On the 47th anniversary of an arson fire that killed 32 LGBT+ people in the French Quarter, the weather reflected the mood of the mourners.
photography by Andrew Simoneaux
About 50 people gathered at the site of the Up Stairs Lounge arson on the 47th anniversary of the deadliest fire in New Orleans history. On June 24, 1973, an arsonist set fire to the gay bar located at Iberville and Chartres Street, killing 32 people. Until the Pulse massacre in Orlando in 2016, it was the deadliest crime against LGBT+ people in U.S. history.
The commemoration ceremony was organized by the Crescent City Leathermen and included three speakers: The Very Rev.of St. George’s Episcopal Church, Richard Easterling, historian Frank Perez, and the Rev. Lonnie Cheramie of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). Many of the men who died in the fire were members of the MCC, including its pastor, the Rev. Bill Larson.
The Up Stairs fire commemorative plaque at 604 Iberville was restored in 2019. Read the story in Ambush Magazine.
Three victims of the fire remain officially unidentified, although in recent years, many believe that one of them was Larry Norman Frost, who hasn't been seen since the night of the fire.
The memorial was organized by the Crescent City Leathermen.
Switchy Kyle of the Crescent City Leathermen
Very Rev. Richard Easterling and Rev. Lonnie Cheramie
The Very Reverand Richard Eastering, rector of St. George's Episcopal Church. The day after the fire, when no church would allow a prayer service for those who died, "Father Bill Richardson of St. George's 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."
Read more here.
Lonnie Cheramie of the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater New Orleans also spoke. In 1973, the Up Stairs Lounge was an unofficial meeting place for members of the then-young church, which celebrates "God's love for everyone." The fire killed "most of the church's members, including the Rev. Bill Larson and associate pastor George Mitchel." Read more here.
Frank Perez, historian and president of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. Frank also writes regularly for Ambush Magazine and French Quarter Journal.
Tommy Stubblefield and Coca Mesa
For those who want to learn more about the Up Stairs fire and how it changed the LGBT+ community in New Orleans, Frank suggests these books: Robert Fieseler's Tinderbox, Clay Delery's The Up Stairs Lounge Arson, and Johnny Townsend's Let the Faggots Burn.
Find more stories on French Quarter Journal's home page, or check out our Hunkering Down blog.
Capturing special moments and telling visual stories is my passion. I thrive on variety and enjoy a wide range of photography projects from solo shoots to weddings. If you believe that the way I view the world through my lens fits your needs, I’d love to work with you. Although I’m based in New Orleans, I’m available for travel worldwide. You can find more work on my website, my Instagram and my Pets of NOLA Instagram.
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