Dave Kyle's St. Louiscon Reminiscence
Worldcon attendance went into orbit in the mid-1960s. Only two big conventions had been held from 1939 through 1965: Chicago 1952 approached a thousand, as did New York 1956. The trend began in 1966 with Cleveland's 850. Then came the full lift-off thrust of 1,500 in 1967 at the third New York appearance. Down a bit, up a bit, climbing toward today -- two thousand, three, four, five, six, eight thousand fans!
The St. Louiscon in 1969 was part of that new acceleration, the largest attendance to that date at precisely 1,534. For good reason, too. The facilities were outstanding. The Chase Park-Plaza was billed as "the biggest and best con hotel west of the Mississippi" and had a glass-enclosed Zodiac Roof Lounge with an outdoor Roof Garden overlooking the city. (A time when all conventions were expected to hold all events in the one hotel.) Registration for five days (Thursday had become the official opening day) was now $4, with a non-attending supporting membership at $3, and rooms were $13 single, $18 double, suites starting at $35. Conventions were getting larger and so were the prices. (But twenty years later -- ouch!) The committee (from the Ozark SF Assn.) was competent and efficient and had added new events to the expected ones. The beginning was auspicious.
For the first time since number one with Frank R. Paul, the convention had an artist as the GoH. He was Jack Gaughan, a prolific pro who was a fan at heart. Another radical departure was the inauguration of the two-years-in-advance site bidding so that the sites for both 1970 and 1971 were chosen there, a fortuitous time because the problem of balloting in Heidelberg (1970) was solved.
Traditions were continued and new ones were begun. The "Dum Dum" of the Burroughs Bibliophiles was shepherded by Vern Coriell with Rita. The N3F Hospitality Room was supervised by Janie Lamb. The very successful art show, now in its tenth year as an official event called The International Science-Fantasy Art Exhibition, was guided by Bjo Trimble with Bruce Pelz. (One tradition that was nearly lost was the chronic bottleneck at the elevators. The hotel had promised a solution because there were plenty of elevators available, all expected to function smoothly at the crucial moments when the crowds surged toward them. At one late evening moment, though, for some inexplicable reason, they weren't all in service. Thus, once more, frustrated vertical travelers congregated and the con "tradition" had stayed with us. Also, the pre-convention pledge that we would not have to share with some other convention -- another one of those annoying circumstances which seemed to happen to us without warning -- was almost broken. The Kansas City Chiefs football team arrived on Sunday(?) and tried a power play. We had a minor scrimmage and lost little if any yardage.)
The exciting climax for the St. Louiscon was, naturally, the awarding of the Hugos. The old traditional way, inevitably doomed in the future, was with the Sunday night banquet. The toastmaster was Harlan Ellison, one of our very best. The Hugo presenter was Bob Bloch, one of our very best. What person sat at your table was a measure of your status -- the parallel to Oscar night was fascinating.
The genesis of the St. Louiscon is traced to the Room 770 con party at Nolacon I (New Orleans 1951). Nolacon was a significant marker on our road to con history. It was the last of the small Worldcons (the kind the old dinosaurs of First Fandom so deeply miss). It was an end and the conception of a beginning -- a beginning like the St. Louiscon to close out the sixties.
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