With a Worldcon going there next year, it seems appropriate that the first stop in
our little archeological and anthropological exploration of fandom is just up the
road from here, at Baltimore. Baltimore fandom is now one of the more active fan
groups in the country, meeting twice-monthly in its own clubhouse (which makes it
one of the more affluent, as well). Its roots date back to the beginning of the
1960s, as we'll see in the following article by one of its founders.
I discovered science fiction fandom in 1957, when I wrote to an Alabama fan named Billy Joe Plott who had bragged about his 'magazine' Maelstrom in the letter column of a science fiction comic book. I was not even thirteen years old at the time. Soon afterwards I began writing for Maelstrom, and a bit later for other fanzines across the country. Fanzines were my first real form of fanac.
Even then, I was already an avid reader of science fiction. About that same time, I had answered an ad in the back of an issue of F&SF from The Werewolf Bookshop in Verona, Pennsylvania. It was really just a book remainder house; you sent them money and they sent back lots of books, you didn't get to pick which ones. Most of the ones I received were worthless or uninteresting in the extreme, but one title I got startled me by its look and feel, and by its general production value. It was The Throne of Saturn, by S. Fowler Wright, published by a company about which I knew nothing: Arkham House. So I wrote to their address and asked for information on other titles, and in a very short time I was in almost weekly correspondence with August Derleth.
I'd also discovered another operation that advertised in Astounding, Pick-A-Book of Hicksville, New York. This proved to be the Gnome Press attempt to compete with the SF Book Club and, somehow, I wound up corresponding like mad with Marty Greenberg. Thanks to both of these men I got a real grounding in the business side of science fiction and fantasy, a lot of advice, and, in the case of Derleth, an opening of correspondence with other famous folks like Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, and Clark Ashton Smith.
I did my first fanzine in 1960, a very primitive affair called Centaur. It was basically of the then-popular faanish sort, and was done with my neighbor and good friend Harry Brashear, who was on the fringes of fandom but was a pretty good spot artist. He drew the cover and managed to trace a lot of the submitted artwork from well known fan artists of the time on standard mimeo stencils using a kitchen fork.
The problem was, of course, I had no money to produce it and no means, either. Harry solved this by having us walk into nearby Forest Park High School (the template, by the way, for Rydell High in Grease), go into the printing room, and run off about fifty copies of Centaur using the school's mimeograph and mimeo paper. Not a really shocking thing, except, of course, that I didn't attend Forest Park High. Instead, at that time I was going to Baltimore City College, which was a high school that also had a first-year junior college. Baltimore City was a very old school, third oldest in the United States, and it was housed in a massive stone castle-like building on a large campus. It also at the time had the most famous graduates in the arts (although they were always fond of noting that Leon Uris had been expelled from it) and it looked like a good bet if I was going to do any college prep work.
Baltimore City College had the reputation, but it was not local to me; it required me to catch a bus in front of my house and take it for six miles through rush hour traffic, then change to a second bus that went at least that far again through even worse streets and traffic. I lived in the northwestern part of the city, while City was just to the east of the middle of Baltimore.
Decembers in Baltimore can be chilly or warm; sometimes they can be both in the same day. I woke up one Wednesday morning in December, 1961, to find it well over 60°F and mostly sunny, and I never even checked the forecast (which was wrong, anyway). I got into school, and it proceeded like a normal day until about noon, when the temperature suddenly began dropping like a stone. By two o'clock it was in the thirties, and because of a general class disruption when the first snowflakes began to appear my English teacher kept the entire class after school. By 3:15 p.m., when he decided to let us go, there was already four inches of snow on the ground and it was falling like mad. Major snows in December are unusual; this one was a whopper.
Bus after bus went by as the snow piled up, all full with anxious students from the several high schools that funneled through the area. It was close to four o'clock before I finally got on one, after just about all the student traffic had already gone. The bus had to go west to connect to the second bus I'd need, which intersected at the end of the first bus's line. We pulled by the Johns Hopkins University, very slowly, and got onto the mile-long bridge over the deep Jones Falls Valley that essentially splits Baltimore in two. In the middle of the bridge, the snow and traffic were too much. We were stuck.
The bus driver urged us not to get off, since it was a long way to anywhere from where we were. The snow was still falling, and he had plenty of fuel so we had heat and light for many hours. Believe me, in that position, there was very little incentive to get out and walk, nor were any of us dressed for doing so. In the next few hours, those of us on that bus got to know each other very well indeed. One other City student on the bus was David Michael Ettlin, who was a year behind me. After I discovered he read science fiction, I got to talking about science fiction fandom and the recent Philcon I'd attended, and he was fascinated by discovery of all that was out there.
We were eventually rescued by city crews with industrial towtrucks and plows. It was about a week before the city recovered from the snow and I again went back to school. During that period, though, Dave and I spoke frequently on the phone, and he told me that he'd met a senior who not only knew more about science fiction than anybody he'd ever seen but had the kind of mind that was like a library card catalog. His name was Mark Owings, and the reason I had never met him was because he was what was called a 'midyear', that is, a student on a different calendar track whose school year ended in February rather than June. I had originally started as a midyear as well, but took a special set of summer courses in elementary school to get me on the 'normal' track. Mark never did, so he was graduating in February, while I was graduating in June. I met him in the cafeteria at City in early January 1962, and we started a conversation on a wide range of things that has not ended yet, and a collaboration on a number of projects based on our mutual love of books.
At this point I should mention that Dave, Mark and I were not, of course, the very first science fiction fans from Baltimore. In fact, there were fans in Baltimore as early as the 1930s, but nothing was organized in any meaningful way until the late 1950s. This was the Baltimore SF Forum, which was centered around students at the Johns Hopkins University (although not limited to them) and dominated by John Hitchcock, John Magnus, and Raleigh Multog. The club was really too student-based for its own longevity, though, and essentially fell apart by 1960 due to loss of members from graduation and growing lack of interest from those who remained. By 1963 the last of the Old Guard had graduated from grad school and were moving out of town to new careers. Multog called me out of the blue one day that spring and offered me his entire fanzine collection, which I accepted. Magnus sold his collection, both books and fanzines, at the 1963 Worldcon and then vanished as well. I haven't seen nor heard from anyone in this group since.
I had become aware that the group existed, but I had never attended any meetings nor got directly involved with any of them. Ironically, at that time I was much too involved with the Washington club, WSFA, a large and active organization, and had little interest in what was a dying institution that didn't even look to perpetuate itself.
At that point in my life I was working two jobs, attending high school, and with whatever money I made I bought stamps for letters, bought occasional books when I could afford them, and spent the rest going to Washington every first and third Friday for WSFA meetings. I had discovered the Washington Science Fiction Association in 1959, after reading Schuyler Miller's review column in Astounding that mentioned the forthcoming publication of a book called Fancyclopedia II by one Richard Eney of Alexandria, Virginia. I wrote to Eney to find out if it had appeared yet; it hadn't, but he noted that I lived in Baltimore and wrote back inviting me to attend a WSFA meeting. I explained to him that I was just fifteen and didn't have any transportation, and he responded that, if I could make it to the D.C. Trailways bus station, he would make sure I got to the meeting. From that point on, much of my money started going both for bus tickets and for the taxi to get back home from the station; I often got back from WSFA meetings at about three or four o'clock on Saturday mornings.
WSFA was quite active during that period and had a number of members around my age. The teen clique became basically Tom Haughey, Joe Mayhew, Don Studebaker, and myself. Meetings were held at the home of a retired elderly railroad lobbyist named Elizabeth Cullen and were being run by George Scithers, who was stationed in D.C. at the time. It was a golden time for the club, and it was the only real relief from work and school that I had.
In point of fact, it was somewhat frustrating to have my regular fannish life revolve entirely around WSFA; Baltimore is not right next door, I had no hopes of affording a car and the insurance, and I was now working more of the day than I was going to school. I actually longed for the now vanished Baltimore SF Forum, which would have been handier and cheaper.
By the end of 1962, Dave, Mark, and I were all riding the bus to WSFA. The trio had even expanded to a quartet with the addition of our only female interested in science fiction fandom, a girlfriend of mine named Enid Jacobs. The four of us were not only social regulars, we also attended various conventions, including Philcon, Disclave, and some irregular groupings of fans from New York and New Jersey that seemed about as socially disorganized as we were. Ettlin also seemed to be into recruiting, bringing one Baltimore-area person or another he'd run into either at school or in other walks of life. The trouble was, there wasn't anything there to recruit folks to. When you included Mayhew, Studebaker, and Haughey, we were more of a kind of gang of nerds than a real club.
At the end of 1962, Dave Ettlin, Mark, Enid, a friend of Ettlin's named Dave Katz, and I were coming back from the WSFA New Year's party. It was about three o'clock in the morning on New Year's Day, and we were sitting across the whole back of the Trailways bus. I think it was Ettlin, partly in jest, who suggested that we should form a new Baltimore club and provide some base to which members could be recruited. The rest of us more or less went along with it, although not with the feeling that this was going to go very far, and at that moment the Baltimore Science Fiction Society was born. The name was obvious; the choice of 'Society' rather than WSFA's 'Association' was not merely to eliminate common letters; Mark suggested it so that if anything did come of the group and it got some national recognition, it would never be confused with the British Science Fiction Association.
The first meeting was held a week later in Dave Ettlin's basement. Meetings later on tended to rotate between member's homes. Ettlin proved a recruiting fool, and by the end of 1963 had brought in a large number of people from all over the area, ranging from fellow high school and college students to the head of the University of Maryland's Pharmacology Department. These were not WSFAns but Baltimore people, many of whom were just discovering fandom, and the club grew as a separate and distinct unit, not just a group of WSFAns in Baltimore. Most notable in that group were Ron Bounds, Jerry Jacks, Pat Kelly, comics fan James 'Kim' Weston, and Ed Krieg, whose sister, Alice, didn't initially join but liked hanging around. There was also continued cross-pollination with WSFAns, although aside from Mayhew, few D.C.-area people were regulars at BSFS, while about half of BSFS continued to make it to WSFA meetings with some regularity. This was particularly important in 1963, since WSFA was running the World Science Fiction Convention that year and many BSFS people were working on it.
Tom Haughey, Joe Mayhew, and I were in charge of local publicity and promotion for Discon I, and we appeared on radio, television, and around campuses in the area. Among the fans brought into local fandom by hearing about the con locally were Jack and Joe Haldeman, and Doll and Alexis Gilliland. The Gillilands and Joe Haldeman (who met Gay Potter at a WSFA meeting and later married her) remained solidly WSFA, while Jack Haldeman (who was known as 'Jay' locally, primarily to distinguish him from me when somebody yelled "Jack!") moved to Baltimore after completing his degree in biology where he worked at the newly created Shock Trauma Center. However, Jay remained active in both clubs, and at one time was president of both BSFS and WSFA. He remained in Baltimore, though, and later married Alice Krieg.
In late 1965, there was another important addition to Baltimore fandom, when Don Sobwick moved to Baltimore to work as an editor at the Baltimore Sun newspaper. Dave Ettlin, who had a part time job there while in college, recruited him for the club. Sobwick worked on the morning edition of the newspaper, so his hours were generally from about 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday, which meant he couldn't make most club meetings. But instead of just saying the heck with it, Don offered his own apartment as an alternative meeting place that would open at 2:30 a.m.! For the rest of the 1960s, the club became schizophrenic, meeting at the usual places until about 1 a.m. Many people then piled into cars and headed for an International House of Pancakes or a White Coffee Pot (which, curiously enough, had good food but lousy coffee), where we had an early breakfast while waiting for Don to get home.
During the 1960s, almost all of the club's 'usual' meeting places were in the northwest or western part of the city, but Don lived so far over in east Baltimore that he was almost out of town. People who had cars with lots of room were highly popular! The aftermeetings at Don's were strictly parties, with lots of game-playing and all the usual fan silliness. These parties often attracted people who seldom if ever made the formal BSFS meetings, and they often didn't break up until ten or eleven o'clock on Sunday morning. Many times, I can remember watching George of the Jungle with the survivors, and then getting a taxi home.
While all this was going on, BSFS members were also engaged in other types of activities. One of these was Jay Haldeman's 'Guilford Gafia', a writers group that met in his house and attracted local and regional writers to various party/workshops that were often sleepovers. Guilford was the section of Baltimore where Jay's house was located (which provided an alliterative, less-pretentious alternative to Damon Knight's 'Milford Mafia' writers group up in Milford, Pennsylvania). I hate self-criticism sessions for writers so I wasn't much involved in it, but I do know that some of the regulars included Jay's brother Joe, Roger Zelazny (who had moved to Baltimore in 1964), and frequent Haldeman houseguest George Alec Effinger. There was also a gaming group that revolved around Ron Bounds, but had no formal name as such. Members often gathered on weekends and played elaborate war games, with 'Diplomacy' being a particular favorite. Both Ron and I published Diplomacy fanzines, which allowed play-by-mail...plus propaganda!
Besides these Diplomacy fanzines, many other fanzines of a more traditional nature were also published by BSFS members, so many that it was almost a fanzine-of-the-month club. Kim Weston is still one of the major experts on and collectors of comic books; he published comics-related fanzines and participated in comics-related amateur press associations. Bounds did other gaming fanzines, and I did Mirage.
Mirage evolved out of my earlier fanzine, Centaur. My second issue was called Kaleidoscope 2, but it had no title on the cover, as I had announced a contest for a permanent title. K2 couldn't have been more different from Centaur; this time August Derleth was the big influence, and the fanzine was very Lovecraftian in content. K2 was printed by Don Studebaker, and took some time to get out since I actually had to pay for supplies this time. I was very surprised by the positive reaction to it; I picked Mirage as the 'winner' for its permanent name (which had been suggested by a Sears & Roebuck salesman and would-be horror writer from Knoxville, Tennessee, named Gene Tipton) and decided to go with the 'serious and constructive' path that K2 had taken rather than the 'same-old same-old' of Centaur. The cover was drawn by David Prosser, a classical music disk jockey and part-time portrait painter from Ohio whose portraits of great opera stars are in major opera houses across the country. In fact, Prosser did the cover for every issue of Mirage and also designed the distinctive logo for Mirage (which I still use with my Mirage Press publications).
There were eight issues, in all, with the Mirage title. Because it had no competition, it attracted a contributor's list that in retrospect is quite impressive: I published nonfiction by deCamp, Leiber, and others, the first stories of Ed Bryant and Ray Nelson, the last stories of Seabury Quinn and David H. Keller, M.D., poetry by Tim Powers... well, you get the idea. Mirage eventually gained a large enough following and popularity that it was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo in 1963. The last five issues were collated at BSFS meetings, the times when the meetings were at my house. By the end of the run, circulation had reached one thousand copies, so collation was no trivial matter. Actually, everyone who attended had to collate the zines, because otherwise there was no room to sit down and have a business meeting!
[Next: Jack's condensed history of fandom in Baltimore concludes with the beginnings of Balticon, worldcon bids, those BSFS business meetings, and more...]
All illustrations by Joe Mayhew