I'm trying to free Kansas City
April 5, 2014 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Two friends and artists separately found troves of photos by the same photographer, documenting the drag balls of the 1950s and 1960s in Kansas City.

"It wasn't until 2012 when the two long-time friends realized the semblance of their discoveries. Both sets of recovered slides had clearly been shot by the same photographer, who seemed to have a familiarity with the crowd at each ball. With over 200 slides between the two discoveries, Heishman and Boles teamed up with writer Emily Kay Henson to form the Private Birthday Party collection. Their research, with the help of the Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the generous support of the Kansas City community, uncovered further details, placing most of the photographs at notorious KC nightclubs such as The Colony and The Jewel Box Lounge.

Billed as "tea dances" or "private birthday parties," these drag balls were largely underground events. Both local personalities and nationally acclaimed drag performers, including Skip Arnold, G.G. Allen, and Jamie Greeney can be seen in the slides performing their acts and posing with friends. By highlighting these performers in addition to photographing party scenes, outtakes, and portraits of attendees, this collection is a rare and important look into mid-century drag ball culture."

Also on tumblr.
posted by gingerbeer (16 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
These are amazing. Thanks!
posted by lisa g at 12:04 PM on April 5, 2014

A++ post title (post also).
posted by clavicle at 12:15 PM on April 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

What a great find! It's wonderful that material like this can now be shared with everyone over the internet.
posted by languagehat at 12:50 PM on April 5, 2014

In incorporation papers for the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom are pretty interesting.It must have taken a lot of courage to file them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:21 PM on April 5, 2014

I am overcome.
posted by mykescipark at 1:43 PM on April 5, 2014

Amazing. Just a wonderful find.
posted by xingcat at 1:55 PM on April 5, 2014

Wow, G.G. Allen looks lovely. Which could never be said for G.G. Allin.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:31 PM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

This photo is so striking. Who are these people? What's their relationship? What happened after the party?
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:40 PM on April 5, 2014

> It must have taken a lot of courage to file them.

I agree. It makes me wonder whether there were sympathetic individuals within City Hall that anonymously helped it along.
posted by at by at 2:41 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm curious about the communication channels they used to promote events like these. How would you find out about them, in a time when this was so taboo? I imagine via word of mouth among friends or at at underground gay bars? Or the underground gay press?
posted by dontjumplarry at 2:56 PM on April 5, 2014

An interesting counterpart to Tearoom, the collection of film shot by Mansfield, Ohio police in 1962 while busting sex in a men's room. Here's some SFW stills from that film I collected.
posted by Nelson at 3:04 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wonderful. Fierce, ladies, fierce.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:14 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is really neat. Thanks!
posted by mudpuppie at 5:50 PM on April 5, 2014

It's really amazing when you see the same people again, like the guy on the left who's not in drag whose photographed in drag here. Same goes here and here. Just those two pairs of photos give some kind of feel for their personalities. What a wonderful set of photos.
posted by Kattullus at 5:21 AM on April 6, 2014

munchingzombie: "Wow, G.G. Allen looks lovely. Which could never be said for G.G. Allin."

I was trying to come up with a decent link for G.G. Allen, and google was determined that I meant Allin instead (plus people who spelled Allin's name wrong) and was not helpful.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:39 AM on April 6, 2014

There are pictures of the fabulous Ms.Allen in the Jewel Box link. I would love to know more but you are right, google is totally like "you don't want Kansas City royalty, you really want to see this cut up dude eat poo"
posted by munchingzombie at 9:36 AM on April 7, 2014

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