With more than 6,000 attendees, L.A.Con was one of the bigger science fiction
conventions we've ever attended. It seems normal now to expect conventions of this
magnitude every September, but it didn't used to be that way; some of the early
worldcons had only a hundred or two attendees. Early fandom was very much a
grassroots movement, and it's only too easy to forget that it all got started many
decades ago with obscure, nearly forgotten little fan groups like the one described
in the following article.
It was a balmy summer day in the small town of Lynn Haven, Florida. The light, sweet smell of honeysuckle was in the air, the aroma augmented by the cloying sweetness of gardenias. Naturally-jeweled hummingbirds darted from blossom to blossom, undisturbed by the few cars that passed on the concrete street. Inside a two-story frame building, an old building, much bare wood showing between flecks of white paint, The Shape of Things to Come was flickering on a sheet that had been hung as a temporary movie screen.
The year was 1948. The Florida Flames were having their one and only convention.
Now I'm sure Harry Warner, Jr., has no record of any fan group called the 'Florida Flames', and I doubt if there's a record anywhere of our convention. We consisted of several Lynn Havenites, most of which did no corresponding whatsoever, and we had no clubzine. At the time, I was not publishing an ish, so there was little word spread.
This didn't bother us; we weren't up to anything big.
My memory bears a strong resemblance to a farmer cultivating a field; my subconscious is the farmer. Some things are weeded out by mistake, never to be seen again -- and unfortunately, the names of the members of the Flames escapes me. Or else there were only three -- a friend named Charles Heisner, another friend named Sandy Land, and myself; that's all I can recall. We three were all in our late teens, and avid readers of sf. Dunno why we decided to take a name, but we did. We decided it should be something alliterative, and almost became the 'Florida Flamingos', but sanity prevailed.
By now, I forgot who first came up with the idea, but all agreed to it. Joe Green (now Joseph L. Green, published author and NASA employee) lived in Cottondale, a smaller town about fifty miles north of Lynn Haven. Joe had a friend, Joe Christoff, in Pensacola, who said he could round up a copy of The Shape of Things to Come for us to show. Ladies of a local writers group I belonged to agreed to provide covered dish meals for a couple of lunches if they could attend. Because of my presence in the club, they were aware of sf and wanted to see the movie; a couple of them had even heard of it.
There was an old building which had once been a movie theatre, but now belonged to the city. It was used as a meeting area for some local clubs. These clubs usually met at night and seldom on weekends, so we were able to obtain it as our convention hall. It came complete with some tables and folding chairs, so we were in business.
Three out-of-towners attended: Joe Green, Joe Christoff, and Lin Carter, who was from St. Petersburg. I had met Lin a year or so earlier when I was in St. Pete for a few months. With the presence of these three, the event wasn't just a few locals getting together anymore; our gathering was a Real Convention.
One social commentary: Sandy Land and Joe Christoff were practicing homosexuals, and Lin Carter said he was, as well. While the locals may not have known the tendencies of Christoff and Lin, they were certainly aware of Sandy's sexual tastes. No one, however, seemed to pay any attention. Another 'plus' for Lynn Haven.
Other than the movie, I remember very little of the convention itself, except that everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, including the women from the writers club. And there was a costume party! I had so much going on that I had no costume; at the last minute I got out my pipe and put a pen behind my ear.
"You're not in costume!" someone objected.
"Sure I am!" I responded, using the stem on my pipe to indicate the pen behind my ear. "I'm the author who dreamed all this up!" I was accepted.
But even though the convention was a success, the Flames never tried it again. The fire just slowly died...
...for the Flames, that is. Lin Carter went on to active fandom and a career as an author. Joe Green ended up working for NASA (what field could be more desired, at that time, for a fan?) and sold many stories, articles, and books. I sold a few paperbacks (not sf) myself, and even went on to put out a fanzine or six. In 1952, I formed the Willis Fan Fund, and have now returned to active fandom. A series of Phoenixes arose from the ashes...
Title illustration by Peggy Ranson