Courtney's Boat

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"Who sawed Courtney's Boat?" is a catchphrase popular as an interlineation in fanzines, likely beginning in the 1950s, although it refers to a rowboat race in 1879. The book quoted below was published only in 1955, the relevant story "The Invalid's Friend and Hope" that popularised it in New Yorker August 23, 1952.

Like “I had one grunch, but the eggplant over there,” it has no significance in fandom whatsoever except as being one of those odd things that fans remember and sometimes emit. It's one of those very fannish things faans allude to, though its origin is not at all stfnal – see the explanation below.

From Fancyclopedia 2 Supplement, ca. 1960
Dean Grennell reenacting the sawing (origin uncertain; not in the Fancy Supplement).

Over our conviction that there are things better left unmentioned, the protests of our readers compel the partial explanation of this gag line Who sawed Courtney's boat? -- which is not from science-fiction at all, but from Samuel Hopkins Adams' "Grandfather Stories".

Courtney was a professional racing-shell rower, and the occasion on which the question arose was that of a race, it was noised about, was Rigged by the Wicked Gambling Interests. (Professional sports of every sort, during the last half of the XIX Century, were notoriously arranged in advance.) On this occasion, Asa T Soule, the manufacturer of Hop Bitters -- a patent medicine which, like some today, was up to 50% red-eye whiskey but, being patented as a medicine, could be sold in Prohibition areas and on Sundays.[1]-- had put up a $6000 purse for a race between Edward Hanlan, of Toronto, and Charles Courtney, of Union Springs, NY. The two were acknowledged national champions, and both laid claim to international championship; a previous meeting had resulted in victory for Hanlan, but with a dretful [sic] stench over fouls being raised by Courtney's backers. Gambling interest in a rematch was intense; but on the morning of the race it was found that The Hop Bitters, Courtney's racing shell, had been sawn half thru the preceding night. Hanlan rowed the course alone (establishing a new record) but won nothing, the wily Soule having withdrawn the funds constituting the purse from the local bank. He, the wily Soule, did however give us our gagline; for it was he who offered a reward of one thousand dollars for information leading to the detection of the party who sawed Courtney's boat. The reward was never claimed; but just for the heck of it, Dean Grennell once laid a camera-trap by a boat named Courtney. Then he got a saw and started to work and, at an incriminating moment, tripped the shutter on himself. Fans will go to any length for egoboo...

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  1. The Supplement really has a misplaced period here instead of a space.