Fire at the Up Stairs Lounge
On June 24, 1973 an arsonist set fire to a gay bar in New Orleans called the Up Stairs Lounge. Within moments fire engulfed the bar, and ultimately claimed the lives of 32 people. It was the largest massacre of LGBTQ individuals in the United States until the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016.
My guests today are Robert “Bobby” Fieseler, and Clayton Delery. Bobby authored a new book about the fire entitled, Tinderbox, the Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.
Clayton Delery is a native of Metairie, LA just outside of New Orleans. Clayton’s 2015 book about the fire, The Upstairs Lounge Arson: 32 Deaths in a Gay Bar, was recognized by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities with a Book of the Year Award.
Join us as we talk about the fire, about life in New Orleans during that time, and about the impact of the fire on New Orleans and its citizens in the 45 years since.
NOTE: Today’s discussion involves some gruesome descriptions of what happened on the night of Sunday, June 24, 1973. You may wish to listen to this one when your little ones are not around.
Tinderbox, the Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, by Robert Fieseler, is available on Amazon and at local bookstores, including Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books. You can also follow Robert Fieseler on Twitter (@wordbobby).
The Upstairs Lounge Arson: 32 Deaths in a Gay Bar, by Clayton Delery is available on Amazon.
Johnny Townsend’s book Let the Faggots Burn was the first book published about the Up Stairs Lounge fire. His book is a great source of information about the men (and women) who lost their lives in this tragedy. You can purchase Johnny’s book at Amazon.
Royd Anderson created the first documentary about the UpStairs Lounge Fire in June 2013. His award-winning film includes interviews with witnesses, with first reposnders, with author Johnny Townsend and more. You can connect with Royd and purchase a copy at his Facebook page or by email at: email@example.com.
Robert Camina produced his award-winning and moving documentary about the fire called Upstairs Inferno. You can purchase it directly from his website.
I first learned about the Up Stairs Lounge massacre many years ago.
Its been on my list of topics for the Beyond Bourbon Street podcast since we launched in December 2016, but I hesitated to tackle it. I wanted to make sure I had the interview skills to do it justice. I also wanted to find the right person or people to talk to. Thanks to my friend James Tardie I connected with Robert, and through Robert, with Clayton.
Words cannot express how appreciative I am to Robert Fieseler and to Clayton Delery for opening up to me. While I understand they have books to promote, it is obvious how personal the story is to both of them. Our discussion was difficult, but I hope it conveys to you the listener at least a sense of the tragedy itself, as well as the times.
I am also hopeful by sharing this story, it helps us all be mindful of the work we still have to do in today’s world to ensure everyone is treated as equals.
I also owe a word of thanks to John Price and the Old 77 Hotel. When John heard about this topic, he quickly offered a space for us to record. The Old 77 actively supports all members of our community, and I am honored to have them as a partner.
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