Past Exhibition

Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove

May 14, 2021 - October 11, 2021

Welcome to Cherry Grove! In the years before the Stonewall Uprising, this secluded beach enclave on Fire Island was a respite for gay men and women. Explore this fascinating and forgotten history with nearly 70 photographs from the 1950s, courtesy of the Cherry Grove Archives Collection.

During weekends and summers in the pre-Stonewall era, gay men and women, including many New Yorkers, traveled to the secluded beach town of Cherry Grove on Fire Island where they found opportunities for sexual exploration and self-expression—behavior that was both stigmatized and criminalized in the straight world. Together with creative figures like Truman Capote, W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, and Patricia Highsmith, these visitors to the Grove took pleasure in the costumed parties, theatrical events, and liberated atmosphere that this gay sanctuary provided.

On view outdoors in New-York Historical’s rear courtyard, this exhibition explores the gay and lesbian community that flourished during the 1950s in Cherry Grove through some 70 enlarged photographs and additional ephemera from the unique holdings of the Cherry Grove Archives Collection. (Curated by Brian Clark, Susan Kravitz, and Parker Sargent for the Cherry Grove Archives Collection and coordinated at New-York Historical by Rebecca Klassen, associate curator of material culture)

Learn more:
Shop books about Cherry Grove in the NYHistory Store now, including Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian TownKoitz Gay Fire Island: It's Good to be Us; and Mascara, Mirth and Mayhem: Independence Day on Fire Island, a photography book by co-curator Susan Kravitz 

Related organizations: Arts Project of Cherry Grove; Community Association of Cherry GroveFire Island Pines Historical Society 

Documentaries about Fire Island:
Snap: Year of the Queen (directed by co-curator Parker Sargent)
The Panzi Invasion (directed by co-curator Parker Sargent)
Coming of Age in Cherry Grove: The Invasion Cherry Grove Stories

Podcast about Fire Island: The Bowery Boys: A Very Gay History of Fire Island (featuring co-curator Parker Sargent)

Major support for Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove is provided by The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.

  • NYC Cultural Affairs
  • NY Council on the Arts

Media sponsor:

  • WNET New York Public Media