Monday, June 25, 2018

the last book I ever read (Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, excerpt one)

from Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler:

The International Trade Mart building had been erected in the 1960s under the direction of Clay Shaw. A man of aristocratic bearing who wore seersucker suits and lived in a French Quarter mansion, Shaw had counted himself among the New Orleans elite. Years earlier, he had organized the 1953 sesquincentennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase, an event that had attracted the newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower. Shaw’s position in the city seemed assured, having accompanied New Orleans mayors on trade missions. However, as only his close friends knew, Clay Shaw lived two lives: conservative businessman in public and homosexual bon vivant in private. His feat of compartmentalization had come crashing down when Jim Garrison, the Orleans Parish district attorney, bizarrely arrested him in 1967 and charged him with colluding to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

This would be the first and only trial brought against a living suspect for the killing of the president, and District Attorney Jim Garrison worked the limelight, as prosecutor, to his full advantage. Garrison postulated to the press, using defamatory tropes of the era, that Shaw’s involvement made the assassination a “homosexual thrill-killing.” The prosecutor loudly declared that an individual associated with the presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, named “Clay Bertrand” by the Warren Commission, was none other than New Orleans resident Clay Shaw. Garrison’s claim that Bertrand and Shaw were one and the same person, an apparent break in the case touted by the press as the final reveal of a “mystery man,” ultimately turned out to be a dubious connection, at best, and knowingly baseless one, at worst. In fact, Garrison happened to be a man with his own set of demons: during his crusade, Garrison was concurrently investigated by an Orleans Parish grand jury for allegedly molesting a thirteen-year-old boy at the New Orleans Athletic Club.

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