The saddest form of closure of all is a remembrance article, and in the years that
we've been publishing Mimosa we've had to note the passing of many of our
contributors. That list is now depressingly long: Martha Beck, Bob Bloch, Vincent
Clarke, Dal Coger, Robert "Buck" Coulson, Ian Gunn, Chuck Harris, Lynn Hickman,
George "Lan" Laskowski, Joe Mayhew, Bruce Pelz, William Rotsler, Bob Shaw, and Walt
Willis. It's our regret to note that earlier this year, another name was added to
that list with the passing of Harry Warner, Jr. Here's more about him.
From the Hagerstown, Maryland Herald-Mail: "Harry B. Warner Jr., 80, of 423 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, died Monday, Feb. 17, 2003, at his home. Graveside services will be Friday at 10 a.m. at Rose Hill Cemetery, Hagerstown. The Rev. David B. Kaplan will officiate. Arrangements are by Andrew K. Coffman Funeral Home, Hagerstown."
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Such a stark announcement. Bare of any flamboyance or pretense, just as Harry was himself. Just the facts, plainly stated. It was the sort of announcement Harry would have written and kept on file for just such a circumstance, and since Harry had been a long time reporter for that paper, for all I know he may well have done that very thing. His colleagues at the paper and the local folks in Hagerstown remember him as something of a loner. A nice, quiet fellow who preferred his own company and didn't seem to have many friends or any family. We here in fandom know differently. Harry had more friends and more family than most people ever do, and though this legion is spread far beyond the boundaries of Harry's hometown they all knew very well the address '423 Summit Avenue' and the man who lived most of his 80 years there.
I traveled to Hagerstown, Maryland in the fall of 1988 to visit and interview Harry. We'd not met before though I'd sent him a copy of my first fanzine (as was the custom for all new fan editors in those days) three years earlier and his was the first letter of comment I'd received. He would amaze me later that day by mentioning that fanzine and remarking that he'd enjoyed a particular article in it. I arrived in town just after high noon, as previously arranged. It was a small, quiet town. Only a few other cars moved along the main street. Hagerstown seemed... isolated, somehow. It was the kind of town where I would expect to see a lot of antique shops and used bookstores, but though I did look, I didn't see any of those things. There was a huge and very old cemetery not far from town and I noticed the characteristic shapes of Civil War era grave markers scattered among the more ornate late-Victorian markers that are common in the Mid-Atlantic States. Turning at the next street led me to the foot of the hill that Summit Avenue ascends, and four houses along on the right was the most famous address in fandom: 423 Summit Avenue. It was a rather stately house, painted a sort of mild blue with a large porch and a newly rebuilt set of front steps. Before I could knock, the door opened and I met Harry Warner, Jr.
He was a rather gentle looking man, and was 65 at that time. He'd retired from a long career as a newspaperman not long before the time of my visit, but he was dressed as if for a day at the office, even wearing a tie. He invited me to enter and stood for a moment while I took in the surroundings. Walking into Harry's living room was like walking into the 1950s. The furniture, rugs, wallpaper, and the very atmosphere all belonged to an earlier time. It wasn't that anything seemed old or worn; in fact the room was clean and as neat as a pin. It's more that nothing in the room seemed to acknowledge that the current year was 1988 instead of 1950.
We sat down, I on a heavy overstuffed couch and he in what was obviously 'his' chair in the corner of the room that had the best natural light for reading. Across the room to my left was a low built-in shelving unit filled with hundreds of record albums, many of them classical or opera. Huge old floor speakers and various components of old but high quality audio equipment were located in that area. By the front door was a large basket that evidently held several pieces of mail including what looked to be about a dozen fanzines. When I asked, Harry told me that this was the mail from yesterday that he hadn't gotten to yet, rather than the previous week's mail as I had assumed. To my right I could see a parlor that evidently served as Harry's office. Centered in that room was his old manual typewriter. My eyes were drawn to that legendary fannish machine in the same way that in some alternate universe they would be drawn to the Enchanted Duplicator in whatever mythical room it sits.
"So that's the machine that launched a million locs, is it?" I ventured. Harry chuckled. "Hardly that many. I still try to respond to every fanzine I receive, but I doubt if that typewriter could stand that pace, and I'm pretty sure that I couldn't." Personal computers were starting to hit the market in those days and I asked if Harry had thought about getting one. "No, I've never liked computers for writing. I had to use one for my last three years at the newspaper but I detest those terminals. Several years ago I bought an electric typewriter but I just don't use it. I find I still prefer my old manual typewriter." I had to admit that the fanzine locs that I'd received from Harry seemed to have a certain presence with their slightly faded ink and their slightly misaligned keys.
Since I'd come there to do an interview I thought I should ask the usual background questions. "No," replied Harry, "I haven't always lived in Hagerstown. I was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but I came here before I was old enough to know anything about it. I've lived here ever since."
CP: When you were growing up, did you ever know anyone else who was interested in science fiction?
HW: Not a soul. Never knew anybody who read science fiction until I'd started corresponding and started planning my first fanzine. Besides me there's never been anyone from Hagerstown active enough in fandom to have become generally known, though there are a few people here who go to conventions. But I've not had any direct contact with them. There have been fans that've lived here for a short time and even published fanzines from here. Chick Derry, an old time Washington fan lived here for maybe six months, and there was another young fan named Jerry Forrest who put out one issue of a fanzine while living here and working for the Health Department. Then he moved to the Southwest and I never heard of him again.
CP: Did your work as a newspaper reporter help develop your fanwriting style?
HW: It may have helped me in meeting deadlines for fanwriting. I got into the habit of meeting deadlines for the newspaper and that made it easier for me to write to schedule for the fanzines. I doubt if it had any effect on my writing style though. Very different types of writing. Most of my fanwriting is just comments or material derived from other fan's comments.
CP: As you know, you are somewhat famous for keeping yourself relatively isolated here in Hagerstown. Why have you only rarely traveled around to conventions and such?
HW: Well, I'm not the gregarious type. I've always been happy doing things by myself or with just one or two other people. I hate to travel at all. I hate to drive or ride public carriers and my job for 40 years prevented me from doing too much traveling. I had to be in Hagerstown at certain times to cover certain events and there was no getting away from that. So it was just a combination of circumstances. I've been perfectly happy with the fanzine aspect of fandom. I haven't cared too much for the conventions. Halfway through the first day of a convention I would start to wonder if I wouldn't be happier at home listening to music or watching a ballgame. There're just too many people at conventions and most of them are interested only in some sub-fandom other than fanzine fandom. Of course I suppose that this is also the strong point of conventions in that at least you have a chance to meet interesting people who aren't involved in fanzines.
CP: What's the truth about the legend of how you once left a convention early to take in a baseball game?
HW: You know, I thought you might mention that. To me it was no different than going out to a special restaurant would be, but that story has taken on a life of it's own. At the 1971 Noreascon in Boston (where Harry was the Fan Guest of Honor -- CP) I did spend one afternoon at Fenway Park. I got permission from the chairman of the convention committee. He even offered to pay my taxi fare but I walked. I made no secret about it, but I figured it was probably my only hope of ever seeing a baseball game at Fenway Park, so I went.
CP: Do you see much difference in how fandom is viewed these days by people involved in SF today as compared to the `40s and `50s?
HW: Yes and no. I don't think the fans themselves are really different in any basic way, but several things about fandom have changed. One difference is that fandom doesn't produce graduates to the professional ranks the way it used to. Most of the people coming into the pro ranks today have never been involved in sf fandom at all. Back in the `60s it seemed as if every other sf pro either still was or had been an active fan for years and years.
CP: What do you think it is that's characteristic among the very different sorts of people who become a part of fandom?
HW: Oh, I don't think there's any common factor, really. [Jack] Speer thinks that all fans are handicapped in some way or another but he has to stretch 'handicapped' to cover so many different circumstances that I don't think his theory holds up. For instance, he thinks growing up in a small town is a handicap. And an attempt was once made to prove that all fans are either first-born children or only children, but I don't think there's anything to that. There are those who claim that 'intelligence' is synonymous with 'fandom' but the evidence is yet to be provided on that claim. A fan has to be intelligent enough to read but outside of that I don't think there's any common factor.
CP: That sounds something that might have been inspired by Slan (by A.E. Van Vogt, Astounding Science Fiction, Sept. -- Dec. 1940) and reminds me of Claude Degler and his 'Ozark Love Camp' idea.
HW: Degler may very possibly have been inspired by Slan. I think that novel may have inspired a lot of individuals at the time into thinking that maybe fans were a 'chosen race' because the Slans in the story were separate and different from the rest of humanity, and fans in those days did feel a sense of being 'different' somehow. But Degler seemed to take that sort of thing to heart like no one else.
CP: What were your favorite science fiction books and writers in the days when you were first becoming an active fan and how does that compare with what you're reading these days?
HW: I liked Astounding, mostly. Unknown was a favorite. I admired Galaxy very much and I think that Horace Gold was an extremely good editor who has never gotten the recognition he deserves. In many ways Galaxy was better than Astounding and Analog.
Most of what I read these days tends to be detective stories and literary classics. I don't read very much science fiction anymore. When I do I usually re-read some of the older classics from the `30s, `40s, or `50s. I don't see very much of what I consider to be true science fiction appearing these days. Most of it is very thinly disguised stories of today set in the very near future, or fantasy disguised as science fiction.
CP: Who are some of the 'classic' SF writers that you do still enjoy re-reading?
HW: I've always liked "Doc" Smith though not many people do anymore. And David H. Keller, who is all but unknown today. To that you can add Stanley Weinbaum, Henry Kuttner, and certainly Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke.
CP: What sort of fanwriting are you doing these days? Do you write any regular columns?
HW: I did have a regular column in Marty Cantor's Holier Than Thou but I understand that Marty has suspended that fanzine so I suspect that'll be the last regular column that I ever write. I'm sorry to see Holier Than Thou come to an end. I think it was an excellent fanzine and Marty always lined up some first-class material for each issue.
CP: What would you say are some of the most important fannish documents; books and articles that you'd suggest that I search out and read?
HW: Certainly [F.T. Laney's] Ah, Sweet Idiocy! and [Sam Moskowitz's] The Immortal Storm. It was Sam's book that inspired me to write All Our Yesterdays. I suppose I was just intrigued at the idea of continuing Sam's history. There was a letter from Bill Temple that was published in Voice of The Imagi-Nation back in WWII that is certainly a seminal document. It discussed the reasons why a person becomes a fan and stays a fan, and it's been reprinted in recent years. Probably you'd have to include the write-up in Time magazine about the first World Science Fiction Convention. That article immortalized the phrase "Gosh, Wow, Boy-Oh-Boy!" and that'll probably go down in history. You'd have to read The Enchanted Duplicator and something by John Berry -- the Irish John Berry -- probably his "Goon" series. You should read lots of Terry Carr's articles. "My Fair Femfan" is one of my favorites. Jack Speer's "Up Till Now" is important for being the first look at fandom's history and the inspiration for all the fanhistorical writing that followed it.
CP: What are your thoughts on the problems of access and permanence of fanzines, particularly your own?
HW: In my first year or two of fanzine activity I used to keep carbon copies of all the articles I wrote and I kept the zines in neat order, but I soon stopped bothering with that. My fanzines now are in no particular order and I wouldn't be able to find any particular zine without a lot of searching. I fear that a lot of older fanzine material -- not just my own zines but in general -- are in danger of being lost if indeed they aren't already lost to the ravages of neglect and time.
CP: Are there any universities interested in preserving your collection?
HW: I haven't heard directly from any university, no. I've heard from fans who've urged me to contact this or that university to consider a bequest, but I'm kind of pessimistic about chances for fanzine survival in big mundane libraries because I've heard so many horror stories about what happens to library holdings when an administration changes or when they start to run short of space.
CP: What do you think would be the best way to ensure the survival of fanzine collections?
HW: Through dealers I suppose. (We had earlier been discussing the then-recent sale of a large collection of fanzines to a certain college. -- CP). Dealers might pay them more respect than university libraries since they can make some money out of them. Now if something turned up that I thought was really safe; if the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian were interested in them, that would be fine. But I'm sure that neither of those institutions have the space to spare for fanzines.
CP: I've heard it said that in the `30s and `40s there was no thought at all that fanzines would last beyond the immediate interest of those who were the first to read them. Was there really no thought that fandom in those days was the start of something that was going to continue for years and years?
HW: I don't think there was. When you're young you don't think much about your future. When you're in your teens you don't think you're ever going to be old enough to retire. I think it was the same with early fandom. It just didn't occur to us that fandom was something that would still be around 50 years in the future. I suppose that's another way that fandom today differs from fandom back then. We didn't have all this back history of fannish tradition to consider that you do today. I'm not going to speculate on whether that was more of an advantage for us then or for fans now, though. No, we were just science fiction fans then. We thought about space travel and atomic energy and so forth but I don't remember anyone ever seriously considering the future of fandom.
CP: How does the future of fandom and science fiction look to you now?
HW: I just don't know. I hope it'll continue, and I think it should continue, but whether it can survive the changes in the ways people behave and the ways people entertain themselves, I don't know. Books are getting to be more and more expensive. Some paperbacks are more expensive than videocassettes now. (At the time of this interview in 1988 a new paperback cost $4.50. -- CP) Unless some revolution in publishing comes about I fear for the future of books, or at least for books published for a mass market. It's not that hard to imagine a day when science fiction fandom dies out because no one can afford to buy books just for reading pleasure. Fandom itself is a different matter, as you know. I'm sure it'll go on in some fashion, but it won't be the same as when all fans generally read most of the science fiction magazines. But fandom really moved beyond that long ago. And there are still a lot of good fanzines being published and a lot of good fanwriting being written. I hope there always will be.
# # # #
That afternoon passed before I was aware of it and all too soon I knew it was time to go. I talked Harry into letting me take a few photographs, my favorite being the last one I snapped of him on impulse outside in his yard just before I got in my car. It shows him just the way I remember him today; smiling, relaxed, a fan that has enjoyed his years in fandom and is content with life. Of course, on the way home I quickly thought of far better questions that I should have asked him or better ways of asking the silly ones that I did ask. But that was many years ago now and none of it matters anymore. I didn't ask him if he thought that "Fandom Is A Way Of Life." I didn't have to. Harry helped demonstrate to me that although fandom is based on things and ideas that most people outside of fandom would consider trivial, that doesn't matter at all so long as whatever fannish way of life we choose to live is lived well and lived according to the standards that we each choose for ourselves. Harry lived much of his life in that house at 423 Summit Ave., but he explored the world through the letters and fanzines he wrote and read. And we fans who are left to testify can surely say that Harry Warner, Jr., blazed new trails and explored them well.
I think that if Harry were still with us, I wouldn't particularly want to ask more questions about fandom or fanzines. He's already answered all my questions in thousands of locs and articles that I expect I'll find in good time as I read old fanzines. No, I think if I could ask Harry just one more question right now, I'd ask if he'd like to go and see a baseball game with me. It's a beautiful spring day today, the sun is warm and the winds are fair, and I think the Red Sox are playing at home...
Title illustration by Kip Williams
Photo by Curt Phillips