Time now for a look at some of the previous Chicons. The second one, in 1952, at the Morrison Hotel, remains to this day the most legendary of the series. Walt Willis was able to attend, thanks to the 'WAW with the Crew in `52' fund that brought him to America. Hugo Gernsback was the Guest of Honor, and suggested in his speech that ideas that appear in science fiction stories ought to be patentable for the authors. And there was also the 'penthouse fandom', the small contingent of fans from the San Francisco area who had come to Chicon to bid for the next year's worldcon, but instead endeared themselves to everyone as party hosts. Here's more on that.
'Stalking the Vampire' by Esther Cole; 
  title illo by Kip Williams
It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning flashed through the curtains. The window was open and bursts of air roared through the room. This was the 42nd floor of the Morrison Hotel -- the penthouse suite -- and the suite was swaying. Added to the cacophony of the storm was the frantic flapping of a giant moth with giant wings. I saw him outlined again the curtains when the lightning streaked. Suddenly, with horror, I knew this was not a moth, but a bat. And not an ordinary bat. A vampire bat!

Among the various bodies sleeping in the room was my 4½-month son Dana; a helpless infant. That bat was going to suck the blood out of my baby! Probably even turn him into a vampire. I screamed and woke up Les. (Les Cole, writer, husband, and father to Dana.)

How did we get into this predicament and how were we going to get out?

This predicament was the 1952 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago. At the Morrison Hotel. And at the top of the hotel in the penthouse suite were eight of us from Berkeley, California, representing the Elves', Gnomes' and Little Men's Science Fiction Chowder and Marching Society. Les was president, and the group was lobbying to bring the next world's science fiction convention to San Francisco.

At the time, bringing an s-f convention to California seemed like an important thing to do. The year before Les, representing The Little Men had filed a claim with the United Nations for a hunk of the moon {{ ed. note: see "The Men Who Claimed the Moon" in Mimosa 18 }}. At that time, claiming a hunk of the moon seemed like an important thing to do, too. The attendant publicity (from around the world) made it seem, if not important, at least, noteworthy. Les and The Little Men had gotten the attention of organized science fiction. In order to win the next convention, we'd need representation in Chicago.

However, we were responsible adults, with a young baby, and no assets. Getting to Chicago was beyond our means. Until... until our friends, David and June Koblick, announced they would be driving and if we wanted to ride with them, it would cost hardly anything. Then the Chicago convention committee told us about the penthouse suite. It had three bedrooms and with eight people splitting the exorbitant rate of $100 per day -- we could almost afford that, as well. Les would have to quit his job to go on the trip, but he didn't think it would take him long to find another once we got back. We counted our assets and found we'd have enough money to support us for a month after our return. Being responsible adults and parents, we decided to take the Koblicks up on their offer.

With four rotating drivers, we drove straight through from Berkeley to Chicago in two and a half days. The rest of us got cranky, but baby Dana was a trooper. I was still nursing him, and we had found some early models of disposable diapers. He was a great traveler.

Grungy, bleary-eyed, grouchy, we checked into and up to the penthouse, and perked up. One hundred dollars a day in 1953 bought us: 3 bedrooms, with bathrooms and dressing rooms en suite; a 30 x 20 foot living room, a 30 x 20 foot dining room, and a lounge-bar upholstered in faux leopard, a kitchen with two sinks, two refrigerators, two stoves, and dishes and flatware for 300 people. The kitchen was handy for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we lived on for the next couple of days.

The hotel elevator came right up to the penthouse suite. There was a small foyer, but since there were no other accommodations on that floor, at first we didn't bother to lock the door. Then people started to wander through. First people from the convention and then other people who had spent wedding nights and other memorable occasions up there.

illo by Kip Williams Then we got approached by a group who wanted to throw a private party. As long as they were paying for food and drink, we had no objections. Before the evening ended, the private party included most of the conventioneers -- about 350 people.

Science fiction folk are a little bit strange. They like to dress up in costumes, and soon you can't tell the people who are dressed up from those who aren't. One lady wore three heads. She had ingeniously fashioned two life-like heads on either side of her own. She came up to visit us and caught one of the heads in the elevator doors. You guessed it, her real head.

Our roommate, June Koblick walked around with three breasts. I still can't swear if any of them were phony.

So it went. The Berkeley bloc was hustling people to bring a convention to the West Coast. Fans hustled writers, writers hustled editors. There was a floating poker game that was no fantasy. Everything normal until the night of the storm and the attack of the vampire bat.

Remember? There was this big, flapping thing, and innocent Dana, and my shaking Les to get up and do something. Les doesn't wake up easily. Especially since we had hosted our own party the night before and we'd all gotten to sleep about 3am. Les mumbled and groped. He finally got the idea that something was wrong and he was expected to put it right. I told him about the bat. He finally got the idea and then got one of his own.

That year, birdcage purses were popular. They looked like lettuce twirlers. A wire framework that opened from the top. You dropped a scarf into it, so small objects wouldn't fall through the frame. Les had this brilliant idea. At a science fiction convention, a pet bat would be a great accessory. He would, fearlessly, capture that threatening bat, place it in my birdcage purse, and I'd wander with it throughout the convention.

Only one problem -- by the time Les was semi-alert, and had worked out his plan of capture, and we had awakened all the people in the penthouse, there was no longer any sign of the bat. We were thorough, but totally unsuccessful in our search. We didn't get much sleep that night; I tended to hover over Dana.

There were no more storms, and no more invasions. It finally became clear to me what had happened to that vampire bat. All he had to do was return to his normal form as Count Dracula. He could have wandered through the convention. He would have blended in amid all the other costumed folk, no one ever the wiser. He was safe as long as he kept away from the penthouse suite and the bat stalkers with the birdcage purse.

Anyway, it turned out that we didn't win the bid for the 1953 Worldcon (Philadelphia did), but my memories of that Chicon aren't about what we weren't able to do. We had a wonderful time! The four days we were at Chicon went by too fast, and too soon it was time for the long trip back to Berkeley. So when the morning came to leave on the long drive home, we were all tired, edgy, and yet keyed up. We expected that the return journey would be a bit more leisurely, and except for stops at Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, uneventful.

But we were wrong!

in the next issue of Mimosa: The trip home includes a stop in the Twilight Zone.

All illustrations by Kip Williams

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