He tells The Cut he was looking for material for an undergraduate documentary class when he stumbled upon a slide carousel labeled “Jack’s Slides: Chicago and Kansas City.” He purchased the slides for $2.
“The first image I looked at was this picture of a man in a kimono that was incredibly colorful — it was just a stunning image to behold,” he says. “There wet family photos, and then I hit this line of images that were all people dressed in drag, predominantly standing in front of this beautiful mosaic outside a bar.”
Two years later, Heishman coincidentally fell into another half of the drag photo collection, when his longtime friend Michael Boles discovered more slides (presumably from the same photographer) while helping a friend move into a new house, which just so happened to be around the corner from drag clubs that were hot in the ’50s and ’60s.
“When we got them together and paired them up, it was kind of amazing,” Boles said. “Some of them are even from the same parties.”
Along with the help of researcher Emily Henson, Heishman and Boles have released the collection, now titled “Private Birthday Party”, to conserve the rich history of mid-century drag ball culture in middle America, and ultimately, find the original photographer.
“We believe it’s someone named Jack,” Boles said, “but he’s still sort of an elusive figure at this point. We have some leads, but at the time being we’re still trying to figure all that out.”
Below, a selection from “Private Birthday Party”, as published by The Cut: