Friday, April 11, 2014

Sheri Wright's "Tracking Fire", the Song "United We Stand, Divided We Fall", the last Song Sung by Reverend Bill Larson Before Burning To Death

Christal Cooper  818 Words


United We Stand, Divided We Fall is attributed to
the Greek Philosopher Aesop in his fable
The Four Oxen and the Lion.

“Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all!
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!”
John Dickinson in 1768

“United we stand, divided we fall.   Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”
Patrick Henry in March of 1799.

For united we stand, divided we fall
And if our backs should ever be against the wall
We'll be together, together, you and I.”
Tony Hiller and Peter Simmons in 1970

       Sheri Wright spent a pleasant week from January 10th to January 18th of 2014 in the French Quarter of New Orleans on 141 Charles Street, the corner of Chartres and Iberville Streets.  The birds were singing, the sky was blue, and the sun was shining; but in Wright’s mind things were very somber, holy, sacred, and overwhelming.

       “All I could say was, “Holy Shit!  I’m really doing this!’”

Wright is on a mission to complete her documentary film Tracking Fire on the Upstairs Lounge Fire, the largest mass murder in LGBT history, that happened over forty years ago on June 1973 where 32 people, all gays and one mother, died from a fire caused by an alleged arsonist, an angered patron who was kicked out of the bar earlier that night.

Sheri’s mission goes back to September of 2012 when she watched "Ghost Hunters" about investigators going into the Upstairs Lounge to contact the spirits.  She was appalled to the lack of response to the fire by officials and the community and to her ignorance of the event.  Why didn’t she know about this, especially, since she was gay herself?

She made a commitment to herself, her subconscious, and her higher power, that she would do a documentary film about the fire, the victims’, and the survivors.    

This has been a great adventure – scary and filled with anticipation – for Sheri.  Sheri’s background is that of photographer, poet, and teacher.  She has never done a documentary film before.

During that January week in New Orleans, as Wright walked the same stairs, into the same room the victims walked in forty years ago, where they lost their lives due to a door-sized fireball of 2000 degrees, she had an epiphany:  “This is what I was born to do!”

What Wright is supposed to do is two-fold: to make this film and to give voices to the victims and the survivors.

       One person who has been etched in her mind is Reverend Bill Larson.  Perhaps it is due to that photograph of him dead, his hands grasping the window ledge; his body stuck between the 14-inch gapped bars of the window, covered in an ash blanket, his own burial clothes.

       “I can’t get that image out of my mind.  They could have covered Reverend Larson’s body, but they let it sit there for hours and hours because he was gay and they wanted to make a statement.  It is a disturbing image, but I think it needs to be seen.”

       Reverend Larson was a Christian minister of the Metropolitan Community Church, the first gay church founded in October of 1968 in Los Angeles by Troy Perry, who presided over one of two memorial, services held for the victims in July of 1973.

       Reverend Larson was at the Upstairs Lounge on the second floor to discuss with other church members an upcoming fundraiser for children who were crippled, and to also enjoy a meal and a glass of beer.

       The reports that Reverend Larson was holding church services that sweltering June night are wrong.

       “MCC was not holding their meetings that night.  Reverend Larson was allowed to use one of the back rooms to hold meetings for MCC until they found more suitable space.  At the time of the fire they already located a more permanent space”
       Reverend Larson and his fellow patrons were singing “United We Stand” which was fitting considering this night, June 24, 1973, was the last day of Pride Weekend Celebration.

       The fire was discovered at 7:56 p.m. when one of the patrons opened the door to find the front staircase engulfed in a huge fireball.
       Since Reverend Larson, like most of the patrons, was not aware of the fire exit door in the back, he tried to squeeze through the barred windows only to get stuck, burning to death, his spirit singing, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

       Thus Reverend Larson’s motto of “United We Stand Divided We Fall” is Sheri’s motto.
     Because Sheri has never done a documentary film before she has made sure to surround herself with experienced people in the industry; which includes hiring experienced musicians, poets, professional videographers, cinematographers, editors, and narrators. 
     She views this film as not her film but one that belongs to the entire community:       “This is a community project.  It is not my project.  This film belongs to the community.”

Photo Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1
Hellenistic statue claimed to depict Aesop, Art Collection of Villa Albanie, Rome.
Public Domain.

Photo 2
John Dickinson (1732 – 1808)
Oil on canvas.
Attributed to Charles Wilson Peale
Public Domain

Photo 3
Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
Oil on canvas.
Attributed to Thomas Sully and George Bagby Matthews
Public Domain.

Photo 4
Album cover of Brotherhood of Man “United We Stand”
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 5
Signs of Chartres and Iberville Streets.
Copyright by Sheri Wright.

Photo 6
Sheri Wright giving a poetry reading.
Copyright granted by Sheri Wright.

Photo 7
Poster for Sheri Wright’s documentary film Tracking Fire.

Photo 8
The aftermath of the Upstairs Fire.
Copyright by Landov.

Photo 9
Memorial marker with all the names of the victims lost in the fire.
Copyright by Sheri Wright.

Photo 10.
Sheri Wright with her camera.
Copyright granted by Sheri Wright.

Photo 11
Post from Sheri Wright’s documentary Tracking Fire minus the sidebars

Photo 12
Survivors of the Upstairs Fire being attended to by firemen and medical personnel.
Copyright by Landov.

Photo 13
Reverend Bill Larson’s corpse.
Copyright by Landov.

Photo 14.
Reverend Bill Larson at the pulpit.
Copyright by Landov.

Photo 15
Reverend Troy Perry delivering a sermon at the Metropolitan Municipal Church in Rochester, Minnesota.
September 18, 2006
Attributed to Jonathunder.
CCASA 3.0 Unported License.

Photo 16
Patrons of the Upstairs Lounge, including Reverend Bill Larson, second from the left.
Copyright by Landov.

Photo 17.
The Reverend Elder Nancy Wilson with the Metropolitan Community Church logo in front of the altar at a regional conference of the church denomination at All God's Children MCC in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
July 18, 2008
Attributed to Jonathunder.
CCA-SA 3.0 Unported License and GNU Free Documentation License.

Photo 18
Rainbow Flag.
October 5, 2008
Attributed to Ludovic Bertron
CCA-SA 2.0 Generic License

Photo 19
Sheri Wright giving a poetry reading at the even music and poetry event 1000 Poets For Change.
Copyright granted by Sheri Wright.

Photo 20
Image of the Upstairs Lounge second floor as it appears today.  The window second from the right is the same window that Reverend Larson clasped as he burned to death.
Copyright by Landov.

Photo 21
Sheri Wright judging a poetry event.
Copyright granted by Sheri Wright.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris, I thank you for sharing these pictures. I am also a bit disturb seeing that image of late Rev. Larson. What a sad story. I felt sorry and very sad to all the victims of that massacre.