The Horror Upstairs

The largest known massacre of gay people in U.S. history remains unsolved and little understood

Jack Thornell / AP

This is a view inside the UpStairs bar following a flash fire that left 29 dead and 15 injured, June 25, 1973. Most of the victims were found near the windows in the background. The bar is located in the New Orleans French Quarter.

Francis Dufrene lived for Sunday nights. tall and lean with a pile of blond hair, the 21-year-old would take two buses from his home in the New Orleans suburbs to make it to the Upstairs Lounge by 5 p.m., when the French Quarter bar held its weekly beer bust--two hours of all-you-can-drink drafts for $1.

From the outside, the Upstairs didn't look much different from the other gay bars on a particularly seedy stretch of Iberville Street. But up 13 steps on the second floor was a refuge: three adjoining rooms, decorated with red wallpaper and frilly curtains, where people could...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!