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Upstairs Lounge fire

40 Years after the UpStairs Lounge Fire in the French Quarter, Director Royd Anderson Completes a Documentary that Explores the Tragedy that Killed 32 People in a Gay Bar

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People in the French Quarter are remembering a deadly fire, intentionally set.

Thirty two people perished in the arson fire that ripped through the Upstairs Lounge on June 24th, 1973.

“Respecting their lives,” says Toby Lefort.  “And putting them to rest, such as should have been done forty years ago.”

“There are so many stories to be proud of from this fire,” says the Wayne Self, who wrote a musical about the fire called Upstairs.

Lefort says whoever set the fire forty years ago on the only door leading to the gay bar was never brought to justice, It was totally brushed under the cover. Nobody said let’s investigate it. Lets get to the bottom of it. You know why? Because it was a gay issue.”

A backdraft spread flames quickly trapping patrons on the second floor. Bars on the windows stopped victims from escape,  Politicians and the churches sort of just shied away from this whole thing. There was sort of a   conspiracy of silence,” says Self.

Below where the Upstairs Lounge once was, near a plaque acknowledging the tragedy, is a celebration of pride, Self says, past and present, “ If it happened today certainly it would be a different type of response.”

Lefort says the remembrance is also a celebration how far gay rights have advanced since the Upstairs fire forty years ago, “I am proud that I can actually be who I am in the streets of anywhere I go because these people who died actually paved the way for me.”

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – It’s taken filmmaker and educator Royd Anderson 6 years to complete his documentary on The UpStairs Lounge tragedy, an event that claimed the lives of 32 people in the French Quarter.

“The second floor, that’s where there was a lot of structural damage from the fire,” says Anderson. The fire was started on June 24th, 1973 in the stairwell of the UpStairs Lounge.

The completion of the film coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the fire. Four decades later, the pain and emotions still smolder.”The number one suspect got away with it, nothing was done about it, one person, one guy said he said he was going to burn the place to the ground and he wasn’t even arrested,” says Anderson.

“Supposedly, this was the well he filled with lighter fluid, knocked on the door, when the guy opened the thing, that’s when it went inside, ” says Jimmy Massacci, owner of Jimani, the restaurant directly beneath the lounge.He was just thirteen years old at the time of the fire, but he still remembers his family discussing the circumstances.In a tour of the inside of the building, he points out the remnants of the blaze, “You can still see some darkness in here, there’s some burnt right here, if you shoot that window sill you’ll see some burnt right there . The smell was unbelievable, I’ll never forget that smell. “

“The dance floor actually was right over here, and that’s the famous photograph of Rev. Larson outside the window, deceased. It’s hard to imagine the worst mass murder of gays in US history happened right here,” says Anderson as we step inside the second floor from the stairwell. Now, the floor is used as storage for the restaurant.

“It’s awful. There was only one church that offered a memorial service for the victims, the politicians didn’t say anything.” You can still see black outlines along the windows, charring from the fire. “A reminder, something horrible happened here,” says Anderson.

“A lot of the survivors of this fire do not want to speak, they don’t speak to reporters, they don’t speak to filmmakers. It was really my dad informing me about it as a kid that made me want to pursue it as a documentary. There are no documentaries about many tragedies in New Orleans or Louisiana .”

Outside the stairwell, there is a plaque on Iberville St. that was put in on the 25th anniversary of the fire. If you don’t go inside the building, if you don’t see the charring on the walls, the plaque is really the only significant visual to tell people this tragedy even occurred. “Everyday people are walking right over it, they don’t look down. The fact that it’s not even in text books, Louisiana history books is appalling, it’s forgotten history and it needs to be told.”

June 24th at PJ’s Coffee (5432 Magazine St., New Orleans) at 8:00pm, you can see a free screening of Royd Anderson’s documentary. Anderson will conduct a Q&A session before the screening.

You can also watch it on Cox4 June 24th 8:00pm and 10:00pm, June 25th at 1:00pm and June 27th at 6:00pm.

Visit for more information.