Prejudice and Pride: Revisiting the tragic fire that killed 32 in a New Orleans gay bar

Until the Pulse nightclub massacre, the 1973 UpStairs Lounge fire was the deadliest attack on LGBTQ citizens in US history.
27:49 | 06/21/18

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Transcript for Prejudice and Pride: Revisiting the tragic fire that killed 32 in a New Orleans gay bar
In New Orleans in the 1970s. Police raids and gave us were routine. They would be more often than not beaten up by the police roughed up. Pressure to name other perverts and. Upstairs lounge is a private atmosphere you could escape into this bar not be worried about being seen by anyone on the street and everybody was friendly even if you didn't know. Because it there was a lot of calmer added in there we'd all be singing in the solve huge Broadway Show us. But in the midst of this someone enters the bar. I heard. This guy. Coming in Ray Emery like it was yesterday he threatened to come back in the Barnett. Not only was it the deadliest fire in New Orleans history. It wants until the pulse massacre in Orlando few years ago and the deadliest crime against gays and lesbians in our nation's history. Many people died here they're not like to tell you about one in particular. Curiously the name of rehearsal ball. His body was not played. It's. To order unique team. The work doesn't. Ferris seven years older than me I'm from a family of thirteen. The report people. We were. Rich in art. My mom was very close to fairest because of terrorists helped raise are pretty much they that are the underserved wins in major they were dressed to go to school because my father. Died and over three. Humid more like. Father replacement David all there for me always. Ferris was always kind of a favorite uncle a World War II veteran and. After half of that do war that. Fifty. Soldiers had lost their life. He was in the ammunition or. He lives in England France Holland. Belgian. My first earliest memory though. Had a hole was really cool MG cars and visiting fairest and his partner up in northern California wants. He gave me a right. Really enjoyed that back then you. A different word which was homosexual. Nobody cared. We loved him. And if you love somebody Alan. We loved him too. He split up for this partner he was basically sleeping on the couch and working and then. Just one night never came home disappeared you know we've always wondered all these years. Worded ego. I have this recurring dream of the doorbell ringing going to the door. And it pushed him in light work and all its time it was just the mystery. New Orleans has this very well earned reputation. For letting the good times roll anything goes right this is the first quarter and do what you want. The 1970s there were wide variety of bars. No matter what you case was what I was doing king defined it. My name is very I'm a local historian I do live here in the first quarter there have always been. Gay and lesbian. And transgender although they would've called it that back then people living here. New Orleans has a famous reputation of being a live and let live culture especially as it related to homosexuality. Was often called them. We're capitalists out. Individuals would run away there trying to start new faces are chapters of their lives and one of those individuals with Ferris wheel of law. The truth was and even individuals like Ferris couldn't exactly be open about their sexuality in every context. For much of our history until very recently it was really not okay to be gay. Homophobic violence was was very Carlin. And those years you could not be out of work you could not be out just in general being gay or lesbian who you can fire could be convicted. Could land you jail or a middle asylum. Feel really safe spaces there were to be he true world where either gay or lesbian bars. And. Very few people very IDs. Because. There was any time the night the police could just barge in. And sort taken names and it if they really want. They read notary. It it was a frightening time two to be gay. The officer's lounge was a special bar. In this incident was fairly unique for that area in which it was located. That section of the French Quarter. Because. Had a somewhat seedy for really long. In the midst of all that. The flop houses in the house of horrors in the groves in the present. It was really not that. We'll eventually favorite place to me as I just felt comfortable. Why are really great people from different different walks supply clear to us regular. Working class Bebo we have doctors told Reuters he can ever virus has to. Regular jobs have been. Ferris of law a debonair attractive man was a regular patron and he must've sit right. You would you arrived at the door of the sidewalk there's little buzzer that you press marketer would since more. When you entered the bar but it marketer would grandly announced here is Luther or here is whoever. Buddy bartender just made a ball. You know he'd he'd get people together whether they wanted to or not you know. But would hear in that small place. You Tim and Noah Everett in the third section most of the gators that we had Mallard on humans and dragged him reason. Five months. Care challenged in the here on Sundays. In one corner was piano that they'd play in and we'd all be singing the songs music Broadway sounds you know. Back in that was some of the gaping you know you had no Oklahoma. Outstanding acts especially pumping at the upstairs lounge because it here bus was hurt. About ninety people were gathered for what they considered to be the most fun night of the week. They've paid one dollar hands were going to enjoy two hours some fondness the years and they were amongst friends. In the midst of this activity. Someone enters the bar and people know what who isn't considered very popular. And as soon as he enters the bar people stop and pause and there's a sort of awkward silence where they're like don't know this guy's here again. I don't into the bathroom and when it came out a bathroom. I heard. This guy. Coming in remember him like it was yesterday. It he just. Was upset and angry and drowned and that caught stealing tips off the barn was somebody threw map. And overheard him. There was a loud discussion between him and buddy and a couple of other people before they got him out and I heard him say I'll burn this. Placed them. UK kicked me out. And now about fifteen minutes later I guess I'll left. Because I knew I had to get back. Two to duty. All of a sudden there was like. Big load can use your way. Minute sightseeing plane missions like Hollis there's this guy went across the blogs. Sing along came and is eight 01 along. Which included. Five Indian companies. And it was reported as people trapped. Remember the night city editor walking through as we were all kind of doing crossword and whittling outcomes and instead c'mon somebody make something happen. About five minutes later arm hit on this fire. And we all rushed out went to the scene. And I heard on the radio they had news break it. There was a bar own father in New Orleans and I said. While. I hope it's not. Bother coming back east and all they said it was upstairs. So from used in the San Antonio. In an absolute panic. I'm surrounded him and his. Looking now only one instance where I wouldn't call around I didn't know which way to go he couldn't see him. That was several people. All lying about out. On the street laying down walking around barn being attended to. People would skin burned off problem paying in. Class people slain in the glance grown old and yell and. There was one fellow sitting on the curb. And he had been very badly burned literally had skin hanging off his arms and was crime. Asking for people to help them. Heidi was more concerned. Kenny has many people. Ought Nikko bar that he grabbed anybody on pulled me up that there so I leave here providing and back door. He saved. Probably a dozen or two dozen people. Because he knew awaited get out of a back door and crawl over a roof for softening and get people out and save a lot of people. Put 32 people could not make it. We made our way up the stairwell wanted a second floor it resembled something out of denies the war just came up. With the mass of humanity. Stacked up against the windows. Of the ball are people trying to get out. Nobody said a word we were at all at a loss of words and one horrified at what we have seen. When I walked up to the scene that was the first thing I saw this is a gentleman in the window. And I froze I was. I was in shock I couldn't believe what I was seeing and I immediately started taking pictures and hitting the cover him up they just left him hanging in the window. So it was it was pretty gruesome. I got back to my desk started typing. One victim who was able to move about somewhat freely and tossing and asked for assistance and making a phone call. His fingers were burned too badly to take the nickel out of his pocket and out of numbers. Finally Donald scaring white item from floor it's. Hello Kate. Listen I had a sort of accident. I'm a charity hospital please come quick please umpire heard fire. Or. My phone was ringing off the wall. And his so there's been a bad bad fire in New Orleans. And I said it will was anybody hurt. And he should or why he should there are dozens of people did. Founded the metropolitan community churches. And the reason the troops started with because I kept trying to find her church to attend and could. I've been coming home with five years and I just. And the gay people really are my life a man. The. In our little church and Marlins. Bless their hearts they had been moving in the upstairs one homes. Well. Twelve among members are dead my pastor is dead his body's been accountable window. Then man. A cloned human. But general problem. Is body is a balloon. And they believe him I think there for hours before they move the body. Her bill. I expect him. To fund the city in mourning. And when I got there wasn't that way at all the fact that bill Larson's body was. Tragically hanging out of the windows. Server load in the gay community and you've ever make waves we're leaving things to. There were three people there who didn't have ID. The city refused to let us bury. The three people would no ID. And told us they had to bury them in the pop were still. Fares mobile he was one of the few bodies that were never played. Police did not try to trade them next of kin his sister. Did not discover that her brother had that if in the wounds and I consider history until 140 something years later. We did not know. 442. Years. Where he lives. Or what he was doing I'm angry that they didn't do a better job of trying to find in the family they didn't respect. People have died they weren't given any respect at all. And he was just another one him. The gay community at the time of the fire not only had to deal with the grief. Of that tragedy but also the public reaction. To the far. They were older people who knew from older guys and I heard him use some of the terms like the cola to fruit for it. And it the bottom even then back then I was in the air force. And I had to get back to duty or there were some. Nasty burning baggage jokes I'm just. Laughing with them you know because I can't let on a different. There was a joke or would we bury the dead ahead in the porcelain was fruit growers. Which was just absolutely Krantz and tasteless. And that gives you an insight into the attitudes in nineteen serving through. The newspapers. Ran all the names. Of the people who were hurt. Or mood made it out but were burned. If your name ended up in the newspaper. You probably could count on being barred from your job. Police say the bars of hang up for homosexuals. Homosexual frequently carry false identification papers making positive identification of the victims nearly impossible the national press. It was over with like that. Firemen search through this pardon me burn building in New Orleans French Quarter today looking for evidence of arson. Fire broke out in the second floor bar last night killing 29 people and injuring fifteen. The stock markets opened the week badly today. That was the end of the story the archdiocese here said new Catholic funeral services for anybody in this fire. Reverend period tried. Contact a number of churches in order to have some kind of memorial service. We kept expecting. Some bodies some politician. Spoke of the city does speak up. Nobody would. Nobody they ran the other one. The new Orleans police and city officials used. We're trying to question popped. You know covering. The police department actually close the case quit investigating. Stewart. Call me and I told him that I saw the guy and I knocked back the and I probably could have recognized him. And he asked me use it will you need to come over here and in in. Dub plates which you know and I said no way. I just felt very very positive that. And I've gone back in and made a statement or if I would have been called them and made a statement. That they would turn means to an automatic dishonorable discharge that hurt me for a long. Knowing what I knew. And I couldn't say. Anything about it. The young man by the name of Roger mobile news from little town about two hours west of here. He had arrived in New Orleans. Not too terribly long before the fire. And who's very troubled young man. He was. Determine obvious suspect within about a day's investigation. And Louisiana office of state fire Marshall. Was able to locate Russian Nance and his hometown. And even brought Roger to New Orleans to be questioned office administered a polygraph sane that this individual was found to be deceptive and to use suspect anyone in particular. Setting the fire he hopes to use. You know per shoot who set the fires this week. Net. You sit quietly moved it. Not. He was never arrested. And he eventually committed suicide about a year and a half after the fire. That complicated the state fire marshal's investigation. When he felt that they have lost their chief suspect. Eventually they compiled their report and gave it to New Orleans parish DA. Saying that we believe rupturing Unionists the suspect with the -- upstairs lounge fire will you accept our case. And the DA declined to accept the case without reason. To this day he remains a suspect but but unfortunately. Leukemia. Come forward again corporation. I kept thinking. He went through were ordered ward to. And then. He burned them alive. These and an unmarked grave. In New Orleans and it looks like a cow pasture. That's not right he's a member of our family deserves better than that is a World War II veteran. And he's a human being. You know he needs to be. Giving the right. Burial. And a headstone rule and do the right thing. Spent five months basically full time. On the computer in the phone she's trying to find out where he was. Many people help them in an effort to locate personable bonds. Everybody thought that he was buried in the cemetery called holes in security which is. Known as of offers cemetery. For indigent people. But he wasn't buried there he's actually period in the difference of that your wish they discovered. At a cemetery preservation as I've done research for people who. Knew they had a family members who might indicted Anders. Unfortunate circumstance somewhere buried in potter's field that CI gets a little bit like a detective. We're rested and memorial part it's a private cemetery on one sign and the back parcel has been leased to the city of New Orleans for use as its potters field. In this cemetery it. And what we understand to be panel Q Lott 32. Here's the baht was buried in 1970 jury. However after three years of working with city and private officials. Nobody's been able to produce some map. To say exactly where pale hue lop thirty is okay. No this is where you get into sort of a very awkward catch twenty you between the CD and a private cemetery and city. Restaurants like what we don't need to provide a map because it's city owns and sit the city will respond with what we don't need to provide records because it's privately. So we end up in the situation where both entities her. Assertive shirking off responsibility to be. Everybody deserves the dignity and identity. In death. The really make it seems like we're so close rate payers we have a lot numbers Ferris who want Stanley it wants to take action. It just seems like there's this very last step in which this city needs to be people. I found a lot of resistance to my search. When I tried to find. Pierce is grave site. With actual city officials were variant helpful for the most part it took a lot of effort to even get the city do agree to let us. Go there to visit the place. It's been a row difficult journey tried even get to that. If you. This mortal remains are here. Now I don't know if you believe in people having. Very change or. Stuff like that. Ferris my brother. Related and he says. Don't leave me here. Just don't believe me here please don't leave me here. And I start crying. And bring him he's a veteran and I have I had. But he deserves. Mr. Bailey. There's congressman clay Higgins. Good brother did it catch at a bad time. Ma office had been reached out to by your network. When it was brought to my attention I was given the opportunity to talk. With with the Bailey family. In the case of your uncle. That there were photographs. That showed the actual burial. Well there's there's actually feel footage here yet distilled footage of of the actual burial OK is he knew and you have Dell. It's there yeah that's right there. And if there were two. Known points that have been static all these years for instance archery. Or particular post in the pants. In the third point becomes the grave it would to triangulation to the glory. And that that would be. Certain level of a degree of certainty that could be presented to a judge right. You know pretty relentless about some like this when I get involved with it and determined. To get this veteran home. As of are. Very righteous and dep. And I. A hey a. And. News. Are were okay. Yeah. Okay. Yeah and yeah. OK. It's. Okay. Okay. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. I. Yeah. Okay.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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