The Up Stairs Lounge Arson

Thirty-Two Deaths in a New Orleans Gay Bar, June 24, 1973


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About the Book

On June 24, 1973, a fire in a New Orleans gay bar killed 32 people. This still stands as the deadliest fire in the city’s history. Though arson was suspected, and though the police identified a likely culprit, no arrest was ever made. Additionally, government and religious leaders who normally would have provided moral leadership at a time of crisis were either silent or were openly disdainful of the dead, most of whom were gay men. Based upon review of hundreds of primary and secondary sources, including contemporary news accounts, interviews with former patrons of the lounge, and the extensive documentary trail left behind by the criminal investigations, The Up Stairs Lounge Arson tells the story of who used to go to this bar, what happened on the day of the fire, what course the investigations took, why an arrest was never made, and what the lasting effects of the fire have been.

About the Author(s)

Clayton Delery-Edwards is a retired teacher from the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He lives in New Orleans.

Bibliographic Details

Clayton Delery-Edwards

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 216
Bibliographic Info: 20 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7953-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1510-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
A Note on Language 5
I. Beer, Prayer and Nellydrama: The Story of the Up Stairs Lounge 7
II. Nineteen Minutes of Hell: The Fire at the Up Stairs Lounge 34
III. Thieves, Queers and Fairy Carpetbaggers: How New Orleans Responded 56
IV. “Nothing there”: The Investigation of the NOFD and the Coroner’s Office 84
V. Passive Voice: The Police Investigation 91
VI. “A terrible cross”: The Fire Marshal Investigation and the Death of Rodger Nunez 115
VII. Southern Stonewall? Or Rehearsal for a Plague? The Social and Political Legacies of the Fire 139
Afterword. “Anecdote of the Jar”: Final Reflections 167
Notes 179
Bibliography 189
Index 199

Book Reviews & Awards

  • Book of the Year—The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
  • Finalist—Lambda Literary Award
  • “a must for history and crime buffs…most telling: why an arrest was never made and what impact the fire had on the city, the queer rights movement, and even public policy…”—The Advocate
  • “a very honest look…heart-wrenching…a lot of the book reads more like true crime…the author pulled from police reports, fire reports, newspapers, and personal interviews in providing a clear view…if you are a fan of history, are interested in LGBT history, or just want a great look into a crime that was never truly ‘solved’, then you will enjoy this book”—Rhodes Review
  • “chronicles the fire that occurred in a New Orleans gay bar, the Up Stairs Lounge, in June 1973 that was suspected arson and resulted in 32 deaths, but no arrests”—ProtoView
  • “a very sad moment in the history of New Orleans…the incident was so significant, that there can never be too much written about it…though this is quite a difficult read, it’s an important one and Delery-Edwards has done his research well”—Reviews by Amos Lassen