Gay Marriage, 1957 Edition
July 29, 2019 12:08 PM   Subscribe

This collection of photos was first printed circa 1957 at a neighborhood drugstore in North Philadelphia. The photographs capture special moments during a same-sex commitment ceremony, including the exchange of rings in front of witnesses, an officiant leading the ceremony, the first kiss, dancing, opening of gifts, cutting of the cake and more. The owner of the drugstore deemed these particular wedding photos to be inappropriate and refused to return the photos to the grooms. 60 years later, the photos were found.
Dear Gentlemen, your 60 year old wedding pics are ready. Full set of pictures at OneArchives.
posted by Rumple (19 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Just hope so much they’re alive and can be found. Tandem triumphans.
posted by Segundus at 12:22 PM on July 29, 2019

These are so sweet. I hope so much that they can be found or at least identified.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:57 PM on July 29, 2019

Aww, man, I opened this prepared for a happy story about the photos being given back to their owners and am sorely, sorely disappointed that they haven't been identified.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:00 PM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

On preview: yeah, what jacquilynne said.
posted by Martijn at 1:02 PM on July 29, 2019

"60 years later, the photos were found."
Wow, It's amazing.
posted by gregorystreit at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm really surprised that the drugstore owner, after deeming them inappropriate and refusing to return them, didn't just throw the photos and negatives away...why keep them if that was your reaction? But what an amazing set of photographs, and they really compel one to consider the reality of those mens' closeted (I assume) lives outside of that ceremony, and how much they all suffered, every day, to really feel the ways that these photos capture, about whom they felt those ways, and then have to leave/hide your actual, in-love marriage to act out a "real" life that is not real to you at all...ugh.

(In many ways, this was my great-aunt, though she used lifelong teaching work in Japan as her escape, since there weren't all that many options for a lesbian from southern Missouri in the first half of the 1900s.)
posted by LooseFilter at 1:54 PM on July 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm really surprised that the drugstore owner, after deeming them inappropriate and refusing to return them, didn't just throw the photos and negatives away...why keep them if that was your reaction?

He didn't keep them. One of his employees nabbed them and held onto them, in case one of the men in the photos ever came into the shop again so she could slip the photos to their rightful owners. They didn't.
posted by sciatrix at 2:02 PM on July 29, 2019 [19 favorites]

These photos are so touching - and so precious. I really, really hope that some of the men are alive and can receive them.

When I stare at these photos (as I have several times), I think about how amazing these men were: to come together, in spite of everything against them - and then to be brave enough to take them in to be developed. But I wish one of them has been a home-developer, so that they could have had these with them all these years.
posted by jb at 2:19 PM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

It doesn't sound like the employee secretly nabbed them. "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."
posted by brundlefly at 2:20 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

We are so lucky that they were saved. I mean, this is an incredible slice of history. What a shame they haven't been able to ID anyone in the pics yet.
posted by Slinga at 3:09 PM on July 29, 2019

That's such a great set of photographs! I share Jacquilynne's hope that the article would end with the photos being returned to the happy couple.

I wonder if (privacy-issue-laden but increasingly powerful) digital facial recognition technology could assist with this kind of investigation? Or maybe an expert in analyzing photographs for clues as to further information about the people/places who were photographed?

Like narrowing down the possible building via analyzing the style of window blind and curtain combination, identifying specific items of furniture and household decor, like the style of 3-bulbed lamp (seems less ubiquitous than those green lamps with the pull-chain I see in old-timey movies), or who did the fashion illustrations in the framed pictures (maybe they're by a specific local artist? friend of the couple? random purchase? at least one drawing features a clothing mannequin). Also I'm thinking if someone's bringing in photographs to a neighborhood drugstore, perhaps they are likely from a certain geographical range (otherwise they'd go to a different one, and if it's not a drugstore known to be gay-friendly then it doesn't seem to make sense to go to that one in particular if it's not already geographically convenient). There's only so many people who would be living near that drugstore at that point in time...

I really hope there's a happy follow-up for this someday, perhaps a distant relative who recognizes someone, if not the actual people in the photographs themselves.
posted by rather be jorting at 3:49 PM on July 29, 2019

Y'all are are sweet to imagine these photos being reunited with their subjects. It's been 60 years, it's a long time since their pictures were stolen from them by some asshole drugstore owner. And then there's a giant black curtain that cut off a large percentage of these men in the 80s and 90s.
posted by Nelson at 4:37 PM on July 29, 2019 [33 favorites]

Nelson, yeah, those thoughts occurred to me as well. I'm in the middle of reading And the Band Played On but I want to hold on to my photography forensics optimism, dang it
posted by rather be jorting at 4:43 PM on July 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

Of all the cities, you'd think Philly folk would have recognized someone. Everybody I know in Philly knows everybody (or you'd think, the way they talk).
posted by datawrangler at 8:53 PM on July 29, 2019

I just started, and continue now, to ugly-cry when I saw this...why, why? would you do this to someone? be so cruel? why did you keep this from these people in love? fuck.
posted by tristeza at 10:00 PM on July 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

It doesn't sound like the employee secretly nabbed them.

We have the word of the employee's daughter:

An employee held on to the photos, which her daughter discovered in her Cherry Hill home 60 years later, after she passed. 

“My mother had a somewhat photographic memory for faces and retained these in the event the customers who dropped them off ever came back to the shop so that she could give them to the customers on the sly,” she wrote in a letter to the ONE Foundation, an LGBTQ archive in Los Angeles.

posted by mediareport at 3:54 AM on July 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

It's probably far too much to hope for that the men themselves are alive and able to receive the photos, but I do hope that some relative or acquaintance recognizes a face and at least the people can be identified.

But also, how sad that they were denied their photos of their ceremony. Such needless and casual cruelty.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on July 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

The photos of the empty rooms have a mantle piece and window molding that match my house exactly, and the layout looks very similar. That doesn't mean a ton, even though my house is pre-civil war I see the same woodwork around a lot and there are only so many rowhouse plans. I think it's the first or second floor front room of a 1830-1860ish house. But I can't tell if it's the same as the apartment in the photos with the people. I'll ask my preservation friends if they can narrow it down more.

It looks in one photo like they ran the blinds wide past the windows to make it look more like the then-popular horizontal picture windows instead of the old tall vertical windows.
posted by sepviva at 4:54 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Some other thoughts: even if the photos can't be reunited with the couple because the couple has since passed away, identifying the people in the photographs could be a great addition to LGBT history. The photographs depict a slice of lesser-known LGBT life (in contrast with more dramatic historical moments that made headlines or have been turned into major Oscar-nominated films). The whole terrible context of the drugstore owner thinking he had the moral right to refuse to return another person's property, resulting in people only knowing about the pictures in the first place because one of his employees was kind enough to hold onto the pictures just in case she could return them to the rightful owners someday, emphasizes how even a seemingly mundane act of getting your photos developed at the drugstore could result in discrimination.

Thinking about, say, the pictures appearing in an exhibit in the future, in 2057, and how nice it'd be to know who the people in the photographs were, instead of having to default to writing "Unknown couple" on the museum label. To properly name them and memorialize them, so that they can at least have some of the respect they weren't afforded while they were living. Or if the couple could be identified, to seek the appropriate permission to feature their likenesses, should that still be an available route, instead of defaulting to making this gathering known to everyone in order to find out more about it. Being able to choose not have your image online forever is another kind of respect that can't be afforded to them if they don't even know their pictures are online in the first place.

All hypothetical, yeah, but I think there's more to be thought about besides just trying to reunite the photographs with their rightful owners, of even just identifying who they were in the first place.
posted by rather be jorting at 2:33 PM on July 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

« Older HONNNK...HONK...HONK   |   American Hikikomori Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments