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From Publishers Weekly
The gatherings depicted within these pages initially appear to be the bridge parties of slightly bored, if typical, mid-century housewives; on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that these women-drinking, playing scrabble, smoking, knitting and mugging for the camera-are actually atypical mid-century men. The photos, presented sans accompanying text, are some of the 400 similar images Swope found at a New York flea market. Comprised of candid snapshots and posed portraits taken during the '50s and '60s at an upstate New York Victorian home dubbed "Casa Susanna" by its cross-dressing frequenters, the book includes photos of the ladies having tea, relaxing in the backyard and preening for pageants and holiday parties. As a social document, this collection of photos provides readers with direct access to the ladies as they seize upon and amplify their era's stereotypes of the womanly ideal. Equally intriguing as a record of atomic-age housewares, conservative housewife duds and the blushing interiors of a bygone era, the photos richly communicate the sense of solidarity among this cloistered group in pre-sexual revolution America.
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Some time ago, while at a New York flea market, inveterate collectors Michel Hurst and Robert Swope discovered a large body of snapshots: album after aged album of well-preserved images, taken roughly between the mid-50s and mid-60s, depicting a group of cross-dressers united around a place called Casa Susanna, a rather large and charmingly banal Victorian-style house in small-town New Jersey. The inhabitants, visitors, guests, and hosts used it as a weekend headquarters for a regular "girl's life." Someone-probably "Susanna" or the matriarch-nailed a wonder board on a tree proclaiming it "Casa Susanna," and thus a Queendom was born. Through these wonderfully intimate shots-perhaps never intended to see the light of day outside the sanctum of the "house"-Susanna and her gorgeous friends styled era-specific fashion shows and dress-up Christmas and tea parties. As gloriously primped as these documentary snaps are, it is in the more private and intimate life at Casa Susanna, where the girls sweep the front porch, cook, knit, play Scrabble, relax at the nearby lake and, of course, dress for the occasion, that the stunning insight to a very private club becomes nothing less than brilliant and awe inspiring in its pre-glam, pre-drag-pose ordinariness and nascent preening and posturing in new identities. It is not glamour for the stage but for each other, like other women who dress up to spend time with friends, flaunting their own sense of style. There is an evident pleasure of being here, at Casa Susanna, that is a liberation, a simplification of the conflicts inherent in a double life.