Passing on the Fire
Windy City Pulp & Paperback Convention, 2005
by Rodney Schroeter
Torrentially white, blinding sheets of rain--slapping our car back and forth on the highway, as a gangster slaps a recalcitrant punk's face from side to side.
Such was our trip to Rosemont, Illinois, that Friday, April 22, 2005.
Our goal: The fifth annual Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention. At my side, my lovely, cheerful, and ever-helpful assistant Kathryn, who has accompanied me on many such trips (to my great advantage). In the back seat--I glanced in the rear-view mirror--two of our nieces, aged 11 and 11, respectively.
I lost a lot of sleep, the Friday night of exactly five weeks before.
Kathryn would tell me it was due to the good news--that our two nieces could come with us to Windy City. We'd been visiting at my parents' home with my brother, his wife, and their four girls. There, we had discussed final details and logistics for the twins to accompany us.
I'd wanted all four nieces to go, even lobbying the year before for such to happen at 2004's show. But one lesson that life broadcasts, for those properly tuned to station REALITY's wavelength, is this principle: The very qualities of character that make another person interesting and worth spending quality time with--active intellects and good attitudes--are the same characteristics that imbue those people with a tremendously busy lifestyle. Thus, as a general, paradoxical rule, the more desirable it is to spend time with a given person, the more busy that person will be, and the more difficult it is to spend time with him/her.
Case in point: The older girls had definite commitments, ranging from the academic to the aquatically recreational. The fact that those commitments would only increase with the years, was an argument I tried to use, months before: Come along to one pulp show, before you move away to college at Harvard, or Florence; before you start a career in whitewater safety and rescue, or interior design; before you marry, start families, and--after a few years--finally reflect, "Gosh, all these years Uncle Rodney's begged us to go to the pulp show and now, well, I rather think I'll give it a try," and bring the subject up to your husband, who'd respond, "Pulp show?! What kind of nonsense is that!?"
So, two nieces would come with us. Yes, that pumped enough adrenaline and euphoria into my system to disrupt my sleep patterns. But also keeping me awake was the planning. Yes, planning... as I lie there, that night five weeks before, the mechanisms in my mind whirling, cranking, oscillating, pulsating with all the frenzied motion of the pistoning machines and flashing lights of Metropolis.
Planning... I blinked, wrestling with the steering wheel against forces buffeting the car which were as much aqueous as aerodynamic. I stole another quick look in the rear-view mirror, saw there my own eyes, nestled in their dark pits of gristle.
Ah, the look in those eyes--that violent sparkle--combined with the tightness at the corners of my mouth as I tried not to let loose a grin that would spread Gwynplaine-like across my face and threaten to tear the very flesh--!
Such a look, some people would label as mad, insane, that of a crazed lunatic. Would that such people could catch the merest glimpse inside my mind, and see the purposeful fires burning there. Only someone who knows that same level of intensity, would understand the blazing flames pushing me on, hurtling toward Rosemont like an overheated steam-engine--the blazing flames of a collector.
Adding to my collector's anticipation was my double-purpose experiment, for which I continued to plan, even as we hydroplaned erratically down the highway. I dared not reveal this to anyone, for the thought of using human subjects, especially without their knowledge, is repulsive to those who fail to understand the motivations of a modern Prometheus such as myself.
For, my intent was to use my two nieces as subjects in this two-tiered experiment.
(In the spirit of the scientific document I herein bequeath to humanity, I shall not give the actual names of my nieces. Rather, I henceforth refer to them as "Alpha" and "Beta.")
Finally, the exit onto Mannheim Road, and the Ramada Plaza. I illegally parked at a lobby side door. We scrambled out, Kathryn and Alpha running off to attempt registration, Beta standing guard at an ever-growing pile of boxes I unloaded from the car.
The first person I recognized from past WCPPCs could not have been more welcome: George Vanderburgh, who published under his colophon of The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box. I expected "payment" for a past job I'd done for him, and we'd have much to discuss regarding future projects.
I introduced him to Beta. George offered the use of his wheeled cart to transport my boxes, and it took a confusing moment to realize that he thought I wanted to take them to the dealer's room (I did have enough sheer bulk to cover a table), while I really wanted to drag them to a room--but which room?
Kathryn and Alpha appeared and informed us that, because of a major dysfunction in the hotel's electronic brain, no room keys worked in all of the building, and entry to our room was precipitant upon personal assistance from a service professional. With George's help, we transported our accouterments to the fifth floor, where a hotel gentleman afforded us entry.
Checked in! A cause for minor wonderment, that; many were the occasions when early arrival was greeted by a wide-eyed clerk, head tilted, singing, "Your Room is Not Yet Re-eady...! Check-In Time is Three O'Clo-ock...!"
I subjected the luxurious accommodations to a perfunctory appraisal, all the time trying to quell the ever-increasing heat tingling in my temporal lobes. The rain storm had served to delay our arrival slightly. Thus--
It galled me, it absolutely caused my nerves to shriek in quivering protest, that, as we stood there--the dealer's room had already been open for ten minutes!
I gently verbalized this fact and, giving the ladies more than adequate moments to prepare, I asked, "Are you ready for adventure?"
They were. I was.
Our surroundings triggered memories, as we hurried from the elevators, through the lobby, down the long hallway past the sports bar, into a large, lower level. I'd first been here for 1985's Chicago Comicon, which featured guest of honor Sergio Aragones. I'd brought Kathryn and Keith here to 1989's con, and I'd met Jim Steranko here for the first time in 1991.
Kathryn considered this hotel far superior to those hosting prior WCPPCs, and I vociferously agreed. We'd seen the outdoor pool move by, as we'd leisurely rushed down the long hallway. Kathryn and I had made extensive, detailed contingency plans, in case the girls suffered from severe boredom during the pulp show; use of the pool was one attractive option, as both twins were champion swimmers. However, the pool was closed.
WCPPC registration was once again handled with friendly competence by Phyllis and Robert Fulton. (Hm... I wonder if he's related to--)
I held ready my receipt for two memberships I'd purchased at the close of last year's show. It was not needed; all four of us were on record, our badges mailed to me weeks previously.
Kathryn and I received attractive cloth bags, with the same Randy Broecker artwork as on the badges. These were filled, St. Nick fashion, with delightful goodies: An issue of G8 and His Battle Aces from Adventure House; The Other Detective Pulp Heroes, by Wooda N. Carr; an Oriental Stories ashcan facsimile, with a Seabury Quinn story, published jointly by Doug Ellis' Tattered Pages Press and Tom Roberts' Black Dog Books; The Man Who Stayed, a 4-page story by L. Patrick Greene, from Black Dog. The latter two were published especially for this Windy City show.
And of course, Windy City Pulp Stories #5, the convention's official booklet, with an Ernest Chiriacka front cover, and H.W. McCauley back cover.
Sadly, Alpha and Beta received no tote bags. It made sense: Their memberships were free; free meant no frills. (The next day, however, I bought them each a bag, goodies included, for a nominal charge.)
At last--the dealer's room. Spacious, well-lit, and--to my weekend-long relief--of comfortable temperature.
On this opening day, the room would be open from 2:00 to 6:00. My planned strategy, which I stood ready to alter or abandon as necessary, was to escort Beta and Alpha, looking at tables, not going into great detail (exempli gratia, digging through pulp boxes), but commenting as needed. Because Kathryn's knowledge of this popular-culture macrocosm continued to grow, her comments were also solicited, but she soon separated from us.
This plan met with great success. I introduced them to other attendees, brought to their attention the work of artists, writers, subject matter--whatever I thought worthwhile, based on my years of hard-earned expertise.
We progressed from table to table, pausing at George's. He proudly showed me the just-published two-volume Compleat Green Ghost. This was the second project I'd proofread for him; I'd given the corrected manuscript to him in September 2004, when he visited our home, en route to Door County. "Well come on, Rodney," George said, "show a little excitement!" I had to chuckle; as anxious as I was to pore through this finished product that I'd had a hand in refining, I was also preoccupied with covering the entire dealer room and monitoring the interest levels of Alpha and Beta. I did show the girls my short article at the end of the Green Ghost set, and assured George I'd pick up these and other books from him before the room closed.
Entering a smaller, adjoining room, we saw a flurry of activity. John Gunnison and several others frantically arranged scads of stacks of books on two tables. These were items for that night's estate sale auction. A treasure-trove! Paperbacks. Big Little Books (the nature of which I explained to Beta and Alpha). Pulps. Fanzines. Delightful miscellanea. Some were to be sold individually; some, in lots. My pulse bulged; my eyes raced.
We approached Girasol Collectibles. In the months prior to Windy City, I'd thought I'd need to shield Alpha and Beta from the more horrifying items that would be displayed there. But, during that visit five weeks before, they'd again urged me to see one of their favorite movies--Pirates of the Caribbean. Since they are receptive to things I suggest, and since they were about to be inundated with further recommendations at Windy City, I thought it only fair that I accept their recommendation, and see the movie. Wow! The violence and horror in it surprised me, and I realized: I didn't have to insulate them as much as I'd thought.
But now, Neil Mechem decided to do some insulating. As we stood at their table, he glanced at the girls, then strategically placed a price label on the cover of a Saucy Movie Tales replica, obscuring the exposed pectoral extremities of a lovely cover model portraying an authentic pirate. Indicating this title, I asked him if they had any merit. "They're very rare," he offered. Well, all right, but I was asking about literary merit. That was a feature they'd justifiably bragged about when they'd reprinted all seven issues of Strange Tales. He shrugged. "No." (I solicit other opinions on whether Saucy Movie Tales are worth acquiring, other than for their covers.)
I examined the replicas, Arkham House books, and other first editions. One was the original AH edition of The Mind Parasites, by Colin Wilson; that had made a deep impression on me at age fifteen. There was a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, signed by Ray Bradbury (which, I would heard after the con, Roger would purchase).
Then I saw it--my First Big Buy of the convention. The Weird Tales with Conan on the cover, fighting a giant snake. The cover had been signed (likely, two years before at Windy City) by Hugh B. Cave! A perfect First Big Buy. This was the issue that Vincent D'Onofrio (playing Robert E. Howard) gives Renee Zellweger (as Novalyn Price--love that name!) in the film, The Whole Wide World. This purchase continued my tradition of at least one special Weird Tales each year.
Kathryn joined us and excitedly reported sighting a nurse-themed paperback cover painting. We all proceeded directly to this dealer, who was the same fellow carrying all the Mike Hinge art the year before. Beta and Alpha bought cartoon paperbacks, I bought Kathryn the Highway Nurse painting, and she bought a large Hinge painting (three colorful images of a woman's face). He had a lot of attractive pieces. A large pencil drawing by Hinge, of a southern belle in a large sun bonnet, especially impressed me.
Dealers commented, "It's nice to see young people involved in this hobby," or asked, "What do you girls collect?" I refrained from jumping in and answering for the twins. Certainly, I would not explain my great experiment.
Anthony Tollin's table included several old time radio sets.
"Do you have any 'Suspense'?" asked Alpha. I instantly snapped alert at the question, and my eyes narrowed. Data for the experiment!
Tollin had no Suspense sets, but he described the anthologies he carried, explaining that some contained Suspense episodes. As soon as I saw they were seriously interested in splitting the cost of a set, I told them that, anything they bought at that table, I'd pay half for, with half the item's ownership going to me.
They bought a CD set of episodes selected by Ray Bradbury. Tollin signed the set's booklet, which he'd written. I reminded Alpha and Beta of where they'd heard of Bradbury, just the previous day.
Alpha and Beta had camped out in our home, the night before. That evening, and earlier this Friday morning, they'd been subjected to an intense and elaborate preparatory process, part of which was their selection of items by people scheduled to be at Windy City. Some items were extras I had; some, I'd purchased in the weeks prior to Windy City; others I gladly let them have from my collection. Each girl had her own box to decorate attractively, and store items that could be signed by Randy Broecker, Gary Gianni, Phyllis Eisenstein, Bob Weinberg, Frank Robinson, Tom Roberts, and Guest of Honor Ernest Chiriacka.
I'd purchased several copies of Illustration Magazine #8, October 2003, which carried David Saunders' article on Chiriacka. So when we approached the table where Chiriacka and his daughter Athene Westergaard sat, the twins were prepared with this magazine, and other items.
Chiriacka very graciously shook each girl's hand. He signed the magazines on pages carefully marked by Beta and Alpha during their prep procedure. Beta had also selected the September 1946 Dime Detective pulp from my offerings, and Chiriacka signed the cover for her, which featured a great story-telling scene of a plastic surgeon who had "carved out" (yuk yuk!) justice for a killer.
His daughter was also very kind. I had been confident that people generally at Windy City would treat my nieces well, but I still appreciated all the nice treatment they received from dealers, guests, and other attendees. The girls showed their appreciation, as well, with "Thank you"s to each sensible act of non-random kindness.
Chiriacka signed two items for me: The February 1946 issue of Dime Detective, purchased at Windy City 2004 (containing an Inspector Allhoff story); and a 1975 booklet of his western paintings, received days before from an eBay seller. Seeing this, Athene excitedly asked where I'd found it; that it had been years since she'd seen a copy. Her reaction prompted me to offer to give it to her, but she assured me they had a copy filed away somewhere.
Chiriacka had two 11 x 13 inch prints available for purchase; one of a cowboy; the other, a glamorous pinup woman. Alpha had selected that very same cowboy painting for Chiriacka to sign, in her copy of Illustration (page 9). (The pin-up is on page 30, right.) I bought a cowboy print for each girl. On the back of one, Chiriacka had drawn a self-caricature; he completed the one he'd started on the back of another, to make the sale complete. A touching little bonus!
I returned to George's table, but he was gone. Bob Weinberg explained that he'd driven all night from his home in Canada, and was too tired to stay at the table.
We had a nice buffet dinner at the restaurant, then made our way to that night's estate sale auction.
I bought several lots: Girasol Shadow replicas; a stack of Avenger paperbacks--later editions in the series, which were not pulp reprints, but newly-written episodes by Ron Goulart; a stack of Doc Savage paperbacks with Bama covers; various lots with Doc Savage fanzines, reprints of Mandrake and Dick Tracy; the Adventure House Guide to the Pulps; Roscoes in the Night, a bookful of Dan Turner stories by Robert Leslie Bellem, published by Adventure House.
I already had some of this stuff--the Doc books, the Bellem book (I buy just about anything Gunnison publishes, as I value excellence), and I once had all the Avengers, purchased off the racks, but had sold all 36 on eBay. But the prices were good. Some of these would be for resale. Others, for keeps--for the time being. Others...
The ladies left early, carrying away loads of books I'd already purchased. At auction end, I returned to the hotel room to find them watching a movie. I let the girls pick out several Docs and Avengers.
As the others drifted off to sleep, I lie awake, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, grinning. I at last fell into a fitful slumber. I awoke very early, and continued calculating my plans.
Saturday morning. April 23rd.
We continued looking through the dealer's room. George was rested and refreshed, and presented to me my two sets of The Compleat Green Ghost. I asked him about his use of the word "Compleat," curious whether the word had significance other than the standard "Complete." No, it was just a personal preference. "Did you notice the error?" he asked. He pointed out the use of "Complete" on the dust jacket, then indicated the interior, which used "Compleat." Ah! A printing / publishing error, sure to make the Green Ghost set much more desirable for the collector!
Sitting at George's table was Garyn Roberts. I'd looked forward to meeting this pulp historian, who had written introductory material to both the Moon Man and Green Ghost compilations. After a rewarding though brief conversation, I purchased several items from George: The 3-vol Jules de Grandin collection, edited by Robert Weinberg (a tremendous achievement in pulp reprint history); The Compleat Adventures of the Dean (one of the most interesting, enjoyable books I'd acquired the year before; I now bought a copy for one of the at-home nieces); The Complete Adventures of the Golden Amazon, Volume I; and The Magical Mysteries of Don Diavolo, The Scarlet Wizard.
I've acquired a tremendous amount of things, in my collecting lifetime. But I've also traded away, sold, or (considering what I received in payment) practically given away a staggering amount. (The absolute worst deal I ever made: On returning to Wisconsin in 1985 from teaching seven years in North Dakota, I "traded" fifteen boxes of books, comics, and magazines, for a twenty-dollar issue of Tales of Suspense #40. If that weren't an already painful enough burden to drag through life, consider: The century-old, downtown Milwaukee building that housed the bookstore receiving those fifteen boxes burned to the ground about three years later.) (I didn't do it.)
Of the many things I've let go, there are a handful of items (few in number, fortunately for my peace of mind) that I've later regretted releasing. Night Images, a large book of poetry by Robert E. Howard, is one. A print of Golden Girl, published by Russ Cochran and signed by Frazetta, another. But now, I was able to re-acquire an item I'd once sold to the late owner of the comic book shop I patronize: A signed-bookplate Carcosa edition of Far Lands, Other Days, by E. Hoffmann Price. I bought it at a mere ten times the price I'd originally paid in the late 70s for my original copy.
I took a load of goodies to the hotel room. Returning alone through the lobby area, I spotted Larry. He seemed to be looking the place over, recalling past Chicago Comicons as I had. We exchanged warm, ritualistic greetings, and headed for the heart of the action. With everyone assembled, I made introductions. "This is Roger," I told Alpha and Beta. "Remember? The one I told you about, with that Weird Tales...?"
Both brightened with recollection and asked, nearly simultaneously, "Are you still mad about that Weird Tales?" Thus was given further life, to one of our close-knit cadre's on-going jokes that dates back to 2002.
"Frank Robinson is at his table," I told Beta and Alpha. "Let's go see him."
Each twin had ready a paperback copy of Robinson's book, Science Fiction of the 20th Century, and a copy of The Power. We stood for a moment, listening to Robinson talking with someone in that deep, vibrant voice. Someone else, seeing us standing there, tapped Frank on the shoulder and whispered to him. He turned to us. After signing the books, he eyed the twins, then placed before them a stack of cover proofs, used in Pulp Culture, which he'd co-written. He told the girls to each pick one. Beta picked a Sport Story Magazine (number 3 on page 127). Alpha selected an Argosy (page 178). They each thanked him.
I asked Robinson if he'd been very disappointed with the movie version of The Power. He grimaced, and said they'd spoiled it. George Pal had apologized to him, the only time someone in Hollywood had ever done that. I explained that, for what it was worth, I'd shown that movie to Alpha and Beta (as part of the orientation / prep).
As we headed for our room to deposit signed and purchased goodies, we met Ernest Chiriacka and his daughter in the long hallway. She said, "Hello, ladies." Ernest said, "Ah, the ladies," and stopped, standing straight, then bowed debonairly, motioning politely for us to pass.
We toured the art room soon after it opened. I would have spent more time there, especially examining the many Wallace Wood SF originals from the collection of the Eisensteins. But that room was uncomfortably warm, and excess heat is anathema to a brain that's been over-stimulated by convention activities.
I'd eagerly anticipated the presentation in the art room by the McCauley family, discussing the displayed collection of H.W. McCauley art. But the detestable heat made me reluctant to return there. On my own, I cautiously ventured in after the presentation had started. Happily, the temperature was now more bearable, so I rounded up the rest of my crew. The late artist's wife and two daughters were there. A daughter went from painting to painting, reminiscing about her father. I shook hands with the wife, telling her the experience was a real treat. On leaving the room, I kicked myself for not attending from the start.
The autograph session began at 3:00. Beta and Alpha presented their copies of Fantasy of the 20th Century for Randy Broecker to sign. Broecker, not satisfied with the pen he had at hand, asked everyone within hearing distance if they had the kind he wanted. After some tense minutes, he located one, and carefully took his time to create a large drawing in each twin's book, much to their delight.
Part of my advice to my nieces was to take an investigative approach to what they saw at the show; if there was something or someone they didn't know anything about, take the initiative--reach out, go over, check that thing or person out. On the premise of considering my own advice worth taking, I approached the one person at the autograph table whom I'd never talked to--John Wooley.
Consistent with the type of cosmical, serendipitous coincidence that seems common at conventions like this (and leads some people, less versant in the laws of metaphysics than I am, to conclude they have a personal understanding with the Law of Probability), I'd just the night before been skimming Wooley's intro to the Dan Turner book. (This is a very interesting and informative introduction--not to be skipped.) I now bought a copy of Old Fears from Wooley, co-written with Ron Wolfe, and had Wooley sign it.
The girls acquired Phyllis Eisenstein's signature, and I bought her anthology, Night Lives. Spotting her husband nearby, she shouted for him to sign it, too (his name is on contents page).
Gary Gianni had his own table just across the aisle. He signed my Bran Mak Morn hardcover (realizing, after he'd dated it 5/05, that it wasn't May). For Beta and Alpha, he signed four Shadow comics he'd drawn, one for each sister. (When I'd heard Gianni would be a guest, I moved and looked through dozens of boxes, to find that 4-part mini-series.)
It would have been nice to hang out longer at the autograph session. Many were the conventions where I'd heard interesting, priceless conversations where guests signed things, had fun, interacted with fans and each other. But Stormy was the movie I thought would most appeal to all four of us (though all the films scheduled sounded interesting). And as best as film room coordinator Ed Hulse could estimate, Stormy would start at 3:45.
Ernest Chiriacka and Frank Robinson were also signing, but (due to my careful planning) we'd met and talked with them, so off we went, running up to the hotel room to deposit signed items, then trotting back down to the film room.
We walked in as the previous movie ended with Edgar Kennedy slapping his palm to his forehead and dragging it over his face.
The movies on the agenda were well described by Ed in the convention booklet. Stormy was based on a serial from Western Story Magazine in 1929 by Cherry Wilson. Weeks later, I bought the hardcover book version at bookfinder.com, read it, and later gave it to a niece. The movie was pretty faithful to the book, though a major character was cut, doubtless for time. Reading it, I recalled J. Farrell MacDonald and Noah Beery Jr. as the very appealing ranch owner and horse-loving boy.
The movie was very enjoyable for all of us.
The buffet did not impress us as being appropriately sumptuous, that afternoon, so we ordered regular dinners. I was shocked to see Beta pick the tomatoes out of her salad. "I hate tomatoes!" she said. "I do, too," said Kathryn, setting (in my estimate) a poor example for the girls (something I never once did, that entire extended weekend). "Tomatoes taste like compost," Beta explained, then hastily added, with flawless 11-year old logic, "Not that I've ever tasted compost."
Larry and Roger stopped to chat. Larry presented me with a splendid booklet he'd prepared to commemorate Windy City, called Alum to Atoms, which featured photos of him, Roger, Kathryn and me. On the back cover, he'd reproduced four pulp covers in color; by yet another cosmic coincidence, I'd bought the two Spider pulps shown there, that very day.
Larry snapped photos, which I would later receive via e-mail. One taken of our foursome, sitting in the restaurant, would prove to be one of the photographic gems of that convention, with the ladies looking brilliantly attractive, while I cleverly made myself look less intelligent than I actually was, lest the photo fall into the hands of terrorists bent on the destruction of great intellectuals.
That evening's events: A panel with Ernest Chiriacka, followed by the auction.
The auction promised to be of epic proportions, with around three hundred items. Most of these were on display in the large foyer preceding the dealer's room. We carefully examined them, made notes in preparation for bidding, and enjoyed chatting with Phyllis Eisenstein.
More Munsey / Popular file items would be sold by Robert Weinberg; when these were announced on the Internet, weeks before, I'd arranged them with WordPerfect into a prioritized list, which I now held ready.
The four of us sat in the front row. Roger and Larry sat right behind us.
At 7:00, we were treated to a highly enjoyable presentation with Ernest Chiriacka, his daughter, and moderator David Saunders. Saunders gave a brief intro, then continued to comment as Chiriacka's pulp covers were projected on a screen. Chiriacka was given the microphone to comment further, and to answer questions. I did not have a stenographer's outfit with me, so the following quotes are not to be taken as verbatim.
"It's hard to find a woman who can scream, and still look beautiful," he said. "But I found one, and I used her over and over again." Several examples were shown.
The Dime Detective cover he'd signed for me, with a gunman carving fake shrunken heads: "That was Louie the Jerk," he said of the model.
The Dime Detective cover used on The Compleat Adventures of the Dean: "Oh. That woman. She was evil. Really evil."
When the lights came on, I quickly checked the girls. I had to see if-- But no, they did not appear bored. Quite the opposite.
For the third year, a special illustrated WCPPC Guest of Honor cake was presented. After many photos were taken, the cake was cut, and we each enjoyed a delectable piece.
Alpha asked for advice on bidding. I recommended she shout her bid out nice and loud, because her soft voice could easily be lost in the roaring mutter of the crazed crowed. "Could I just raise my hand?" she asked. Slightly taken aback by the simplicity and elegance of this technique, I allowed as it should be effective from the front row.
John Gunnison once again did an excellent job of auctioneering. He attempted to help those who took money and recorded transactions, by giving the name of the winning bidder. When the set of comics that Alpha had set her sights on came up ("This would be a no-no at Pulpcon," John said ominously), she bid with her hand and won. "Sold! Five dollars, to Alpha. Schroeter," he added, pronouncing the name correctly. I carefully watched as Alpha walked up to the table, made her payment, and came back, holding the comics and smiling radiantly.
Alpha bid on a few other items--a set of Superman radio shows, and a superhero poster--but got neither. Her one success, however, was an unforgettable triumph.
I bid carefully on the Munsey items, reserving my biggest bucks for the Albert Payson Terhune letters. Thus, I passed up items which, later, I slapped my forehead over (letting seven letters by Richard Tooker go at $65; two L. Sprague de Camp letters for $40--well, you know what they say about hindsight; it only reveals an ass).
I did get most Munsey items highest on my list. A check endorsed by Roger Sherman Hoar (Ralph Milne Farley), in payment for his serial, The Radio Beasts, cashed at a South Milwaukee bank. A bound volume of Munsey's Magazine from 1925 to 1926, from Frank Munsey's personal collection (with interesting commentary from Weinberg). A set of three Famous Fantastic Mysteries cover proofs.
A check endorsed by Ray Cummings for his serial, Tama of the Flying Virgins ("And," prefaced Bob, "since Argosy magazine would never use the word 'Virgins' in any title, it was renamed to Tama of the Light Country."). For this item, I had competition--which I should have expected. Yet, it was a shock to hear Larry's voice, sounding particularly weaselish at that instant, bidding against me. But I prevailed, at $75. I paid for the item, brought it back to my seat and, thinking Larry would like a good gander at it, I considerately held it up for him in my slim, tapering fingers, supporting it with my extended middle finger and chuckling in triumph as he snapped a photo.
When the Terhune items finally came up, Weinberg described two letters, then said, "These two will be sold together." This caused a little stir, as they'd been announced as separate lots. But he decided to combine them, as one letter was severely browned and brittle. I got them! $200.
According to my original goal, I'd be satisfied with one Terhune item. Now I had two! But I also acquired the collection of several letters, correspondence between him and editors regarding movie rights for a story of his--$260.
"Thank you, Rodney," Bob said as I rose to pay, "for helping keep his name alive."
(Some weeks later, I would purchase a signature of Albert's wife, Anice Terhune--for 99 cents.) (Plus shipping.)
Other items I bought: A rough painting on canvas by Jerome Rozen, of a strong, smiling man in an industrial apron, a pipe wrench casually slung over his shoulder. A pencil preliminary of two cowboys by George Rozen. A check endorsed by Jerome Rozen, written by Anthony Tollin.
A DVD of The Whole Wide World: "We all know how that turns out," John said. I bid, but it went over $20. I let it go. "You can get it cheaper than that," Alpha reassured me.
With each item I won, I glanced at my nieces as I rose to make payment. They both smiled, sharing a little of my excitement and triumph. I also indicated to them when an auction item was something Kathryn or I were selling.
Sometime after 11:00, the women decided they'd had enough fun, and left.
I turned around to exchange a few words with Larry and Roger. "...and this is from the estate of Walter B. Gibson," John said over the microphone. I didn't know what it was, but I bid on it, got it--$25. It turned out to be a Blackstone radio script from the 40s.
"Our favorite customer," Deb Fulton said, as I approached the payment table for the unknownth time. "I suppose," I quipped, "I'm getting to be as bad as Doug, buying all this stuff." She lowered her head and looked over her glasses at me in such a way that I hastily retracted my ludicrous comment.
The auction lasted until nearly midnight. I waited to get the income from items Kathryn and I had auctioned ($200). Two post-auction movies were scheduled. Both sounded intriguing, but I didn't think I could last--even a titan like myself has limits. Roger and Larry stayed, but I headed for the room.
Thinking the women would be asleep on my return, I was surprised to find them watching Bruce Almighty.
I was even more surprised to find that I had no trouble falling asleep, and getting a decent night's rest.
Early Sunday morning, I lugged a few things out to the car, moved it to a parking spot a few furlongs closer to the hotel entrance, and generally went walking around, looking for any action.
I met David Saunders as I headed back to the 5th floor. "Do you just have a great collection, or what?" he asked me. I took this to refer to my many auction purchases. We chatted pleasantly as the lift delivered us to the 5th floor where he, too, was domiciled. I asked if he would sign something for my nieces. He readily agreed, and we exchanged room number info.
In our room, I asked with a shade of urgency if Beta and Alpha could find the Illustration magazine with the Chiriacka article. The girls scrounged through their special, custom-designed WCPPC 2005 boxes. A copy of Illustration #2 came to light. "That's even better!" I said quickly. To the other twin: "If you can find that one, please do."
Thus, as we left the room and saw David cheerfully hailing us from down the hall, they each had ready Illustration #2, featuring David's article on his father, Norman Saunders. Putting one knee on the plushly carpeted floor, he used the other knee as a platform to sign the magazines. "I'll show you a picture of me," he said, flipping through the pages. He indicated the reference photo of him, twisting the nose of his dad, who wore a Kraut helmet. (Little did he know I'd already shown them this photo, during the exhaustive pre-con prep.)
One thing that had impressed me about Saunders' article on Chiriacka was that, to my eye, Chiriacka's style was not distinctive enough stylistically, for me to reliably recognize. Yet Saunders had been able to detect the stylistic signature on several hundred otherwise-unsigned pulp cover paintings, identifying them as the work of the same person. When I put this comment to him, he responded that his dad had nurtured in him a strong awareness for style, by taking David to museums, and pointing out painting techniques.
(The article is actually a great work of investigative reporting. He starts with a mystery, an unknown, then discovers the name of the artist--then the artist's daughter--then the artist himself! The stuff that dramatic movies are made of.)
One last time--the dealer's room. With sudden recollection, I consulted the map of dealer tables, found the one I wanted, and finally met Russ Maheras, whom I'd "met" through an e-mail discussion list I subscribe to. Russ had been at two previous Windy City shows, but we'd never met. I enjoyed yet another pleasant visit, as Kathryn and I picked out digest SF magazines he had for sale.
Just across the aisle from Russ was a dealer I'd met months before at a Milwaukee movie collectibles show. He'd brought along a binder of silent film star autographs, from which I wanted one thing--a signed newsprint photo of Ernest Torrence.
"How old are you?" this dealer asked the girls as I made the purchase. "Eleven," Alpha answered. "And you must be twelve," he said to Beta. "We're twins!" Beta said. "But--" the dealer looked perplexedly at Beta-- "you're so much taller than she is!" "Thank you!" Beta glowingly replied. (Kathryn later observed to me, how Beta took that as a high compliment.)
Roger and Larry reported that the post-auction movies were very worthwhile, though only four people remained upright in the audience by the end, at 3:00 am. My respect for Ed's efforts rose a notch.
The last moments in the dealer room were spent buying more originals; I bought the large pencil drawing of the southern belle by Mike Hinge; Kathryn bought a set of pencil and color paperback cover preliminaries by David Mattingly for a James White Sector General novel; the girls intended to buy more cartoon paperbacks, but the dealer smilingly gave them each one for free.
I bought a signed print of Doug Klauba's beautiful painting for Clifford Simak's City, asking him to sign it for a niece back home. I also bought a copy of the book. (Anthony Tollin said he'd once worked on a newspaper with Simak, and I learned I'd pronounced his name incorrectly for decades.)
We paused outside the dealer room for a round of photos, then loaded the last of our goods into my car. We bid goodbye to Roger, Larry, the hotel, and the year's worth of events that had taken place therein.
We left Rosemont a little after 11:00 am. Ahead of us was over eight hours of driving.
Sometime after noon, we reached our home, unloaded things, loaded others, and continued north.
An hour after that, we stopped for a quick meal with my mom and dad, then forged onward.
For the rest of the trip, the girls spent at least two hours doing homework. We also talked, and listened to some episodes of Suspense. Kathryn came along, which was fortunate for, as I knew, I'd need a nap, somewhere along the way. I did doze for about an hour while she drove. I recall my troubled dreams only vaguely, but seem to recall clinging desperately to the pole of a madly, dizzily whirling carousel with images of pulp covers flashing by.
Darkness was near-complete as we reached my brother's home at 8:30 pm (this, without crossing time zones).
Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention 2005: Officially over.
How did WCPPC 2005 compare with past conventions?
The three shows from 2001 to 2003 steadily increased in quality and enjoyability; 2003 reached a pinnacle; 2004 kept that high level; 2005, incredibly, shined just a little brighter than 2003 and 2004. Highlights and gaps:
The auctions (definitely the Year of Albert Payson Terhune). Every new name that rose from the Munsey/Popular files, that I'd never heard of before, opened new doors for me--even the ones I didn't buy.
I was able to reflect on a year of proofreading work for George Vanderburgh.
I never found John Locke (I'd contacted him by e-mail, telling him how enjoyable his anthology, Pulp Fictioneers, was, and how I wanted to meet him).
There is never, never enough time to do everything I have planned. I wanted to have dinner with George. Never happened. George wanted to introduce me to Ray Walsh. Never happened.
Yes, many things never happened. On the other hand, the weekend was solidly packed with positive experiences; there were no voids.
The loss of Bev and the subsequent closing of Toad Hall had happened only two months before. Many at this show were touched by this loss. Certainly Larry was; he'd worked there for seven years. Kathryn and I had just visited the store the previous October. Bev would not be at another Windy City con. Larry would not be setting up a table for the Toad. This loss was cause for sober reflection, though not a damper on our spirits.
Ernest Chiriacka and his daughter. David Saunders. John Wooley. Phyllis Eisenstein. The McCauley family. So many others.
I didn't dig through the pulp boxes as much as I would have liked. "Aren't you afraid," my brother had asked, five weeks before, "that the twins would get in your way, that they'd stop you from doing all the things you otherwise would do?" I didn't think then, that would happen; I don't think now, in retrospect, that it did happen. No, they did not get in the way, they did not cause me to spend less time with other people than I wanted to--any of that. WCPPC 2005 was a perfectly fulfilling, satisfying, exhilarating experience. Having the twins along made it a shade better than perfect.
And, of course, there was the great experiment...
As I have stated, there were two phases to this experiment.
The results of the first problem, "Can two intelligent 11-year olds with good attitudes enjoy a Windy City show?", were already known to me. I could have verified this by simply asking Alpha and Beta:
"Did you have a good time at the pulp show?"
But I'd already observed their answer many times over, with each pleased smile and every joyful laugh during that weekend.
Until that gathering five weeks before, I had honest doubts about the twins enjoying the pulp show. Those doubts mostly vanished when I opened a large boxful of pulp covers purchased from Adventure House, which had been owned by Walter Baumhofer for study purposes. The genuine interest that all four girls showed, looking through these dozens of covers (mostly from Adventure), clearly showed that any of the girls would enjoy a pulp show, even if all they did were to dig through boxes of pulps. When I told them they could each pick out a cover, they looked through them even more intently, and had some trouble picking only one.
During the con weekend, Beta and Alpha watched a couple of movies in our room, but that didn't seem to be out of boredom. They spent the majority of their time at the actual convention, and seemed genuinely pleased with their many experiences. (If that was all a pretense, they will have no problem establishing stellar careers in the dramatic arts.) "So, what did you like most about the pulp show?" their dad asked. "Everything!" said Beta. "Ernest Chiriacka..."
For the second phase of the experiment, I did not expect to see such immediate answers.
For my 13th birthday in 1968, an aunt sent me two Doc Savage paperbacks. I'd never heard of the character, nor did I recognize the cover artist's signature: Bama.
But those two books were acorns that eventually grew into a mighty castle. Not only did I read every one of the 181 Doc Savage stories that Bantam subsequently reprinted, but I collected and cataloged other paperback covers by Bama, forged a friendship with him, and became an authority on his work. (Illustration House, whom I'd helped with information on Bama originals they sold, sent me a Bama image and asked if I could provide publication data for it. Of course, that was a simple task.)
Phase II of the experiment: If two 11-year olds with high intelligence and good attitudes were introduced to a world of early 20th Century popular art and literature, would anything they encountered spark an interest that would grow and enhance their already-rich lives, as the two Doc Savage paperbacks had added to mine?
Could I pass on the flame?
For this, I was prepared to wait years to see results--if results there would ever be.
Perhaps I already had a potential answer. As one ought to expect, it came from an unexpected direction.
We'd listened to some old-time radio episodes of Suspense, the Thursday I drove Beta and Alpha to our home. One was Sorry, Wrong Number, with Agnes Moorehead. The other was taken from Ray Bradbury's story, The Screaming Woman.
At Anthony Tollin's table, Alpha had asked about Suspense sets. He had none, but she and Beta paid their own good money for another set of radio shows on CD.
At the Saturday auction, Alpha had bid on a set of Superman radio tapes.
As we drove them home, the girls asked if we would play more Suspense episodes. (We did, after they'd done their homework.)
When they were finally home from their experience, I loaned them my big Radio Spirits set, Stars on Suspense.
Old-time radio? It doesn't seem likely that today's modern youngsters would even give it a chance.
But Alpha and Beta were pleasantly atypical in so many ways.
Would this interest persist and grow, in the years ahead?
Impossible to say.
But the excitingly positive answer to Experiment Phase I, and the tentatively tangible results for Phase II, were tremendously encouraging.
It seems unsatisfyingly banal to say something like, "Windy City 2005 was a complete success." But how else to put it? What other words can express it?
Ah--perhaps it must suffice to simply let the record stand as written. And, if one must do something so silly as to attempt a one-line summary of that entire weekend's experience, I might be content to say merely that--
WCPPC 2005 was a compleat success.
Windy City Pulp & Paperback Convention main page
-- photos from 2004's show (click on "NEWS");
-- photos from 2005 (the first 17 from me; and one from Larry);
-- info on 2006's show!!!
Blood 'n' Thunder magazine
The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box
My account of WCPPC 2003
My narrative of WCPPC 2004
My home page