuted.
7. The incident received only brief media attention:
8. Some churches refused to hold funerals for the victims while some families refused to claim bodies, knowing the patrons of the bar would be presumed to be gay.
9. A sidewalk memorial plaque now rests outside the building, dedicated on the fire’s 30th anniversary in 2003:
10. Watch the trailer for Royd Anderson’s new documentary about the UpStairs Lounge:
Read more about the Upstairs Lounge Arson Here.