Vintage drag is always a treasure, but my excitement over these gorgeous pictures increased exponentially upon learning they come from the Midwest and they were only recently discovered, by total chance. In 2006, an undergrad named Robert Heishman was rummaging through a Kansas City salvage yard in hopes of finding a subject for a documentary class. He came across some slides, discreetly labeled, “Jack’s Slides: Chicago and Kansas City,” and after flipping through some commonplace family photos, he hit drag queen gold and purchased the lot for $2.
Two years later Heishman’s friend Michael Boles found a shoebox of similar pictures, some of which turned out to be from the exact same parties as Heishman’s pictures. They combined their findings into a collection they call, “Private Birthday Party,” which contains over 200 photos from Kansas City’s incredibly vibrant 60s drag subculture. The bar that hosted these events would post a sign that read “Private Birthday Party” to keep the event covert—same-sex dancing was illegal in Kansas City and gay bars experienced regular raids. Knowing these photos were taken in the knowledge that they could have been used as “evidence” makes them all the more lovely a record of frolic.
With the help of writer Emily Henson and the Gay and Lesbian Archives of Mid-America, they hope to identify and contact as many of the performers and party-goers as they can find, and they even believe they are close to uncovering the identity of the photographer.
EDIT: Private Birthday Party is composed of the Heishman, Boles, and Henson. GLAMA houses some of the slides for educational purposes, and has helped with research, but is a separate entity.
Via The Cut