The Ghost With The Blue, Blue Eyes
By Andrew Belonsky
(Above, Joseph Cavellucci and his alter ego, Mother.)
Plenty of gays have passed through the small Pennsylvania town of New Hope, but there's been only one true Queen, Mother. Mother was the drag persona of Joseph "Josie" Cavellucci, a World War II veteran who first arrived in New Hope in 1949, three years after leaving the Army, and long after it became clear that his New York City-based biological family would never accept him. He found that acceptance in New Hope and for five decades, dressed to the nines day or night, on the street or in church, Mother ruled New Hope's roost. "I am the reigning man and woman," she said in 2000, shortly before her death at the age of 74.
Living mostly from her pension and from jobs as a waitress or hostess, Mother also supported her relatively lavish, or at least glitzy, existence by throwing "weddings." The parties became legendary, and townspeople gay and straight gladly paid for her hand. When it came time for Mother herself to be taken care of, New Hope was right there by her side, providing care fit for a woman who dedicated her life to the town and its inhabitants. Today, over a decade since her death, Mother is center stage once again at Retro-Scope, a crowd-sourced web archive of personal histories from New Hope and beyond.
"Mother was the grand dame of New Hope society," says Retro-Scope founder Daniel Brooks, a New Yorker who first began visiting New Hope in 2000, just before Mother died, and who now owns a local bed & breakfast. "She was a symbol of the town itself."
Retro-Scope began after Brooks saw a deceased neighbors' belongings being tossed in the trash, headed for the dump. "I remember thinking, 'Those don't need to be there,'" Brooks said. "It felt indicative of what was happening to our history in New Hope. I was concerned it would go away forever." The LGBT community's experiences and memories, collective or otherwise, need be preserved. A legacy must be left.