In the late 1930s, Hagerstown had a remarkably stable population. Generation after generation of a family stayed in this city to such a great extent that the United States Public Health Service set up a local office to do research on how health problems in certain families persisted from one generation to another. So who were the young men, most-ly thin and with a non-local appearance who showed up in this city from time to time? They weren't foreign agents or criminals on the lam. They were science fiction fans trying to find their way to my Bryan Place home.
I didn't realize it at the time, but many of my earliest visits from fans must have been partly impelled by uncertainty whether I actually existed. This was a time when you never could tell about fans. A famous fan in the early 1940s, Earl Singleton, lived for decades after his hoax 'suicide' had been publicized. 'Peggy Gillespie', an early FAPA member, turned out to be Jack Gillespie's cat. 'John B. Bristol' turned out to be an ingenious hoax created by Jack Speer. Neofans weren't absolutely sure that 'Hoy Ping Pong' was Bob Tucker's pen name because he might possibly be a Chinese fan using 'Bob Tucker' as a pseudonym. Forry Ackerman wrote under so many bylines like 'Weaver Wright', 'Fojak', and 'Dr. Acula' that any unfamiliar contributor to a fanzine might really be him. I had appeared in fanzine fandom rather abruptly; I had had several letters of no particular distinction in prozine readers' sections and had corresponded with various readers of science fiction who weren't otherwise active in fandom. When the first issue of Spaceways fluttered into fannish mailboxes in the fall of 1938, that was the first time some of its recipients had ever heard of me. So there was an excellent chance that I wasn't what I seemed to be, a new fanzine publisher who had seen very few fanzine issues and had never contributed to one.
My first wave of visitors from fandom to Hagerstown came around the time of the first worldcon, in the summer of 1939. As far as I can remember, none of them had announced their imminent coming before they knocked at the door of the house where my parents and I lived. I'm pretty sure that the very first fans to see and talk with me were Fred Pohl and Jack Gillespie, just few days after the very first worldcon. They rode to Hagerstown on their thumbs and looked a bit bedraggled but otherwise chipper after a long day on the road. The thing I remember best about their visit was the moment when Jack dug into a pants pocket and pulled out a badly-rumpled little pamphlet. He presented it to me and thus I had my first knowledge of the celebrated Exclusion Act at the worldcon which resulted from the refusal of several New York Futurians to promise to behave themselves during the convention. This was the document that Dave Kyle had printed for the Futurians explaining their opinions of the way the worldcon had been organized. I imagine it's one of the rarest documents in the history of fannish publishing by now, and I should still have that copy somewhere in my attic. As you might expect, I also heard from Fred and Jack a detailed verbal account of their opinion of Sam Moskowitz, Jimmy Taurasi, and Will Sykora, the main adversaries of the Futurians.
Three days later, the fan visitor jackpot came up. No fewer than six individuals clambered out of an auto in front of 303 Bryan Place and introduced themselves. They were Dale Hart, Walter Sullivan, Julius Pohl, and three others whose names I seem never to have chronicled. At that time, Dale was a good old country boy from the Southwest, although he became a very different sort of sophisticate a few years later in Los Angeles. Walter was a nice, quiet fan who was to die a few years later in the service of his nation. Julius never became a big name fan; I seem to remember he was a Texan and shared my interest in classical music.
These half dozen visitors were very tired after a long day of driving and threw me into complete consternation by asking if they could spend the night sleeping on my front porch. The Warners didn't have nearly enough square footage of bedding to offer them indoors overnight hospitality, but 303 Bryan Place was one side of a double house, in whose other side was the landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Fritz, resided. They were an ultra-conservative couple, extremely strict about proper decorum on their property; bedding down on a front porch just wasn't done in Hagerstown. My parents offered to attempt the impossible by requesting permission for such wild behavior on their property, and to our astonishment, Mrs. Fritz loved the idea and insisted that three of the visitors spend the night on her front porch, since all six on one porch would be quite crowded. The other thing I remember best about this visit was Dale improving his appearance the next morning by what he called a 'dry shave'. I had never heard of such a thing, but he got rid of most of his whiskers by using a safety razor without water or any other preliminaries.
Some time later that same summer, Jack Speer and Milt Rothman paid me a visit. They were the closest active fans because they lived at that time in Washington, D.C. They were more dignified in bearing and conversation than most of my fan visitors, but I had never heard anything like the way they challenged almost every opinion one or the other stated and indulged in non-emotional discussions of these matters.
I believe it was in the fall of that same year when Willis Conover stopped by on his way from his home on Maryland's Eastern Shore to begin work as a radio announcer in Cumberland, a city in far western Maryland. That was a memorable occasion because when I mentioned during our chatter that the local second-hand store had a large stock of back issues of Argosy, Willis insisted on going there immediately and buying them. Night was falling and huge stacks of Argosy were kept in an unelectrified shed behind the store. Willis and I sorted through them by the light of a kerosene lantern and would have burned to death almost at once if it had toppled over amid the pulp magazines that consumed almost all the space in the wooden shed. He arranged to have hundreds of copies sent to his Cambridge, Maryland home and then left for Cumberland, the first step on what eventually became a career as a writer and broadcaster on jazz, eventually becoming internationally famous in this capacity.
I don't have the exact date when another impressive group of fans descended upon me, but it must have been in either late 1939 or 1940. On their way to Philadelphia came Bob Tucker (and his wife), Mark Reinsburg, Richard Meyer, and Walter E. Marconette. We did a lot of picture-taking and, for some reason, Bob insisted on keeping his own camera before one eye when anyone took a picture of him. Tucker, Reinsburg, and Meyer are all well remembered, but Walter Marconette is an unjustly-forgotten fan artist. He was one of the first in fandom to draw pictures that weren't imitations of prozine illustrations or comic strip panels. He did well-composed and uncluttered lovely pictures with hectograph inks and in pencil that have faded too badly to reveal their original splendor. Unlike almost all my early fannish visitors, Walter was not skinny. He wasn't fat, either, but he still looked strange compared to the emaciated appearance of the average fan. Not long after his visit, Walter grew interested in ancient armor and gave up fandom to collect it.
After that, I think fans in general were satisfied that I was what I had claimed to be -- myself and not a conspirator in some sort of elaborate hoax. But lots of prominent fans continued to appear in Hagerstown during the next few years: Elmer Perdue, Art Widner, Bob Madle, Julius Unger, and Russell Chauvenet, to name a few. I also had a visit by a fan of whom I'd never heard -- R.M. Brown, who surprised and gratified me by purchasing a substantial part of my stack of leftover back issues of Spaceways. It was only much later that I learned he was the hoax fan that I had once been thought to be. The real name of 'R.M. Brown' was Earl Singleton.
- - - - - - - - - -We offer the following bit of closure to Harry's article: After he dropped from sight in fandom, Earl Singleton went on to obtain his doctorate in Physics from M.I.T. He became better known as Dr. Henry E. Singleton, one of the co-founders of Teledyne Inc., and at the time of his death in August 1999, his personal fortune was estimated at about $750 million. As for another famous name in Harry's article, Ron Bennett wrote us, "Strangely, I first knew of Willis Conover as a broadcaster and authority on Jazz before I ever became aware of his being a fan. When I did come across his name in fandom, initially I wondered whether there might be two people with the same name. At any rate, a great article. I could read Harry all day. And come to think of it, on occasion, I have!"
Even though M25 had an "Aussiecon" theme, part of the issue was devoted to remembrances by John Berry and Joyce Scrivner of Walter A. Willis, who passed away not long after Aussiecon. Walt was one of the most storied and revered fans of all time; Harry Warner, Jr., once described him as the "best and most gifted fan of the 1950s, who also might qualify as the Number One Fan of any and all decades." Walt was a frequent contributor to Mimosa (we published his very last original fanzine article); we included in M25 (and again here) a bit of classic Willis -- a narrative from his visit to the 1952 Chicon, reprinted (slightly abridged) from his epic trip report, The Harp Stateside:
All illustrations by Julia Morgan-Scott