It’s the kind of story tailor-made for social media in the modern day; a snapshot of the past, the hope of a happy ending, and a tantalizing mystery to solve, starring a cute, brave young man who dropped his wedding pictures off to be developed in 1957, because that’s what you did back then, when phones were bolted to walls and cameras didn’t have screens on them. But this being 1957 and the cute young man being queer, things did not work out.
“But the young man would never see them. That’s because the photos depict him in a commitment ceremony with another man, and unbeknownst to him, the store manager had a policy of withholding developed photos if he deemed them “inappropriate”—as he did these.
The photos, though, lived on because the manager of the shop had another policy: Staff were allowed to do whatever they pleased with confiscated pictures. An employee held on to the photos, which her daughter discovered in her Cherry Hill home 60 years later, after she passed.”
“In 2013, she sold the photos on eBay to a donor who later gave the photographs to the ONE Archives in Los Angeles and the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives in Philadelphia. Since then, the organizations have been looking for the grooms, their friends or family. In the photographs, the two men and their friends appear to be mostly in their twenties and thirties; if they are alive today, they would be in their eighties or nineties.”
Please go and read the whole story, because it deserves to be told and they’re trying to get these pictures seen by as many people as possible in order to find out more about these people. The pictures themselves aren’t just cute, or romantic or happy. They’re straight-up amazing and every person in them is a goddamn hero.
There’s so much to love about these pictures, so much to marvel at, to celebrate. Not just the love on display, but the friendship, support, and sense of family and community. How brave these men were. How much they must have loved each other. We’ve seen plenty of gay house party pictures from back in the olden days, but this gathering has none of the camp or silliness you often see at these gatherings. This is for real. These men are in love and their friends are here to help them celebrate that fact.
But we can’t not see the blinds. Those firmly closed blinds, with the night, the world, the eyes of outsiders, and the destructive force of the law on the other side of them. It may be necessary for us all to be reminded of something every single man in these pictures knew down into their bones: they were all deviants and outlaws, subject to everything from job loss to jail time to chemical castration for exhibiting same-sex tendencies or socializing with people who did. If someone decided to call the cops on this gathering, all of their lives could be ruined. We say this not to be total drags about it. Quite the opposite. We say this to elevate and celebrate each of these men for their bravery and sense of self, which allowed them to overcome any fears of retribution for living their lives truthfully. For white middle-class American men of the 1950s, the world was an enormous silver platter, heaped to overflowing with opportunities and possibilities. For these men, outside the safety of these walls, it was a world dead-set against them.
We hope these men are found or that we all get to find out more about them. It’s possible their time together was brief or ended badly. It’s possible they lived long and happy lives together. That’s pretty much the point of all weddings: the possibilities of the union. Outside of the hope of reuniting them with their pictures or allowing them the opportunity to teach us more about queer history, it doesn’t really matter if these pictures can serve up a happy, social media-approved ending. What matters is that these men loved; fiercely, bravely, and happily, in the face of an ongoing social genocide against them. Champagne toasts forever to this happy and brave couple.
[Photo Credit: ouronestory.com]