Cherry Grove, Where Gay New Yorkers Became ‘Their Real Selves’

In the a long time earlier than the Stonewall rebellion in 1969, an L.G.B.T.Q. neighborhood took form amongst New Yorkers on a distant Fire Island hamlet often called Cherry Grove.

There, guests spent summer season weekends sunbathing and partying, forming one of many nation’s first homosexual seashore cities when being brazenly homosexual may lead to ostracism or imprisonment. Only in 1980 did New York State get rid of most of its legal guidelines in opposition to sodomy.

A brand new outside exhibition within the courtyard of the New-York Historical Society, on view by way of Oct. 11, options dozens of enlarged pictures that doc this historical past, illustrating how the hamlet allowed guests “to become their real selves, rather than who they thought they were supposed to be,” in response to Susan Kravitz, one of many curators. The photos in “Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove” come from the Cherry Grove Archives Collection, a volunteer group fashioned in 2011, about 40 years after the neighborhood archivist Harold Seeley started assembling information.

“Safe/Haven” consists of dozens of enlarged pictures and extra ephemera, together with commercials for homosexual hotspots within the hamlet and newspaper clippings of police raids there. Credit…New-York Historical Society; Glenn CastellanoPatricia Fitzgerald, left, and Kay Guinness on Cherry Grove seashore in 1952.Credit…Cherry Grove Archives Collection

Some of the images present the quotidian ease and pleasure that got here with expressing outlawed sexuality in a secure house: In one, a pair of males kiss at a home social gathering; in one other, two ladies sit shut collectively on the seashore. Other photos seize moments from campy costume events and theatrical performances. Many of the photographs have been discovered within the trash after residents died and their houses have been emptied.

Residents of Cherry Grove weren’t immune from police raids and assaults from drunken guests. Still, homosexual males and lesbians flocked there every summer season, together with the photographer Richard Avedon and the writers Tennessee Williams, Patricia Highsmith and Truman Capote.

While the photographers behind the pictures stay largely unknown, many have been seemingly the homosexual white males who first started to infiltrate the island within the late 1940s and 1950s, adopted by lesbians. The photos themselves, then, symbolize a permanent act of resistance, seemingly recorded by those that formed this little-known historical past.

At Duffy’s Hotel bar, an area hotspot that hosted late-night dancing. Cherry Grove made attainable the easy act of homosexual males and lesbians brazenly, and joyously, gathering. Credit…Cherry Grove Archives CollectionCostume events, this one captured in 1949, have been a daily a part of life in Cherry Grove.Credit…Cherry Grove Archives CollectionPhotographing residents introduced dangers, with many fearing retribution in the event that they have been acknowledged within the photos.Credit…Cherry Grove Archives Collection

“Mainstream America wasn’t really documenting us or telling our stories,” stated Parker Sargent, who curated the exhibit with Kravitz and Brian Clark.

Ms. Kravitz, who has been visiting the Grove for 40 years, counts herself among the many photographers. Two of her photos present how, following the civil rights motion, Cherry Grove turned extra welcoming to Black folks and Latinas from the L.G.B.T.Q. neighborhood.

That acceptance — and the enjoyment attribute of the place — foretold the flourishing of homosexual and lesbian life in New York City and past, she stated.

“The seeds were planted in Cherry Grove.”

The partying continues: Cherry Grove in 2009.Credit…Susan Kravitz/Cherry Grove Archives Collection