There's more yet why the 1952 Chicon has become the source of so many stories and
much fannish legendry. One reason might be because of its size -- at almost 900
attendees, it was the largest worldcon that had ever been held to that time, more
than twice the size of the next largest, and it would remain the largest for another
15 years. The convention was, in effect, a small city of science fiction fans. And
Chicon II was also the most international of worldcons to that point, not only
including Walt Willis, but even a 'Citizen of the World'...
On June 8, 1952, I turned 22 and made plans to vote for the very first time. Not just any election, but a presidential election! I was most eager to vote for 'my man' Adlai Stevenson. And it is my considered opinion that this loss to Eisenhower, who became President for the next eight years, was the cause of the poor turn out for Detention, the 1959 Worldcon! Because it was Eisenhower's economic policies that were responsible for the dismal job outlook at the end of the 1950s. Many fans who wanted to attend Detention just did not have the necessary funds. But the rest of that story is for a different venue than this one. Instead, what I'm going to write about is a more-or-less factual account of my attendance of my third worldcon, the 1952 Chicon.
So, on with the story! In the spring of 1948, my father decided that we would all soon be involved in another war and that there might be a possibility that I would be drafted into the Army. That was why he decided that I should join the Navy after graduating from high school to prevent that from happening. The terms of my enlistment were one year active and six years in the active reserve. While I was on active duty, keeping our country safe and earning draft-deferred status to avoid what would be the upcoming Korean War, back home my cousin Bennett Sims discovered the world of Skiffy pulps. And he also made another discovery -- when I returned he gave me the prozine which contained the phone number of a member of the Detroit Science Fiction League. When I called the number we learned about the next meeting of the club, and we attended our first meeting on October 31, 1949.
Shortly after I was discharged into the active reserve in September 1949, I attended my first drill at the Naval Armory in Detroit. The requirement was a weekly two-hour drill, but it was so boring that after about six months of this I transferred to the Naval Air Station on Grosse Ile, Michigan. It was there, some time during 1951, that I met Elliott Broderick III. Elliott was very friendly and outgoing; it didn't take long to learn that he read science fiction and liked to talk to people who read science fiction. And he had a car!
My years in the Naval Reserves were mostly, but not entirely uneventful. I also went to college in those years, and in addition to turning 22 in June 1952, I graduated from Highland Park Junior College after only three years of attendance for the two-year degree. (But that's another story!) Immediately after graduation ceremonies, my father drove me to Grosse Ile Naval Air Station from which I was scheduled to leave the next morning for two weeks at the Naval Air Station in Key West, Florida. All of this is significant because the money that I earned during those two weeks paid for the trip to the 1952 Worldcon in Chicago. I could write about my experiences in the then-sleepy Navy town of Key West or even our Remain Over Night (RON) trip to pre-Castro Havana, but maybe I'd better not. The language and vistas suit able to a swabbie may not be suitable for these pages!
But enough digression, back to the story!
A couple of paragraphs back I mentioned meeting Elliott Broderick, who read and talked Science Fiction. For this, and the fact that he had a car and I did not, led me to believe that he would be a great addition to our local club. And he was! At one of the DSFL meetings, the upcoming Worldcon in Chicago became a topic of conversation. It turned out many members were planning to attend. Besides Elliott and myself, there were Martin Alger, Ray and Perdita Nelson, Ed Kuss, and cousin Bennett. Martin and Elliott would be the drivers to get us there and back. Howard DeVore also had a membership and wanted to go, but Sybil, his wife, wanted him home for the expected birth of their middle daughter, Karol. The fact that she did not arrive until three weeks later has remained, for years, a source of irritation.
So on the Friday morning of the convention week-end, Elliott arrived at my house and we proceeded to drive around Detroit picking up the others. About five hours or so later and with only one false turn we arrived at the Morrison Hotel (which no longer exists and whose smashed remains are believed to lie some where in the vicinity of O'Hare Airport, waiting to be smashed into even smaller bits for use as fill). Once the car was parked for the weekend, we dragged our luggage up to the desk and registered for a double room. In those days, who knew about making a reservation? I'm not even sure that there was a room block. After unpacking and changing into suitable fannish attire (in 1952, no one traveled in fannish attire) we wandered down to the convention's registration desk. As I recall, there was a person from the Convention Bureau who sat behind a large typeface typewriter typing names on badges for those (like Elliott) who hadn't purchased a membership in advance (like me). In those days badges were much simpler, and weren't designed to be forgery-proof. And you didn't have to buy a new badge to replace a lost one -- you just went back and got a new one!
Another digression: before continuing, I must take the readers back a year to 1951 and the first Nolacon. At Nolacon I and at all previous worldcons, site selection for the following year's worldcon was made at the current convention's business session. At those business sessions the Chair called for nominations from anyone who wanted to hold the next year's convention. Bid parties were uncommon. In those days, for many attendees, the business session would provide their initial knowledge of who might actually be interested in hosting a worldcon. After nomination and seconding speeches, a vote was taken, ballots counted, and the winner announced.
Once the site had been selected there was a race to the sign-up table. At Nolacon, it just so happened that I was in a favorable seat close to that table. So I found myself first in line and received, upon payment of the one-dollar registration fee, badge number 1. This meant that I would be listed, if not first, very close to the beginning of the list of members in the Program Book! As the reader will soon learn, this is significant to my story.
Opening ceremonies at Chicon found me in the audience; Sam Moskowitz was the Master of Ceremonies. After a 'short' speech (as only Sam could) he began to introduce the notables in the audience, and the first words out of his mouth were "Roger Sims!" Now, to this day, I believe that he had not looked at the list until he said those two words; I believe this because the next words out of his mouth were, "Who the Hell is that?" But I stood up anyway. At this point there were a few polite claps and a lot of stares. (The reader should remember that I had, as a result of Room 770, only graduated from the ranks of neo fandom the year before! Now, I'm known for other things, of which most are 'Rogerisms', but as Bill Bowers is wont to say, "We love you anyway.")
I know that I attended the entire program, because that's what we did in those days. One was either in the hall or "Down at the bar!" Even then that was the cry from all of the attendees when a person's name was called and the person did not answer! But being poor at the time, the bar was not a viable option for me. It should also be noted at that there was only one-track programming. Nor were there video rooms, all night movies, or gaming. It was not until later that some of us discovered bridge and managed to play a rubber or two in the evening. But we never played during the day because it would have been unthinkable to do so while important fans and pros were waxing eloquently!
Ever since I told the Lynches that I would write about the 1952 Worldcon I have been wracking my brain trying to remember items from the program. (I don't even have a Program Book to crib from.) For sure there was a fanzine editors' panel on fanzine publishing, a pro panel on writing for the prozines, and even a pro editors' panel on editing prozines. Willy Ley did the science part of the program. He spoke with a German accent, so I asked him, in all seriousness, if he preferred his first name pronounced 'Willy' or 'Villey'. He replied with a very serious voice, "'Villey' or 'Villey', makes no difference!"
But there is one item that I remember because I often think about it. And do enjoy retelling to all that are willing to listen. It was a speech by, Gary Davis, who called himself a 'Citizen of the World'. The speech was without a doubt the funniest speech that I had ever heard or read.
OK so I don't remember the whole thing. Which is a good thing because if I did, this article would be much too long. The title was "How to Split an Atom." Davis walked on stage wearing a full-length black academic gown and began:
I'm going to now demonstrate to you the proper method of splitting an atom. The first step in this process is to select a proper atom; one that is ready and willing to be split. This is because it is almost impossible to catch one that is not ready to be split! Now a word of caution, just because one is willing to be split, does not mean that it is a good candidate for splitting. In order to be split, it's size must suitable for splitting. It can't be just any atom, but one that is sufficiently mature to have grown two handles of proper size. This is most important because brand new ones do not have handles. And the handles of the young ones are not of a proper size to do what has to be done.
For demonstration purposes I have already selected one. Here it is (points with right index finger at his open left palm). The first step is to take the atom firmly between thumb and forefinger and place it on the floor between your two feet. Do not let go until the handles of the atom are underneath your two feet. This move must be done quickly and carefully. This is because atoms do not like to remain in one position for very long. Using the wrong feet for the next maneuver might lead to your being in a whole lot of trouble. When you have placed the atom between your feet you will notice that the handles lay flat on the floor. This makes it easy to do what has to be done next. First a word of caution, do not put both feet on the same handle and do not put your right foot on the left handle and the left foot on the right handle or vice versa.
OK, enough of what not to do, here is what you should do. Very carefully, but with great authority, place your right foot on the right handle and the left foot on the left handle. Make sure that you do this is the proper order. It will not work if you put your left foot on first. I say again, do not even think about putting either foot on both handles. As you will soon see this would lead to complications which are too numerous to correct!
The reason I said with care will be fully understood when I tell you the next step. Unless you have taken care to have the proper tool within reach you will need to call out to your assistant. This is because many atoms do not like to be kept waiting to be split and certainly will not wait around for you to go into the next room to grab it. Not that it does not want to be split; it's just that it will not tolerate sloppy behavior on the part of the person who is to do the deed! Now we are truly ready to split the atom. Take the very sharp axe that ... oh it is not within reach, you say? Then you must yell to you assistant, "Assistant, quickly bring the sharp axe!" It is very important that the axe be very sharp, for if it is not then it might slip off the atom and cause serious damage to what might be in close proximity. In this case you know, that is, if you have been paying attention, this is your feet. Now it should also be clear why I told you to be careful in placing your feet on the atom's handles. Too close to the sides of the atom and your risk losing part or all of one of your feet. Too close to the outer edge and you risk allowing the atom to walk away! Now for the third and most important step, picking up the axe, that is if it had been close enough for you to grasp or failing that from your assistant's hand. Grasp it firmly in your two hands and with a quick hard chopping stroke bring the axe down into the middle of the atom. The fourth and last step is to determine what to do with the two halves. If this has been an exercise in seeing if you can split an atom successfully, then the exercise is completed and the two halves are free to go any place that they might want to wander. However, if you have future plans for the two halves, then care must be taken to keep them at home so to speak. How to do this and the number of possible uses of the two halves will be covered in my next lecture. Thank you for your attendance and good night.
As I said, it really was quite funny. But I guess you had to be there.
But let's return again, for a moment, to the previous worldcon, the one held in New Orleans. Nolacon I saw the introduction of the Little Mens' Science Fiction Marching and Chowder Society from San Francisco to fandom. And what an appearance they made. They had so much fun at Nolacon that they made plans to attend Chicon II. Not only that, they, without telling anyone, made plans to bid in Chicago to host the 1953 Worldcon. Because I had held a bid party in Room 770 the night following the more famous impromptu one, they decided that they would also have parties each night of Chicon in the penthouse of the Morrison Hotel. It was a grand undertaking and it was anticipated that, as a result, all trufen would vote for San Francisco.
But it was not to be. Philadelphia won. We trufen felt that the large number of local fans, looking at a map, determined that Philadelphia was much closer to their homes than San Francisco, and voted with their feet rather than with their hearts. The next year Dave Kyle introduced the worldcon site rotation plan in the business meeting. It was this plan that lasted, in one form or another, for almost half a century.
Elliott, with whom I was sharing a room at Chicon, needed to be back in Detroit on Tuesday morning. Even though I didn't, I felt that there would not be any thing to do after te Chicon business meeting concluded, so Monday morning we checked out of our room. But at the time we checked out, I was unaware that The Little Men still had their suite until Tuesday and had decided to throw a 'Losers of the Bid Party', so when their President, Les Cole, invited me to the party, I accepted. But where would I stay the rest of the night? I had enough money for food and a train ticket to Detroit, but not for a room. Not to worry! When you're only 22, you just know that something will turn up. And it did -- I had such a great time at the party, I never got around to going to bed! In the morning, I remember watching the sun come up and glide over Lake Michigan on its way to the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
Soon afterwards I said my goodbyes and, with suitcase in hand, went down the elevator from the penthouse, out the front door of the hotel, and on to the train station. As soon, or maybe even before the train left the station, I was asleep, and woke up refreshed when it stopped at the station near downtown Detroit. And that is, as I have said often in the past, "This is the rest of story!"
All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen