Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Art for Community Engagement, Lambertville-New Hope, Local-Sustainable Living | Comments Off on CATCHING BUTTERFLIES @ RETRO-SCOPE.ORG: NEW HOPE CELEBRATES PRIDE 2013


For the past seven months my company, ScullyOne Productions, has been working on a project to identify and preserve LGBT history in New Hope, PA, sponsored by New Hope Celebrates (NHC).  The long-term vision is to create a museum/community center in town.  Short term, and what we produced for NHC, is an online archive where anyone can contribute their memories, stories, and videos to the collection:, and a set of exhibitions from the collection for Pride week, May 10-19, 2013.

Before I go on with the bidness here, allow me to really show my hand.
Dance break.
Cue the music.
Do the happy dance…and allow me to sing, “I believe in life after love!” 

Total honesty, bias betrayed: I loved the idea.  This one was not “just business.”  It was personal.

I got what the organization wanted to do.  For decades I have had my very own internal film-reel of amazing memories of life in New Hope in the 1970’s that I just.  Cant.  Shake.  The colorful, and diverse LGBT community I grew up in made those memories so special.


Relaxing by La Camp Pool, 1970's

Relaxing by La Camp Pool, 1970’s

When I was little, in the mid-70’s, my newly-divorced, ex-Country Club Mom moved us to Village II, New Hope, which at that time was full of divorcees, swingers and gay men.  Over the past four decades I have seen the place change, V2 and New Hope overall.  The Village II pool is now full of overly attentive straight parents, and professionals, instead of latch-key kids, single women, and gay guys in speedos.   The hook-up sauna which kids were told to avoid is gone.  The bar and poolside cocktails have been replaced with juice boxes and Vitamin water.  The greased watermelon tournaments – I still cannot tell you how the game was played except it involved a bunch of men water-tackling each other to claim the giant fruit – gone.

I have had my own mind-museum of spots:  The New Prelude, a purple club on 202 that was turned into a bank in the 90’s.  The owner drove a big purple caddy and parked it outside.  I always wondered what went on in there, too young to party.  And there were other places I wondered about too, but will always remember because even if you were too little to go in, you wanted to.  These places just beamed “fun.”


So, when we were thinking about how to kick-off this endeavor of making a New Hope-LGBT museum, I suggested this crowd-sourced online archive.  It was an interim step before plunging into planning a physical museum, a project with far more moving parts.  But more importantly, the site would help us establish the history.

add-items-buttonThe question was and still is: what is LGBT history in New Hope?

There were the obvious places we knew of, businesses by and for LGBT patrons but what about the spontaneous events, numerous drag shows, word-of-mouth meeting spots, and dearly departed friends!  Then there were the lesbians.  Not in the spotlight like the gay businessmen and trans women performers.   How to find out their story?

So we designed the site so that users could tell us what went on, contribute their stories, video, and photos, right on the site.  We also did preliminary networking and uploaded about 300 items to the site for the initial launch in April 2013.

Friends & staff, The Raven, 1980's

Friends & staff, The Raven, 1980’s

And of course, there have been a few critics: “What about the rest of New Hope!  New Hope was not just gay!  We all went to the same places!”
Our community has been deeply integrated.  Gay and straight and curious danced at the same discos, dove for the same watermelon, and shopped at the same grocery store.  But when we left those places, we did not face the same discrimination or live in the same exact world.  From my personal experience, there were many aspects of this community that we were not a part of as a straight family.  And I was very aware of this growing up.

Fact is, there is an undeniable LGBT culture in our town that has stood on its own.  It was nurtured by specific places, through specific events, and networks of supportive friends and colleagues.  Sure straight people participated and derived benefits.  But LGBT people established this community, despite discrimination, and created a wonderful culture born out of that experience, as well as the very experience of desiring same-sex partners.  The rest of us were lucky to be embraced by this community, and to enjoy the major ways it has helped mainstream culture to evolve.

The New Hope’s LGBT community has surely changed a lot since the 1970’s.  Many LGBT residents have integrated into the mainstream community as churchgoers, and parents. Simultaneously, those special clubs like The New Prelude or The Cartwheel have been sold, or torn down.  And well, if you were there, it kinda makes you ache.

The Cartwheel, 1970's

The Cartwheel, 1970’s

Dan Brooks, founder and president of New Hope Celebrates, and the man who thought up the project summed it up, “While most gays are likely advocates of equal rights and push into mainstream, many reminisce about life and times gone by, of exclusive parties and clubs; sun-drenched days of camaraderie; frivolous, fun nights among ‘the flock.’”

And the people who really remember those days, the people at the pool: they are aging.   And this did not compute for me until Dan explained it, “When they go, so will decades of photos, event records and important objects that are the memories of New Hope’s gay collective experiences…   For many elderly gays who are single, childless, or once banished by family, the threat of their past vanishing adds to concerns about aging and disappearing,”


We witnessed this through our research already.  Several sources mentioned whole boxes of photo albums disappearing when a domestic partner died and the family came to claim the estate.  Then there were the sources who did donate photos but paging through old albums they pointed at pictures, and said over and over again, “Dead, dead, he’s dead, oh dear and her… dead.” What stories those folks must have taken with them!

At first I winced, hearing the word, “dead” over, and over.  Then I grew comfortable with it, after the second or third donor who said the same thing, sharing photos.  Its life, loss.



Joe "Mother" Cavellucci, 1990's

Joe “Mother” Cavellucci, 1990’s

So, Dan Brooks dreamed up, so we can reclaim these collective memories.  But in some way it feels like putting a butterfly in a box.  Once you’ve got it, if you try to show it to someone it could fly away.

How to do the dead and the living justice?  Can we ever really convey what it was like to live in New Hope in those “sun drenched days” amongst the “flock”?


This weekend through next you can see the exhibit we produced based on the collection at The Raven, Oak Room, and the New Hope Motel, Cub Room, May 10-19.  Plus, on Mother’s Day, May 12, we are presenting a special film at The Bucks County Playhouse at 1 pm, “I Remember Mother,” and lobby exhibition dedicated to New Hope’s beloved drag queen, Joe “Mother” Cavellucci, and the late filmmaker Tim McMurtry.

If you miss this exhibition, you can always visit the site, and upload your stories, photos or video, or simply delight in what is already there.  Do it and I dare you not to smile.Exhibit Poster 8.5 x 11