Queer New Hope by Eugene Cheney

A student submission: Queer New Hope by Eugene Cheney

I’m a senior at NYU taking a class called Queer Utopias, and for my final project, I’m documenting and analyzing New Hope. I found Retro-Scope’s website and thought it was perfect for researching New Hope’s queer history, and I was wondering if you’d be willing to take the time to chat about the archive and New Hope. 

For my project, I’m looking at why New Hope is utopic, how it differs or is more utopic from other gay resort towns in the US, what the demographic, political, and environmental relationships to the surroundings are, and what aspects of New Hope are not utopic. 

COPY: 

On April 12th, 2005, about a week after the Delaware River flooded Main Street in New Hope, PA for the second time in two years, the Cartwheel dance club, one of the original gay discos in town, burned down. It never rebuilt, and it marked the end of an era in New Hope, leaving many fearing for the town’s future with the loss of this landmark, declining gay tourism, and a history at threat of erasure by redevelopment. However, New Hope is a place committed to survival, and residents firmly believe in the town’s potential. Today, residents claim New Hope is a diverse, non-judgmental place, a collection of people that don’t fit in, and even a “microcosm of what the United States could be,”[1] clearly expressing a potentiality and a longing for the propagation of the acceptance this enclave offers. The testimonies may at times sound hokey, but a stroll down Main Street in the summer truly does reveal an eclectic crowd in New Hope. Dozens of motorcycles sit parked along the quaint Main Street while their burly owners in biker gear enjoy drinks in the bars. A Creole restaurant occupies a stone church. Drag queens and straight couples stroll in and out of art galleries, antique stores, and Wiccan shops. Antique cars and Ferraris pass through. Home to WASPs, witches, bohemians, families, artists, cross-dressers, and queers, New Hope has been described as quirky, beautiful, odd, charming, and utopian, especially since its origination as a gay resort town beginning in the ‘50s.

[1] “Understanding Diversity in New Hope, PA,” YouTube, December 06, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XtaSL8cs8c.

Understanding New Hope’s utopianism will be largely informed by José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. Ernst Bloch, as credited by Muñoz, Fredric Jameson, and Michel Foucault will also help me understand utopia. In this essay, I will understand queerness as a characteristic of utopia, a no-place, a perfected place beyond imagination, impelling us to seek something beyond the logic of the here and now, which in turn fuels a political project functioning as a critique of the present. New Hope, I argue, is a concrete utopia, using Bloch’s language, as well as a heterotopia, using Foucault’s term. Concrete utopias, as opposed to abstract utopias, relate to historically situated struggles, and “are the realm of educated hope.”[1] New Hope indeed relates to historical moments, as many arrived over the years to escape historically located discrimination and prejudice based on sexuality and gender, and as I will show later, New Hope has transformed as the gay rights movement has developed alongside it. Moreover, New Hope is a heterotopia in that it is an identifiable place that approximates utopia by countering the norm of homophobia that in turn contributed to the town’s origination.

Bloch describes educated hope: “Not only hope’s affect (with its pendant, fear) but even more so, hope’s methodology (with its pendant, memory) dwells in the region of the not-yet, a place where entrance and, above all, final content are marked by an enduring indeterminacy.”[2] Muñoz calls this structure anticipatory, which New Hope captures so deftly in its name: a hopeful futurity, something holding potential on the horizon. Muñoz describes hope as a critical methodology, “a backward glance that enacts a future vision.”[3] Continuity and survival characterize the town, traceable through its name’s origins, to moments in drag culture and disco, and the creation of Retro-Scope, a digital archive focused on New Hope’s LGBTQ history. As I will show, queers in New Hope have responded to events of the no-longer-conscious by carving out their own lifeworld in this town, a town filled with oddities, juxtapositions, and contrasts that highlight the conditions they sought to escape and change. New Hope imagines a place of what could be, a place of acceptance for all people, without discrimination, judgment, and prejudice based on sexual orientation, gender, race, class, lifestyle, and markers of difference.

[1] José Esteban. Muñoz, Cruising utopia: the then and there of queer futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Muñoz, Cruising utopia, 4.

New Hope’s utopic longing precedes its status as a queer destination. The first recorded settler in New Hope, John Wells, received a deed from William Penn’s sons in 1722 to operate the first ferry across the Delaware River. New Hope occupied the approximate halfway point on the two-day journey from Philadelphia to New York, then the two most important cities in the Colonies. At this point, New Hope was known as Wells’ Ferry. A generation later, the village became Canby’s Ferry, named after Benjamin Canby who took over the mills from Wells after his death in 1745, and then Coryell’s Ferry in 1764 after yet another operator took over. [1]

One may say New Hope began its history of rebellion in December of 1776 when, a few miles south of Coryell’s Ferry, George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War, winning the Battle of Trenton and ensuring the continuation of the American cause. Messengers, supplies, and military equipment crossed the Delaware at Coryell’s Ferry during the war, and in June of 1778, Washington led ten thousand troops through Coryell’s Ferry after surviving the winter in Valley Forge, traveling to the Battle of Monmouth after the British abandoned their occupation of Philadelphia.[2]

Fighting a much different cause, the Underground Railroad also contained stops in New Hope and surrounding Bucks County, where former slaves would settle or continue moving north. Dr. Edward Hicks Magill, the second president of Swarthmore College whose farm became a stop on the Railroad, recorded fugitives’ stories in a paper, “When Men Were Sold, Reminiscences of the Underground Railroad in Bucks County and its Managers.” Magill explains how some Quakers, who made up most of the abolitionists in the area, alienated themselves from mainstream Quakerism by involving themselves in the Railroad, as traditional Quakers avoid overt political demonstration and tend to focus on insular self-improvement rather than changing greater society. As a result, many abolitionist Quakers faced hostility from mainstream Quakers. Evidently, New Hope and its surroundings have long hosted beliefs of revolution, rebellion, and imaginings of a better future.[3]

[1] Terry A. McNealy, “Historic New Hope, Pennsylvania,” Visit New Hope, http://www.visitnewhope.com/history.html.

[2] Al Frazza, “Revolutionary War Sites in Lambertville, New Jersey,” Revolutionary War New Jersey, , http://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/lambertville_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm.

[3] “Underground Railroad Stops.” Solebury Township Historical Society. http://soleburyhistory.org/on-line-exhibits/interactive-maps/underground-railroad-stops/.

If one can classify the ferry and “Railroad” operations as transportation, water power historically accounted for New Hope’s other vital industry. Around 1781, a young businessman named Benjamin Parry arrived in town and acquired the mills that now occupy the site of the Bucks County Playhouse. In 1790, disaster struck, and Parry’s mill producing flour, linseed oil, and flaxseed oil burned down, creating an economic disaster for the town. He quickly rebuilt and renamed the site New Hope Mills as a commitment to continuity and survival, from which the town finally took its name. The renaming must have worked—in the following decades, Parry ushered in an economic boom by helping organize the New Hope Delaware Bridge Company, responsible for building the bridge that connects to Lambertville across the river, as well as assisting with the engineering and development of the Delaware Canal. These projects attracted boatyards, hotels, shops, and new mills, which powered New Hope’s economy until the popularity of railroads caused traffic on the canal to diminish later in the 19th century. His importance to the town led Parry to become known as the “father of New Hope.” [1]

During the first few decades of the 20th century, a new era emerged in New Hope as artists began to settle in the area, eventually forming the “New Hope School” of the Pennsylvania Impressionist Movement. Attracted to the scenery and tranquility of the hills and river, artists and authors like William L. Lathrop, Edward Redfield, Moss Hart, Pearl Buck, James A. Michener, and many others settled on farms and around mills, eventually establishing New Hope’s reputation as an artists’ colony. In 1939, the artistic presence grew with the opening of the Bucks County Playhouse, converted from New Hope Mills, frequently used as a testing and tuning ground for plays headed to Broadway. Well-known actors and actresses like Grace Kelly, Bela Lugosi, and Dick Van Dyke arrived in New Hope, some purchasing weekend homes in the area, transforming the town’s industrial economy into a destination for tourism and art. The artistic crowd and Playhouse attracted a gay community, ushering in queer New Hope.[2]

[1] “New Hope History.” http://www.newhopehs.org/new-hope-history.html.

[2]Willis M. Rivinus and George W. Bailey, New Hope, Pennsylvania (New Hope, PA: Willis M. Rivinus, 1973), April 13, 2015, http://soleburyhistory.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/STHS_NewHopePennsylvania_PART1.pdf.

In 1949, three years after leaving the Army, twenty-three-year-old World War II veteran Joseph Cavellucci arrived in New Hope. His family based in New York City “would never accept him,” so in the spirit of new beginnings that New Hope represents, he created a new family, an act of queer world-making that saw beyond the barriers of the then-present. Cavellucci became famous for his drag persona, Mother Cavellucci, or simply Mother, and became a beloved icon of the town. “Even Andy Warhol wrote about her,” says Sara Scully, a filmmaker who grew up in New Hope.[1] Scully recalls how Mother “walked around in men’s clothes, trousers, and a shirt but with a beehive hairdo and lots of makeup. But she didn’t have a car so she walked everywhere, and I swear we saw her every single time we went out . . . As a kid, she was fascinating to me. It’s not often you see someone walking up 202 with a beehive, clutching a patent-leather purse.” When Retro-Scope launched, Scully expressed amazement how every comment, coming from visitors all over the country, shared a memory of Mother.

[1] Suzi Nash, “Sara Scully: Lights, camera, (ally) action in New Hope,” PGN | The Philadelphia Gay News, May 12, 2016, http://www.epgn.com/special-editions/170-visit-bucks-county-2016/10428-sara-scully-lights-camera-ally-action-in-new-hope.

Mother Cavellucci lived off her pension and day-job as a waitress, and she also supported herself by throwing fabulous weddings each year during the ‘60s and ‘70s. She married a different groom at each ceremony, fundraising with hundreds in attendance who brought gifts and money while the press covered the parties. “The parties became legendary, and townspeople gay and straight gladly paid for her hand,” Daniel Brooks, founder of Retro-Scope, says.[1] The ceremonies and press coverage drew attention to New Hope as a place where it was okay to be gay. “[Mother] became the unofficial welcoming committee for many, many LGBT individuals who landed in New Hope, because they heard it was an inclusive community. He very often would take people under his wing and show people the way that this is the place where you can be free to be yourself.”[2] Mother was instrumental in New Hope’s queer history, serving as the example of inclusivity the town fostered. “Mother was the grand dame of New Hope society. . . She was a symbol of the town itself.”[3] Perhaps one may identify elements of a queer critique of the institution of marriage from the performances that were Mother’s weddings, long before the mainstream marriage equality movement came about. In addition, the camp and humor function as hope’s methodology, what Muñoz identifies as glamour and astonishment in Andy Warhol’s and Frank O’Hara’s work. That is, “a kind of transport or a reprieve from what Bloch called the ‘darkness of the lived instant’” that brings spectators to a place different from the here and now.[4]

 

Mother found and fostered acceptance in New Hope, inspiring thousands of other queer folks over the decades to make their own worlds in town, drawn as much to the bucolic landscapes and small-town appeal that originally attracted artists as they were to the community. Some only visited while others settled down and opened bookshops, galleries, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants. Visitors and residents repeatedly emphasize how everyone has always been welcome, calling it “the safest place” because of locals’ enthusiasm towards diversity. One long-time resident Philip Powell shares, “Being here was a windy sigh. . . it was just so lush and peaceful we felt like nothing could go wrong.”[5] When New Hope’s gay population exploded in the ‘70s, visitors and residents arrived to escape the norm that existed in many other parts of the country: hiding in the closet, gay bashing, and exclusion from public life. In New Hope, queers felt safe expressing their sexuality and carving out a community of their own, thanks in large part to Mother.

 

[1] Belonsky, Andrew. “The Ghost With The Blue, Blue Eyes.” OUT. February 06, 2015. https://www.out.com/entertainment/popnography/2013/05/29/ghost-blue-blue-eyes.

[2] Shrift, Gwen. “In search of LGBT history in New Hope.” Bucks County Courier Times. July 26, 2016. http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/a3067768-4ebd-11e6-9df1-d3c1f52d1b05.html.

[3] Belonsky, “The Ghost With The Blue, Blue Eyes.”

[4] Muñoz, Cruising utopia, 5

[5] “Film Synopsis.” Nowhere But Here. http://nowherebutherefilm.com/synopsis/.

In the ‘60s through ‘80s, New Hope reached its apex as a gay resort destination, and the nightlife likewise flourished—unique for a town that thrives off country appeal. Clubs and resorts like the Raven, the New Prelude, and the Cartwheel formed the Golden Triangle of gay life in town, hosting weekly drag shows, costumed balls, parties, and discos lasting all night. Remembering the Prelude, a club in operation from ’76 through ’89, one visitor reminisces on the club’s Retro-Scope page, “It was a fantasy of totally energizing music, hot looking people, just a total blast. . . My friends and I often commented about the disconnect between this place and our ordinary weekday lives of work/school in between – was this place for real, where did these people come from? . . . It was a special moment in time, there was just something in the air that everyone felt.”[1] The quoted memories seem surreal, showing the potential New Hope held to lift one from the quagmire of the present. Vivid memories of nightlife circulate widely throughout Retro-Scope, and the exciting nightlife has long made New Hope queer.

In “I Want to See All My Friends At Once”: Arthur Russel and the Queering of Gay Disco, Tim Lawrence argues disco itself was queer: “the 1970s version of discotheque culture. . . broke with the long-established practice of partnered social dancing in favor of freeform movement in which participants danced solo-within-the-crowd. . .The highly affective environment of the dance floor—in which bodies were penetrated by sound, came into contact with other bodies, and experienced further disorientation thanks to lighting and drug effects—destabilized normative conceptions of sexuality and boundedness still further.”[2] With many visitors in New Hope coming from New York City and Philadelphia, major centers of disco, it’s no surprise this queerness followed, albeit to much different surroundings than the city. Lawrence continues, “although Manhattan’s dance floors of the early 1970s are regularly described as being uniformly gay, they were in fact fundamentally mixed in character”.[3] Gay men made up disco’s core constituency, but Lawrence explains many considered themselves bisexual, also mixing with straight men who identified with gay men— “strays”—as well as straight and lesbian women. Residents of New Hope claim the integration of the gay and straight communities on and off the dancefloor has always made the town special, adding to the utopic feeling. Daniel Brooks explains that New Hope differs from other gay resorts in that it never developed as homo-exclusive. The Fire Island Pines, for example, developed almost exclusively as gay, are geographically isolated, and barely interact with the rest of the island, including neighboring Cherry Grove, the Pines’ lesbian mirror. One resident described New Hope’s culture: “Everyone was friends. People were out to protect you,” even straight people.[4]Brooks says that even in designated gay clubs like the Raven, half the people there may be straight, there to dance and play pool in the same space.[5] While many find Fire Island’s gay exclusivity adds to its utopic appeal, the peaceful heterogeneity in New Hope has long been one of visitors’ favorite qualities.

In addition, other gay villages on the east coast like the Pines, Provincetown, Rehoboth Beach, and Key West share something in common: the beach. While New Hope is situated on the Delaware River, the water is not its primary draw. New Hope allows gay urbanites an escape into the country where they maximize quotidian pleasures—lounging by the pool, spending time with friends, drinking, dining, shopping. Muñoz believes one can find utopia in the quotidian, which I will elaborate on later. Guernville, California may bare the closest resemblance as a gay town to New Hope with its liberal community and natural environment, but the West Coast serves a different market. The Poconos and Pine Barrens offer country appeal, but they don’t offer nightlife or a gay community.

[1] “The New Prelude.” Retro-Scope. November 19, 2016. http://www.retro-scope.org/history/hangouts/the-new-prelude/.

[2] Tim Lawrence, “”I Want to See All My Friends At Once”: Arthur Russell and the Queering of Gay Disco,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 18, no. 2 (August 7, 2006): 153, doi:10.1111/j.1533-1598.2006.00086.x.

[3] Lawrence, 157.

[4] “Film Synopsis.” Nowhere But Here.

[5] Brooks, Daniel. Telephone interview by author. December 3, 2017.

Nightlife is an especially important component of New Hope; a unique form of worldmaking has taken place in New Hope’s discos. In Impossible Dance, Fiona Buckland argues improvised social dancing holds potential to transform and transcend into the utopic. She says the act “plays a role in queer world-making through its physicality and through its embodiment of experience, identity, and community,”[1]similar to how disco became queer through its destabilized experiences of movement and affect according to Lawrence. Dancing and queer clubs are “vital to the cultural life of individuals, groups, and lifeworlds and to how they make meaning and value.” This is especially evident in New Hope where nightlife and drag shows were foundational to the culture. Fiona notes how queers are frequently “made worldless” as they are excluded from state, church, media, and other institutions, leading them to create alternative lifeworlds like those on dancefloors. This condition led many queer people to New Hope in the first place, and it created some legendary stories.

One underground club, January’s, reclaimed a space in an old red barn sitting in a field on Hope Ridge Farms. From ’71 through ’74, a disco ball, bar, and DJ played all night before abruptly shutting down due to zoning violations after complaints from neighbors prompted an investigation—evocative of the zoning restrictions for “adult establishments” that New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani enforced beginning in 1994, which Buckland argues “used the politics of space to curtail the existence and articulation of queer lifeworlds.”[2] However, on September 21st, 2013, the New Hope Historical Society hosted a special event, Revisiting January’s, opening the barn again for one night only, reviving the disco ball and eight tracks to allow the chance to “return to New Hope in 1974 when bell-bottoms and platform shoes ruled the dance floor.”[3]

The juxtapositions that emanate through New Hope—vibrant nightlife in the country, disco balls in barns, captured in the surreal memories cherished by former party-goers—fit within Muñoz’s insight into the utopic potential within the quotidian. January’s repurposed the mundane and the functional—the barn, a site in the cycle of alienated agricultural production, into the ornamental—a disco with flashing lights and fabulous outfits, detecting the “tension between functionality and non-functionality, the promise and potentiality of the ornament” that Bloch identifies. Like Andy Warhol’s coke bottles, partiers at January’s detected “an opening and indeterminacy in what for many people is a locked-down dead commodity,” revealing the utopian potentiality and vision of a space outside of heterosexual institutions. The potentiality the site held, “the thing that is present but not actually existing in the present tense,” became explicit when the police intruded: January’s could no longer exist in the here and now. However, when discussing the fear of hope and utopia, Muñoz insists hope is prone to disappointment, and “such disappointment needs to be risked if certain impasses are to be resisted.” The revival of January’s in 2013 shows the potentiality in that barn may have lost its physical, spatial form, but never really evaporated. That day, the spatio-temporal event that was Revisiting January’s allowed dancers to relive the past and continue to create another lifeworld for themselves in New Hope.[4]

[1] Fiona Buckland, Impossible dance: improvised social dance as queer world-making (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002), 2.

[2] Buckland, Impossible dance, 8.

[3] “Revisiting Januarys! .” History in the making, September 2013, 1.

[4] Munoz, Cruising Utopia, 9.

I believe another lifeworld exists in Retro-Scope, opening another space to explore New Hope’s utopic potential. The inspiration for the archive came about after Daniel Brooks saw family members of a gay neighbor who had passed away dumping boxes of photos into the trash. Brooks retrieved the scrapbooks from the dumpster, thinking there should be a way to preserve New Hope’s LGBTQ history. In 2013, he and Sara Scully created the online database where community members can submit their own pictures and stories to archive. The site also contains news articles, ephemera, a map of historically significant gay spots in New Hope, and a timeline of moments in local LGBTQ history transposed over a timeline of the national gay rights movement. “We’ve come a long way but we are just getting started,” Brooks said, acknowledging the temporalities at play in the archive: preserving the past while creating a space to continue the utopic drive in New Hope, which will rely on collective effort. Because the archive is crowd-sourced and maintained by volunteers like Brooks, one can rework Catherine Lord’s argument that the book dedication is the most vivid inscription of gift-giving in queer culture, adapted from Lewis Hyde’s understanding of gifts in capitalist societies.[1] Extending Lord’s assertion, “culture requires memory. Memory requires an archive,” an archive requires gifts. Retro-Scope will succeed if community members continue to donate their time, stories, and photos, understanding a gift will return to them indirectly in the form of a preserved culture—and preserved utopia—in New Hope.

Like Alexandra Juhasz and Ming-Yuen S. Ma suggest of the Lesbian Archives in the Moving Image Review,the act of archiving New Hope may represent something as important as the materials in the archive itself: Retro-Scope represents the originality, tenacity, and eccentricity of New Hope and its community members. “It’s really the first time in Bucks County that anybody has devoted any space to LGBT history,” said Brooks, demonstrating the utopian ambition in archiving itself—“its desire to turn belatedness into becomingness.” Archiving New Hope builds a utopia within a utopia, another pioneering act of world-making that characterizes the town.

[1] Lord, Catherine. “Medium: Ink on Paper.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 17, no. 4 (2011): 639-47. doi:10.1215/10642684-1302442.

 

In addition to Retro-Scope, Brooks also founded New Hope Celebrates in 2004, a non-profit that unifies local businesses and promotes the town’s LGBT tourism. New Hope Celebrates hosts events year-wide, most prominently the Pride parade in May, to revive the LGBT market that peaked in the ‘80s. This marketing would have been totally unnecessary in New Hope’s zenith, but now that gays have reached mainstream status, cities all over the world capitalize on the gay tourism industry, creating competition unlike ever before to keep New Hope queer and on the map. Going hand in hand with this dilemma is the threat of development and gentrification as New Hope itself goes mainstream, a trend threatening since the ‘90s as the town has “normalized” and more families pushing strollers spend time on Main Street. A few years ago, developers tore down the Hacienda Inn and Canal House piano bar (where Oscar Hammerstein was known to patronize) to build million-dollar condos; mcmansions sprout incessantly on the hillsides outside of town. Locals believe these changes threaten the charm and history that define New Hope, thereby threatening the utopia. One resident expressed fear of the town becoming like Carmel, California, “now merely a shell of an artist’s retreat.”[1]

In response, organizations like New Hope Celebrates and the New Hope Business Alliance have teamed up to organize events like Second Saturdays, when local galleries and shops stay open late on the second Saturday of each month, hoping to bolster small businesses. Eric the Witch, an employee at Wiccan shop the Mystickal Tymes, proposed a Halloween drag race, where queens in high heels clutching pumpkins compete for first place. These ideas intend to preserve New Hope’s quirks, and they also demonstrate how invested each corner of the community is in the town’s continuity. Advocates do their best to keep chain stores out of town, and for the most part have been successful. Rumor has it that downtown’s most corporate establishment, Starbucks, is the least profitable location in the country. Other name-brand boutiques like Benetton that have sprouted up have just as quickly shuttered down.

[1] “Queer Eye for New Hope?” Philadelphia Magazine. December 15, 2006. http://www.phillymag.com/articles/2006/12/15/queer-eye-for-new-hope/.

The Bucks County Playhouse nearly closed for good in 2010 when the 18th-century foundation (of the original New Hope Mills!) began to give, until a private equity fund manager and his wife who owns a local boutique personally donated $1.75 million to form a public-private partnership and save the structure.[1] Some townsfolk are cynical of these wealth injections, but Brooks admits they help save the town. The incident recalls the fact that New Hope sits in a very wealthy area, revealing a dilemma in New Hope’s utopian project.

In 2015, Coldwell Banker reported that New Hope was the 86th most expensive real estate market in the United States; the borough is 95.5% white, and the per capita income in 2016 was $64,980, equating to $259,920 for a family of four, far above the United States’ and Pennsylvania’s averages.[2] I’m not arguing the Daughtery’s shouldn’t have donated the money, for the loss of the Playhouse would have been devastating, and would have symbolized a rupture in the continuity and survival that the town committed itself to in 1790, thereby threatening the utopian project itself. However, a sympathetic couple ultimately decided the Playhouse’s fate, revealing how wealth inequality contributes to unbalanced concentrations of power in the town’s political and decision-making processes, which may threaten the utopia in more insidious ways. Who decides what projects and preservation efforts are worthy of resources? Who will come to the rescue when the next structure needs repairs? Is New Hope’s utopia compatible with wealth inequality, or should the community strive for more democratic ways of allocating resources? The town is also very white, which lends itself to the less utopian and more “pragmatic gay agenda” Muñoz is wary of. To be fair, the census demographics do not capture the many folks who frequent New Hope as visitors but do not reside in town, and many are visiting from diverse metropolises like New York City and Philadelphia. These numbers do not necessarily depict the presence of people of color and low-income people in New Hope, and anecdotally, downtown New Hope does not resemble an enclave exclusively of high-income white gays.

 

Nevertheless, the Playhouse points to systemic issues around economics and class far beyond New Hope’s boundaries and influence, but these questions reveal what utopia is ultimately about. Jameson suggests the most radical change to our current system would be to demand full, universal employment around the globe. If, for example, New Hope were to imagine wealth equality in its utopia, which surely links to employment, this restructuring may prevent corporate establishments from intruding, protect local business owners, and better allocate resources to important preservation projects like Retro-Scope. It would require a change of the political, social, and economic systems that extend far beyond New Hope’s boundaries. Wealth equality would not only change the system, the system would have had to already been transformed beyond recognition to realize this demand. Jameson argues this is the circular logic of utopia, and that the circularity demonstrates how the utopian vision functions as a critique and diagnostic instrument. New Hope is and has always been participating in this critique.

[1] Belonsky, “The Ghost With The Blue, Blue Eyes.”

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

Ten years before the Playhouse nearly faced a crisis, a different tragedy struck New Hope. Mother died in 2000 at the age of 74. “I am the reigning man and woman,” Mother said shortly before her death. In the time leading up to her death, the community provided care for Mother, completing a kind of circle in New Hope’s history. “She was a real mother to a lot of people in the LGBT community,” Sara Scully said. Everyone in town showed up for her funeral; Daniel Brooks says it was the largest he’s ever attended. Even the Army made an appearance for Mother’s service during World War II, with a full 21-gun salute. Mother’s time is behind us, but hope didn’t disappear with her loss. Mother still nourishes the vision and lifeworld of New Hope, her memory captured in the community through their stories and through projects like Retro-Scope. With tragedies like floods or the burning of the Cartwheel, redolent of the mill fire in 1790, New Hope keeps an eye on its past, present, and future to remember its commitment to survival, to continue delivering the potentiality in its name for thousands of queers over the decades.  

 

Reference: http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/a3067768-4ebd-11e6-9df1-d3c1f52d1b05.html

 

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