Scraps of the Past

In 2004 Mark Carmien, owner of Pride and Joy (the LGBT gift and book store on Crafts Avenue in Northampton at that time), got a phone call from a man saying that his gay uncle had died and in cleaning out the deceased’s home he had found some memorabilia. What, the caller wondered, should he do with it?

Carmien got in touch with Northampton’s unofficial gay archivist, Phil “Bambi” Gauthier, who collected the box of material dropped off at the bookstore. The box contained gay erotic magazines and several albums of undated color Polaroid photos.

These photo records, though undated, would probably have been from 1965 or later. Polaroid color cameras first became available in 1963, and they released their most popular low priced “Swinger” model in 1965. One obvious benefit of these cameras was cutting out the need to have the photos developed by someone else, and risk censorship or worse for any erotic content.

Two of the albums passed to Bambi were filled with no-face-showing close-ups, obviously in a private home, of erections and asses. As he leafed through the third album, browsing the selection of candid but more clothed snapshots from many home parties held or attended by the Springfield man during the 1960s and 70s, Bambi came across several snapshots of his own “grandmere,” R. Warren Clark, dressed as Sophie Tucker.

“Sophie Tucker” Warren Clark (on right) of Northampton at a drag party with unidentified escort, probably in Springfield during the late 1960s or 1970s. Source: Phil Gauthier collection

In 1987, the then-nineteen-year-old Gauthier had decided to join the local chapter of Integrity, and asked two Northampton gay “elder statesmen” to stand as his baptismal godparents. The two men, Warren and Ralph Intorcio, had for decades been part of a small circle of gay male friends who met regularly for little suppers. Many worked at the VA Hospital in Leeds, and were married with children, sharing their gay life only very privately with each other.

Interviewed in 2004, Bambi remembered Ralph coming home several years after his baptism with a few boxes belonging to one of those men. The friend had just died and, as per the contract this small group had with each other, Ralph used the key he had been given to go into the deceased man’s home and remove anything indicating his secret life before relatives might discover it. Bambi remembered getting brief glimpses of that secret life as he handed letters of WWII and Korean War soldiers—along with photos of them arm-in-arm, many with cheeky and loving notes on the back–to his godfather who fed them into a fire in the woodstove on the summer porch. Seeing this history disappear was one of the saddest things Bambi had ever witnessed.

Fifteen years later, because of a thoughtful nephew, Gauthier had a piece of the past that usually got destroyed. Most of us don’t think about the fact that as we live, we are making history. We don’t think about the history books that can be written only based on whatever documents have been saved or memories have been recorded. In recent decades many people have moved away, taking with them group records, flyers, news clippings and correspondence. Others have thrown out journals, letters or scrapbooks. Many boxes of documents are moldering in basements, attics, or garages.

__Gauthier, Phil “Bambi.” Conversations with, Sep.2004, Northampton, Mass.
__  .

__Sophie Tucker, last of the “Red Hot Mamas”; very lovely tribute video on Youtube

__Integrity is a group within the Episcopal Church for LGBT people, formed nationally in 1975. The local chapter is St. John’s on Elm Street, founding date and other history still unknown. Do you know?

COMING NEXT: What else is currently known about Northampton’s gay world just before the revolution, the beginning of lesbian and gay political activism in 1970? Watch for Scraps of the Past part two surveying research literature as well as more personal anecdotes.

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