CT Landmarks Hopes To Create State's First Site Dedicated To LGBTQ History

A fundraiser will be held on Saturday, Sept. 23, to raise money for what will soon be the state's first historic site dedicated primarily to LGBTQ history.

Featuring classic rock and vintage cars, the fundraiser is at the Palmer-Warner Property in East Haddam. From 1945 to 1971, the 1738 house was the home of preservation architect Frederic Courtland Palmer (1901-1971) and his partner, Howard Allison Metzger (1921-2005).

Palmer bequeathed the house to Connecticut Landmarks with the stipulation that the historic-preservation association let Metzger live there until he died. The 50-acre property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Connecticut Landmarks needs $1 million to preserve and renovate the barn on the property, turning it into a visitor welcome, event and exhibit center. Sheryl Hack, executive director of Connecticut Landmarks, says the barn will be an important element to presenting LGBTQ history.

"The opportunity here is not only to tell Frederick and Howard's story," Hack says. "We want to provide a safe space for individuals and couples to tell their own stories."

Erin Malueg, the manager of the Palmer-Warner project, says the Palmer-Warner property is unique because all of the men's possessions are still in the house, including correspondence.

"We have an intact history for them, which is rare for an LGBT property," says Erin Malueg, the manager of the Palmer-Warner project. "We have letters and diaries dating from 1942 to 1961."

Usually when a homeowner dies, Malueg says, family members clean out the house.

"They throw away letters and pictures that they think would reflect poorly on the individual," she says, which means that evidence of same-sex relationships is destroyed.

Palmer's correspondence with Metzger, which dates to the time the men did not yet live together, was often subtly worded, Malueg says.

"Howard was in the Merchant Marines during World War II. When he was on the ship, he was having his letters read, censored. The letters that Frederick sent to Howard when Howard was in New York were very deep and emotional and loving: 'I love you so much' 'We're like one person in two bodies.' When Howard was on the ship, the letters were like 'I went to the bank, I was in the garden.' But I think they had a little code. He would write 'take care of yourself, you know what.'"

There is no set date for the opening of the museum, Hack says. The money needs to be raised and the objects in the house needs to be documented, researched and catalogued. The site will be open intermittently for fundraising and other events, she says.

The preservation of the house itself is funded with an endowment left by Palmer, Malueg says.

While in the planning stages, Connecticut Landmarks consulted with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a network of historic sites that focus on struggles for human rights, Malueg says.

The house was built in 1738 by the Warners, a family of blacksmiths. That family owned it for more than 100 years. Starting in the mid-19th century, it passed through several owners, eventually being owned by the Ballek family. Palmer bought the house from the Balleks in 1936. Palmer met Metzger several years later. Metzger moved in in 1945.

The theme of the fundraiser, "Classic Cars & Cocktails," reflects Palmer and Metzger's love for cars.

"The barn, at one time, had two Rolls-Royces in it, including a 1937 Phantom 3, which was one of a kind. That car was in Playboy, it was in Motor Trend," Malueg says. "Howard had three Cadillacs, a Buick, a Mercedes and a Karmann Ghia."

CLASSIC CARS & COCKTAILS is at Palmer-Warner House, 307 Town St. in East Haddam, on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 3 to 7 p.m. The rain date is Sunday, Sept. 24, from 2 to 6 p.m. Hay rides and lawn games will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Cocktails will be served from 4 to 5 p.m. A picnic and raw bar will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Admission is $125, $250 for patrons, $200 for a couple, $450 for a patron couple. Tickets: ctlandmarks.org/classic-cars-and-cocktails.

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