Rothman Philcon I Remembrance

1947Philcon I, Philadelphia
by Milton A. Rothman
for the Noreascon Three PB

Only eight years elapsed between Nycon I and Philcon I, arguably the most historic eight years in history. For World War II occupied six of those years, climaxing in the discovery of atomic energy and the first use of the atomic bomb. In 1946, after four years in the American army, I had enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in physics, intending to make reality out of science fiction. At the same time the world in general was beginning to come back to life.

As chairman of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, I took the train to Los Angeles to be at Pacificon I (in 1946) and to present Philadelphia's bid for the 1947 convention.

There followed, in the words of Alexander M. Phillips, "long, rather placid months of preparation, followed by a sudden, brief frenzy of motion and sound…and then silence."

About 200 people attended, the convention lasted three days, and the ratio of pros to fans was very high. Among the pros were John W. Campbell (GoH), L. Sprague de Camp, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, George O. Smith, Edward E. Smith, David H. Keller, Bob Tucker, Ralph Milne Farley, Chandler Davis, William Tenn, L. Jerome Stanton, and Sam Merwin.

John Campbell spoke on the coming era of nuclear power. While he recognized problems of radioactivity, his main worry was whether the power industry would be willing to invest $20,000,000 in the construction of a nuclear reactor. Of course, in those days $20 million was real money. (Speaking of money, the profits of the convention were about $300.) L. Sprague de Camp spoke on exposing occultism and gave advice that is just as relevant today as it was forty years ago: the only person qualified to conduct a real investigation is a professional magician. James Randi is still telling us that. Chan Davis conducted a discussion on "Is Science catching up with Science Fiction?" The more things change…

A feature rather unique to that convention was an evening of fan entertainment. Chan Davis played piano compositions by Chan Davis and Jim Blish, I played the Ritual Fire Dance (I was still trying to get to Carnegie Hall in those days), George O. Smith split a hair, Phil Klass (William Tenn) did a stand-up comic routine, etc., etc.

The program in general was of a high intellectual level, with much interest in the new sciences of nuclear energy and rocket propulsion. The evening parties in the hotel rooms were lively enough so that John Campbell thought he had a better time than he'd thought possible.

For us Philadelphians who were new to the world of big-time conventions, it was an unforgettable experience. At least it would have been unforgettable except for my brain, whose little memory boxes tend to get locked up very easily. Therefore I am indebted to Alexander M. Phillips for his written record in the Philcon Memory Book, published by the National Fantasy Fan Federation. It unlocked a lot of those memory boxes.