The fire some want you to forget

Every 24 June, the LGBTQ community pauses to remember the horror of a Sunday night in the French Quarter.

It was 24 June 1973 when an arsonist doused the stairwell of The UpStairs Lounge with lighter fluid, then set it ablaze. By time the inferno was under control, 32 people perished.

It was New Orleans’ third massive loss of life in seven months.

The first was a 29 November 1972 fire at the Rault Center, a 16-story high rise in the city’s Central Business District. One man died when he was trapped in an elevator. Five women jumped from the 15th floor; three died instantly, one died in a hospital a month later without ever regaining consciousness, but miraculously, Natalie Smith of Metairie lived to tell her story. She passed away in 2014 at 81.

Five and a half weeks after the Rault Center came the infamous sniper incident at the Downtown Howard Johnson’s Motor Hotel across Gravier Street from the Rault Center. Two hotel guests (a honeymooning couple from Virginia), the hotel’s General Manager and Assistant General Manager, and three police officers (Phillip Coleman, Paul Persigo and Louis Sirgo, the NOPD’s Deputy Superintendent) were cut down by Emporia native Mark Essex.

Essex was later identified as the sniper who killed NOPD Cadet Alfred Harrell New Year’s Eve at Orleans Parish Prison, then wounded Edwin Hosli in a neighborhood. Hosli passed away 65 days later without regaining consciousness. He also was fingered by many as the perpetrator of the Rault Center fire.

The Howard Johnson’s incident received national coverage on all three networks. Imagine if there were CNN, MSNBC and Fox News back then.

The Rault Center fire led the national newscasts hours after it occurred, although outside of New Orleans, it wasn’t mentioned after 29 November 1972.

The UpStairs Lounge fire rated less than two minutes on the next night’s CBS Evening News and barely a minute on the NBC Nightly News. Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith (a Louisiana native) didn’t mention one word about it on ABC.

Why?

The patrons in The UpStairs Lounge were nearly all homosexual males. One woman died, and it’s unclear if she was lesbian or a relative of one of the men.

In 1973, homosexuality in New Orleans, which was more progressive than the rest of Louisiana and most of the rest of the Deep South, was frowned upon.

The coward who committed the dastardly deed at The UpStairs Lounge was never caught. He took the sissy way out and committed suicide a little more than a year after the fire.

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The College World Series championship series started an hour ago. I had Vanderbilt right. Arkansas, however, was a big disappointment, losing to Florida State and Texas Tech.

Michigan is the first Big Ten (B1G) team to reach a CWS final since 1966, when Ohio State won the championship. One of the Buckeyes’ best players was Bo Rein, who sadly perished in a January 1980 plane crash only 42 days after being named LSU’s football coach.

Had Rein lived, there’s no way LSU suffers 10 losing seasons between 1980 and 1999. Would he have won a national championship at LSU? Hard to tell. There were so many superpowers in that era. On the other hand, LSU would never have hired such duds as Mike Archer, Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo.

If Rein lived and coached a long time at LSU, do the Bayou Bengals entice Nick Saban, and later Les Miles, to Baton Rogue? Who knows.

The Big Ten has long complained about college baseball being slanted heavily towards teams in warmer climates, and in particular, the other Power Five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).

I understand the weather is a problem. But Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and other Big Ten schools, save Northwestern, have no room to complain. They are raking in millions upon millions of dollars through the Big Ten’s television contracts and their partnerships with Nike or another apparel company, meaning they have plenty to build indoor baseball facilities, whether it be through capital outlay or donors.

Michigan has an athletic budget which dwarfs some COUNTRIES. Why can’t it build a dedicated indoor baseball facility in Ann Arbor, one with a full-sized diamond? If the Maize and Blue can afford separate hockey facilities for its men’s and women’s teams, it certainly has the money to build something more in baseball (and softball).

And why does Wisconsin not play baseball anymore? It’s inexcusable the flagship university of the Badger State does not play the sport when there is a Major League franchise in Milwaukee. It’s the same for Colorado.

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That’s all from Salina. I need to get home pronto.

About David

Louisiana native living in Kansas. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, addictions to The Brady Bunch, most sports, food and trivia games.

Posted on 2019-06-24, in College Baseball, History, New Orleans and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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