Founded in May 2012, the Pittsburgh Queer History Project (PQHP) is an ongoing oral history and media preservation initiative, founded by Harrison Apple. Beginning with the excavation of an abandoned East Liberty after-hours club, the PQHP grew in scope to reinvestigate Pittsburgh history through the lens of the private social club.
The PQHP retraced a nearly forgotten history of how the private social club became the lucrative tool of a few individuals and radically changed the lives of LGBT Pittsburghers from the 1960s onward. Through the generosity of countless individuals, Apple was able to contact club owners, bartenders, performers, and patrons to illustrate a unique history of “gay life” which risked erasure.
Where so many histories emphasize invisibility, especially outside of the bustling cities of New York and San Francisco, Pittsburgh is home to the story of a working-class gay scene which evolved in response to conditions, opportunities, and restraints.
In collaboration with Dr. Tim Haggerty, Director of the Humanities Scholars Program at Carnegie Mellon University, the PQHP has spent the last year preparing for their first public exhibit called “Lucky After Dark.”
“Lucky After Dark” illustrates the historical roots of gay and lesbian social clubs in 20th century Pittsburgh. After Repeal in 1933, private social clubs inherited the mixed legacy of Prohibition. These after-hours clubs were populated by a mixture of twilight characters ranging from numbers kings to vice cops while providing privacy, protection, and entertainment for its clientele. Pittsburgh’s “gay places” helped create a new nocturnal landscape where proprietors, staff, and members helped forge a community that set the stage for future engagement in public life.
The exhibit draws closely from the oral interviews conducted with Lucky, a club steward and bartender who became a key informant for the project, along with many other participants. Lucky’s career paralleled the history of gay Pittsburgh and his extensive collection of photographs, videos, publications, and other items from the T.C. Club, the House of Tilden, and Travelers all of which vividly illustrate the gay world after dark.
May 30-June 29
819 Penn Avenue
Funding for the ‘Lucky After Dark’ exhibition was provided in part by the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund and the Scott Noxon Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Carnegie Mellon University Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art @ the Frontier, and the Humanities Scholars Program at Carnegie Mellon University.