Adapted from Noreascon 4 Progress Report 4, July 2003.
To Martin Gear Upon occasion of Philadelphia SF convention Labor Day Week- end of 1953 Ain't we got fun? With my best regards Edward E. Smith, Ph.D. include($DOCUMENT_ROOT . "/css/footer.php"); ?>
In the fall of 1953, I was getting ready to start high school in Columbus, Ohio. I had been the "new kid" during 8th grade and hadn't made any friends, so when I read a blurb in Galaxy magazine that the 11th World Science-Fiction Convention was to be held in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend I decided that this was something that I just had to do.
I saved my money, bought a membership, and somehow managed to con my mother into taking me to Philadelphia, renting the hotel room, and then spending the rest of her weekend visiting old friends in the Philadelphia area while I attended the con. (I still haven't figured out how I managed that.)
Now Upper Arlington High School and Columbus, Ohio were not exactly hotbeds of science fiction fandom during the 1950s. So far as I had been able to determine, the only other person in the school besides myself who read SF was the speech teacher. As a consequence, when I got to the con and registered, I wasn't prepared for what I found.
People were running around talking about corflu and zines and locs and FIAWOL, and enough other bits of "fanspeak" that made me wonder if somehow Philadelphia had been moved to another planet. After touring the dealers' room ("feelthy hucksters") and the art show, I was about ready to go climb under my bed until it was time to go back to Columbus.
I was lurking in a corner (huddling might be a better term) when a tall, white-haired man came over and began to talk to me about what I liked to read. I had just bought a copy of Skylark of Valeron in the dealers' room (1949 Fantasy Press first edition with a dust jacket price of $3.00) and began enthusing about this "new" writer that I had just discovered, E.E. Smith, Ph.D.
Just about that time a grandmotherly woman came over to us and the white-haired man turned to her and said, "Mother, this is Martin Gear and he likes the books that you type." He then turned to me, stuck out his hand and said, "I didn't introduce myself, I'm 'Doc' Smith." Before I could fade into the woodwork in embarrassment, the Smiths got on either side of me and escorted me around the convention, introducing me to other authors and artists. For the remainder of the weekend, whenever either of them saw me alone they made a point of checking to see if I was enjoying myself, and of somehow including me in whatever was going on.
As I remember it, there was a banquet on Sunday night (for which I had not bought a ticket), and then the Hugo ceremony was held in the hotel ballroom. Those who had not attended the banquet could watch the awards from the ballroom's balcony. I was dithering about whether or not I should go, when Doc Smith came by, said something to the effect of "Let's go see what this is all about" and led me up to the balcony, where we joined Isaac Asimov, Sprague deCamp, Robert Heinlein, Fred Pohl, Lin Carter (who I mistook for Edd Cartier the illustrator), Mel Hunter and John Campbell, Jr., among others.
I knew who Hugo Gernsback was, but since I this was my first con, I didn't realize that this was the premiere of the Hugo awards; I thought that they were a long-time tradition. These first Hugo awards were primarily given for various fan-related activities, and the pros that I was surrounded by were not particularly gentle in their comments about the awards and the winners.
At one point, John Campbell, Jr. suddenly turned to me, removed his cigarette holder from his mouth, pointed it at me and said, "You look like a bright young man, what are you going to do with your life?" I stammered something to the effect that I really didn't know. Campbell glared at me and said, "You need to become a scientist or engineer! Your country needs scientists and engineers!" He then turned back to the Hugos, supremely confident that he had just arranged my life for me. (I did study electrical engineering and even started out at M.I.T. because Campbell had written several Astounding editorials touting the school and some of its more creative courses, but that is another story.)
I've long since lost the autographs I collected that weekend and the pictures that I took, but in addition to my memories and a love of conventions, there are two other things that I treasure from that weekend. The first is a small painting done by Mel Hunter which I bought in the Art Show for $35.00. It hangs beside my desk where I can see it every day.
The second is that copy of Skylark of Valeron with the following inscription: