A Minnesota ‘swingers’ club enshrined in history

It’s a pretty safe bet that the members of the Silver Chain Social Club never imagined the details of their lives would be enshrined forever in history by the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Silver Chain Social Club was an early-’70s swingers’ club in Minnesota and two of its founders kept detailed notes in a safe deposit box at the First Bloomington Lake National Bank where they were eventually abandoned.

Under Minnesota law, MHS gets first crack at historical documents and what’s more historic than a club open to “couples over 21 who could join by invitation only with the good word of an established member who could vouch for their dedication to swinging,” according to GQ magazine, which has published an article based on the documents.

“It was swinging infused with Minnesota Nice,” GQ says.

It was all about building close and intimate friendships, beginning with social events at such local hotspots as Bloomington’s faux-American-Indian Thunderbird Motel and the red-sauce-ladling Venetian Inn in the suburb of Little Canada.

These Silver Chainers were dedicated: When the club celebrated its third anniversary in 1976, about 90 couples showed up with the outdoor temperature close to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Silver Chain members believed that their tight group placed them at the vanguard of people seeking connection at the dawning of a new age of sexual freedom, when recognizing and giving in to personal fantasies could lead to less distrust and frustration in marriage.

And Silver Chain surveys, though unscientific, supported the belief that swinging was good for marriage. In one, with a majority of the members describing themselves as married with kids, a strong majority of both men and women members said swinging boosted their marriages.

Not that Silver Chain members were in it just for the kink. “Sex was a very secondary thing,” one club member wrote. “The people, the fun, and the tender loving care were so far out front of everything else.” Members were welcomed into swingers groups around the country.

One local swinger, in an interview with the Star Tribune, somewhat unsexily compared swinging to being a Mason. “It’s a brotherhood in a way,” he said. Another member published in the Silver Chain newsletter a “swingers creed” that promoted tolerance for the hang-ups of others and an exaltation of the emotional involvement “properly reserved for a spouse.”

The last club newsletter in the file comes from 1978, announcing a summer of activities including picnics, camping, and softball. And then: nothing.

What happened?

Most living members from the club’s peak years would now be sexagenarians or older. I could track down only one of them, a former club officer. Disabled by illness, she has difficulty speaking, according to a family member.

Though she and the others concealed their second lives well, they bravely challenged cultural norms to express themselves and enjoy a passion that, if it ever came out, could have wrecked their lives. On top of that, two mysterious members recorded what they were doing, preserved it, celebrated it.

They probably never expected their archive to be dusted off and opened up to the world, but it’s a humanizing glimpse into a purposeful way of life that was lived in the dark. And who knows what other secrets still survive as coiled chains in dusty jewelry boxes?

To GQ’s credit, it decided not to “out” any of the members. This is Minnesota, after all.

(h/t: Paul Tosto)