Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jimani Lounge - New Orleans, LA (A Hate Crime for the Ages)

141 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA  70130

*Some of the following images are graphic in nature.
As I have said several times, New Orleans has always had a dark cloud that seems to hover over it. Even prior to its founding in 1718, the settlement basically served as a safe haven for the expelled, criminal-minded and those just looking to do wrong. By the time you are done reading through all of the city’s haunted locations, you will see that during the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, New Orleans was in no short supply of deaths, crimes and catastrophic events such as fires and hurricanes. With all of these occurring, one lays out the perfect ground work for one hell of a haunted city. As modern times approached, things shifted somewhat, but not necessarily for better or worse. Gone were the ax-wielding maniacs and torturous madams of the 1800’s, as modernization now brought in gun toting gangsters that would steal everything but the crack off your butt. Heartache and despair is still quite abundant in certain areas of the city, as they still get their raw end of the deal especially in the hurricane department. We are all aware of the disastrous Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that nearly eradicated the entire city. Still, with the fighting spirit that New Orleans has possessed for centuries, they picked up the pieces and rebuilt; whether it was from the ashes in 1788 or the floods in 2005.

Like any major city, crime is still prevalent in New Orleans, depending where you are and what time of day it is. Once being billed as the murder capital of the world, the Big Easy (or not so easy) has tamed down a bit from ten or so years ago. One of the last heinous crimes involving mass murder
A photo of the building in 1963.
took place at our next location. Today, the Jimani Lounge sits just off of Bourbon Street and is a great place to have a relaxing drink. However, going back in time to June 24, 1973, the event that took place here would go down in the vast history of New Orleans as one of the most despicable acts of mankind ever to have taken place throughout the city’s long life.
In regards to early history of the building, not much is known. From the earliest act of sale records I could dig up, a portion of the property was originally sold to Julia B. Hunt by Henry Carleton on December 20, 1848. On January 13, 1849, the remaining property and three-story home was sold to Carleton Hunt, Dr. Thomas Hunt and Louise Hunt. According to records, part of the home was “occupied as a book store by Mr. Gaston BruslĂ© and standing in part of a lot of ground bought by Henry Carleton from Ferdinand Lioteaux (a colored man) on August 6, 1821. The home would stay in the Hunt family until 1922, where it would pass through a few other owners, until 1971 when it was turned into the Upstairs Lounge by James Massaci Sr.
The Upstairs Lounge was a popular hangout for the local gay community. As with much of the
A depiction of what happened during the blaze.
country during this time period, great deals of New Orleans residents were homophobic and the lounge was regularly frowned upon. With much protest, locals began hosting Gay Pride events. On Sunday, June 24, 1973, Metropolitan Community Church, which was the first openly gay church in the United States, held services on the second floor of the Upstairs Lounge, celebrating the final day of a successful Pride Week. Following the services, the Protestant organization hosted a party for roughly one hundred and twenty-five of its members.
Reports say, “At 7:56 p.m., a buzzer from downstairs sounded, and bartender Buddy Rasmussen, an Air Force veteran, asked Luther Boggs to answer the door, anticipating a taxi cab driver. Boggs opened the door to find the front staircase engulfed in flames, along with the smell of lighter fluid.” Someone had set the lounge on fire and the blaze was quickly engulfing the building along with its
MCC Pastor, Bill Larson, trapped in the bars as he attempted
to escape.
occupants. Obviously, panic ensued and individuals began fleeing for their lives. As the temperature rose and smoke filled the building, making it nearly impossible to see and breathe, several heroes were able to guide small groups out of the building with some still trapped inside. With barred windows, those that were still on the second and third floors had nowhere to run. The lucky ones died of smoke inhalation while others horribly burned to death. By the time firefighters arrived, charred bodies were hanging out of the bars as the smell of burnt flesh could be noticed for blocks. When the horrendous event was over, a total of thirty-two individuals lost their lives. Twenty-eight people would die in the building, with another four dying soon after from their injuries.
Immediately following the crime, officials began looking for a prime suspect. Speculations ran rampant, as police obviously assumed this was a hate crime. Leads were coming up empty handed and no legitimate arrests were being made. The most probable suspect has always been a local hood rat by the name of Rodger Dale Nunez. Earlier that Sunday evening, Nunez was kicked out of the bar for fighting with another customer. Many feel that the mentally unstable individual would return to seek his revenge on the building and everyone inside by sending it up in flames via a Molotov cocktail. Nunez would eventually be arrested and placed in a psychiatric ward, though escaping from it soon after, never to be seen or heard from again. To this day, no one has ever been brought to justice for the devastating blaze that remains to be the largest mass murder of gay people in American history.
        Further research of the deadly fire brought me to a very interesting and informative article that goes in to extreme detail. What I was totally unaware of was at the time, the C.I.A. was covertly conducting surveillance of the city's local homosexual-rights movement. The program was so serious, the C.I.A. had a undercover agent, Buddy Rasmussen, work at the lounge as a bartender. Rasmussen would ultimately become one of the heroes that day, as he led numerous patrons to safety. Instead of constantly referencing and quoting the detailed article, I will simply attach a link. I highly recommend you reading it following this blog. You can view the other article by clicking HERE.
Several victims being attended to following the fire.
Today, the Jimani Lounge serves the local area well and continues to stay in the Massaci family, as it is now owned by the son of James, who was only a young boy when he witnessed first-hand, the devastation that took place on that dreadful Sunday night in 1973. Today, the first floor is home to the popular bar while the remainder of the building remains empty. Yes, no buildup was needed to insinuate that the Jimani Lounge has been reportedly haunted ever since the raging inferno took over the building. Staff have reported hearing cries for help originating from upstairs along with the unmistakable smell of burning flesh. If anyone has ever had the unfortunate opportunity to encounter such a smell, there is nothing else like it in the world.
Due to the number of victims from the fire, it is hard to speculate which individuals may haunt the building. Psychics and paranormal investigators who have visited the bar feel that one of the more predominant haunts is the spirit of George “Bud” Matyi, who was the regular piano player at the Upstairs Lounge and was loved by many who knew him. Even in his final minutes on earth, Matyi continued to be a caring individual. After assisting several people out of the building, he returned to collect others. The blaze proved to be too much for him and he would perish in the building. Once the fire was extinguished, reports say that Matyi's body was found under his piano, lying on top of two
Pianist George "Bud" Matyi, who many feel still haunts
the Jimani Lounge.
bodies, as if he was still trying to offer protection even during his last breath.
From the paranormal investigations I am aware of that have taken place at the Jimani, quite a wide array of evidence has been collected. Everything from strange light anomalies, Class A electronic voice phenomenon, spirit box interactions and disembodied voices have all been captured, only strengthening the claims that some of those victims on that fateful night have lingered behind. Could these lost souls have a message they are trying to relay? Perhaps one of the spirits may know exactly who started the blaze that ended so many lives way too soon. Hopefully, with more investigations and evidence recovered, some long-asked questions could be answered. In the meantime, I would like to hope that these benign spirits are living out their spectral lives in a carefree manner, as they were just prior to the fire being set. In a perfect world, perhaps we can choose the manner in which we live in eternity and are not just halted in our tracks, forced to remain in the exact condition and state of mind at the moment of our deaths. This particular blog is dedicated to the following identifiable individuals who lost their lives on that dreadful June night in 1973:
Joe William Bailey, Clarence Josephy McCloskey, Jr., Duane George "Mitch" Mitchell, Louis Horace Broussard, Mrs. Willie Inez Warren, Eddie Hosea Warren, James Curtis Warren, Rev. William R. Larson, Dr. Perry Lane Waters, Jr., Douglas Maxwell Williams, Leon Richard Maples, George Steven (Bud) Matyi, Larry Stratton, Reginald Adams, Jr., James Walls Hambrick, Horace "Skip" Getchell, Joseph Henry Adams, Herbert Dean Cooley, David Stuart Gary, Guy D. Anderson, Luther Boggs, Donald Walter Dunbar, John Thomas Golding, Sr., Adam Roland Fontenot, Gerald Hoyt Gordon, Kenneth Paul Harrington, Glenn Richard "Dick" Green, Robert "Bob" Lumpkin and Ferris LeBlanc.

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