Midwestcon 5, also known as the 5th Indian Lake Convention and Bellefontaine, was held May 22–23, 1954, at the Hotel Ingalls and the Fountain Lodge Motel in Bellefontaine, Ohio. The committee was Doc Barrett, Don Ford, Lou Tabakow, Stan Skirvin, and Roy Lavender.
Attendees included John Millard, Bill Grant, Mrs. Grant (Bill's mother), Ken Hall, Gerald A. Steward and Howard Lyons from Toronto; Martin Alger, Howard DeVore, Hal and Nancy Shapiro, Mary Southworth and Riva Smiley from Detroit; Lynn and Carolyn Hickman, Harlan Ellison, and Margaret Ford, DeeDee Lavender and Evelyn Barrett from Ohio; Robert Bloch and Phyllis Economou from Wisconsin; Evelyn Gold, Isaac Asimov and Marty Greenberg from New York; Buck and Juanita Coulson from Indiana; Bob Tucker from Illinois; Jack Agnew, Leigh Brackett, Norm Browne, Ted and Judy Dikty, Lloyd Eshbach, Phil and Bette Farmer, Joe Gibson, Edmond Hamilton, Lyle Kessler, Robert Madle, John Magnus, Paul Mittelbuscher and E. E. Smith.
Bob Tucker's conrep in Psychotic 15 (September 1954, p. 20) estimated attendance at 175, as did this brief report by C. L. Dill (probably a pseudonym) appearing in the Australian fanzine Etherline 31 (June 1954):
The Indian Lakes Conference There were 175 present -- fans, wives, authors and publishers. There were 149 at the Sunday noon banquet. Robert Bloch was Master of Ceremonies. Present were E. E. Smith, Philip José Farmer, Harlan Ellison, Evelyn Gold, Lloyd Esbach, Ted Dikty, Marty Greenberg, Bob Tucker, E. E. Evans, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Isaac Asimov, Charles de Witt, Lon Tabakow and others. There were 75 delegates from Canada, and interesting displays and talks, but no auction. On the whole, I enjoyed it immensely, and would like to get to the San Francisco Convention. Arthur C. Clarke was to have been there, but was unable to make it.
Hotel Ingalls was one of two “official” lodgings used for Midwestcon 5 and Midwestcon 6.
The convention was spread over two hotels; we went to the Ingalls because it was cheaper; it was something like $1.50 per night. There was a reason for this, of course; even in those days, that was a cheap room. The bed was okay, but there was no attached bathroom. There was, in fact, one bathroom per floor, with tub and toilet. If someone actually took a bath, everyone else on that floor held themselves in or hunted another floor. Our room did have a laundry tub, however. Juanita commented that this was all right for the males, but uncomfortable for females. One year the hotel manager caught a bat in the lobby, and Noreen Falasca convinced him to take it outside and let it go. You don't have entertainments like that these days.
Tucker described the Ingalls Hotel as “a roach-trap if there ever was one. The Ingalls is a fine breaking-in exercise for those fans who expect some day to wind up on skid row.” He and a contingent of savvy Ohio fen all stayed in a motel outside Bellefontaine.
While there have undoubtedly been many "incidents" at Midwestcon worthy of note (see, for example, Midwestcon 4), this phrase usually refers to the incident of the Door at Midwestcon 5 in 1954, when Harlan Ellison supposedly waterbagged Jim Harmon, and Harmon, out of anger, retaliated by putting his fist through Harlan's hotel room door; the police were called by the hotel management to haul Harmon away, and the attendees had to pass the hat both to pay for the door and to get Jim out of jail.
This has become a fannish legend, with many "first-person" tellings by people who were at that Midwestcon but who did not actually see it take place. Dick Eney told the traditional version of the story in Fancyclopedia 2 under Door:
|From Fancyclopedia 2 ca 1959|
|From Door Jim Harmon was waterbagged by Harlan Ellison at the Midwestcon in 1954, swarmed up to Ellison's room demanding entrance, and, when Ellison rolled a firecracker under the door, slammed his fist thru the panel in the best Col. Renwick tradition. The hotel manager threatened arrest, but a collection from the pros was made to pay for it. ($35).|
According to rich brown (who wasn’t there), Harlan didn't waterbag anyone, he emptied a pitcher of water out his window so the "splat" would get the attention of Harmon and others who were, in Harlan's opinion, anyway, being loud and obnoxious. In this version of the story, they were across the courtyard, and not a drop got on any of them, but Harmon, who was inebriated, took umbrage anyway, charged up the stairs and knocked down Harlan's door. Harlan had locked the door because a femmefan was in his room, reading the stencils for the next issue of his fanzine Dimensions, and he thought she might feel compromised if people gossiped about it ("to read his stencils" might be read as "to see his etchings," a euphemism at the time for seduction).
A number of years later, the femmefan in question, Mary Southworth, wrote it up herself, agreeing with this account. But, as with other fannish myths that have made it into legend, perhaps it all sounds better the way it came to be told.
The story was undoubtedly helped along in its rise to general notoriety by Ellison's pronouncements of Phony Seventh Fandom, a group widely regarded as obnoxious.
The Ingalls Hotel was old-style, opening directly onto sidewalk and street, and the front rooms overlooked the sidewalk. My knowledge of the event is mostly hearsay; Mary Southworth, who was on the spot (and who still comes to conventions here and there as a huckster), had a somewhat less dramatic and perhaps more factual account, but I don't recall it well enough to retell it exactly. The report I heard was that Harlan Ellison was amusing himself by dropping water bags out the window, restricting himself to fannish targets. Jim Harmon, who was both a big-name fan of the day and a rather large, rotund one as well, got splashed and resented the fact. He stormed up to Harlan's room, where Harlan had prudently locked the door. When Harlan refused to come out, Jim began to batter his way in, knocking out one panel of the door. There was a lovely story that Harlan was frantically calling the police while Jim was trying to drag him out the hole in the door, but this seems to have been fiction -- for one thing, the Ingalls didn't have telephones in the rooms. Someone did call the police, however, and Harmon disappeared leaving Harlan to explain things, while most of the rest of the convention milled about in the hallway enjoying the show. The police left and that evening Harlan came around to various room parties, apologizing for the affair and taking up a collection to pay for the broken door. A bit later, Harmon came around, 'disguised' in Lynn Hickman's coat (which was about half the size he usually wore), apologizing for the incident... and taking up a collection to pay for the broken door. Our group tossed quarters to each one.
The next year, we were back at the same hotel, to find that the broken door had been repaired with a piece of unstained and unpainted plywood, and that the hotel now had a redecorated meeting room. I've always wondered just how much money was collected for the door...
It was at the Hotel Ingalls. Jim Harmon and Harlan Ellison were involved. And also Doc Barrett, who kept Harlan out of jail. Harlan was up on the second floor, dropping paper bags of water out on passersby on the sidewalk below. Everything went well until Jim Harmon strolled by; Jim was a muscular young man in his early twenties, with a hair-trigger temper. All of a sudden, here came a paper bag down *bang* on his forehead. He looked up, saw Harlan, shook his fist and said, "You (expletive)! I'm coming up there!" So he raced up the stairs to get him, but Harlan had locked the door to the room. Jim banged on the door, but it didn't open, so he knocked it in. By that time, he had made so much noise that the hotel management was right behind him. Doc Barrett kept the both of them out of jail by passing a hat; we collected enough money to replace the door. It was a memorable weekend!
That was the hearsay history as it stood for many years. However, your Anna Comnena has unearthed these contemporary accounts from the horses’ own typers. As you might imagine, they don’t match — each other’s or the later versions above.
It was Friday, May 27th at Bellefontaine, Ohio. About 8 in the evening, I was walking down the street with Robert W. Madle, Jack Agnew, Paul Mittelbuscher, and John Magnus. Naturally I was trying to hide my face so nobody would recognize me with them. I didn't want to hurt their reputations. We had just come out of a bar. We staggered along until we came to the Ingalls Hotel. On the second floor above the entrance was a window. A head was sticking out of this window, The head belonged to Harlan Ellison. He had loaned it to a friend.
Magnus invited Harlan to have a drink on us. "No," Harlan declined, "I'll have a drink all over you." He threw a bucket of water out on us. I say "water".... We went up to see Harlan.
Magnus implored Harlan to open the door so he could knock his teeth down his throat. But Harlan only went to licensed dentists. "Come closer, John," Harlan suggested. "I have something you’ll get a bang out of." John did and Harlan threw out a stick of dynamite.
Well, maybe it was just a giant firecracker. Anyhow, it burned John's leg and pants pretty bad. Everyone began beating on the door. I watched this gentle bedlam for awhile and asked politely (my very words now, "Do you really want to get in there?" Everyone agreed that they did.
So I hit the door about four times with my fist and it splintered and fell down. Harlan rushed at me. "Now you've done it, Harmon." (I guess I had.) I can’t stand anyone who can't take a joke," he added as he lunged for my throat with both hands. Perhaps you’ve seen Harlan. For your information I am about six feet and 200 pounds. That is why I didn't slug him as many suggested I should have done. I did hold onto his hands until he cooled off and merely stormed out of there screaming for the POLICE!!! (As he put it.)
There is more, much more. Are you sure you want to hear it?
Naturally, I didn't wait around for Harlan to come storming back with the riot squad. I made my getaway. Hiding behind the first woman saw I asked Carol Hickman where she could suggest I go. Fortunately Carol is a nice girl and didn't tell me to go where you're thinking. She told me to go into Riva's room. I did, locked the door and considered whether the bed was the right size for me -- that is, whether I could get under it.
Before I tried that, Lynn Hickman knocked and identified himself. The joint, he informed me, was crawling with cops. He could hardly believe that I could do such a thing -- I was so gentle. He suggested that he could get me out of town if we could get to his car. So I said make a break for it and he could gouge the eyes while I kicked the groin of any cop that tried to stop us. I said it gently. But we reconsidered. How, how was I to get out of this? Science fiction writers couldn't go to jail -- it just isn't done. Oh, if only L. Ron were there to "clear" me.
Meanwhile, Joe Gibson was giving the police an accurate description of me (he told me later) and getting worried about me. I wish he had gotten worried before he gave out the description, and informed them that was a short, skinny, bald man of 56. He searched all the bars in that end of town -- Joe and I had gotten to know each other fairly well -- and then began on the hotel. He got to the top floor just in time to see me and Lynn -- Lynn and I, if you prefer -- going out the back window onto the fire escape.
From way down the steep, insubstantial steps a spotlight suddenly outlined two of us. Down below a squad car had spotted us in their searchlight. I thought I heard a cry of, "Halt in the name of the law!" I suggested to Lynn; "Shoot out them loust coppers' candle. They ain't goin' to take us alive, even if the Lady in Red has betrayed me." "Come on, Jim, we'll switch your fingerprints." (This is a trifle exaggerated, of course.)
Back inside and locked in Riva's room (Riva who? Don't ask me...I never met her) we decided there was simply no way l could chicken out of it. So l sent Lynn down to try to get the manager to accept pay for the door and call off the cops. Lynn came back with the manager and two cops. Yes, he would take payment for the door -- a mere $35 for the ancient relic. Fine, said the cops, get the money and send this punk to jail -- sixty days. However, I murmured that they were mistaken about me paying if I was going to jail anyway, so they said within the hour or else. Ahem, I didn’t have $35. So Lynn, Hal and Nancy Shapiro, and even Harlan went out soliciting. Well, I don't mean Nancy went soliciting, but anyway, they got the money -- mostly from Bob Bloch, Ike Asimov and a bunch of filthy hucksters down the hall.
Quite a few people were disgusted with my horrible example, but others seem to regard me with awe. No wonder. Some of the versions that started around had me breaking down the door to save a girl who was hollering "Rape!" from Harlan (the Canadian group). Just who I was saving her for, I don’t know. Myself, I guess. However, I won't flatly deny this story.
A few days later, Harlan and I had dinner together. Things were quite friendly, but they sure served the lousiest coffee there I've ever drunk Just the smell turned me against it. Bitter almonds. Harlan wouldn't drink his, either.
The moral to the story: If you ever want to break anything of Harlan's, wait until he opens the door.
The “Incident” Revisited
In a sidebar, editor Dick Geis wrote: I owe an apology to Jim Harmon. Without specific permission I printed a letter from Jim as an article titled "The Incident" in the last issue. As a result, Harlan Ellison was incensed and wrote the article which appears here. In fairness to him, I have to print it, and in fairness to Jim I am writing this note.
I personally don't give a hoot-in-hell who knows about the business at Bellefontaine in May, but it was succinctly agreed by all; in what might be termed "the better interests of fandom"; that none of it get into the fan press.
I, myself, have been careful to make no allusions to the incident one way or the other, and no one else did, either. With the outstanding exception of Harmon's column in Lynn Hickman's STF TRENDS which made a tomfoolish reference to the door-smashing escapade.
Pass over it I did, only tsk-tsking slightly. "Why?" I asked myself, "Why must Harmon compound the felony by blabbing his big yuk all over the place? I hope this is the end." But it wasn't. PSYCHOTIC ran a perverted version of what happened last issue.
I was sitting in my room in the hotel. I was talking with a person whose name I won't reveal and who I dearly request no one else will reveal. There is no sense starting any nasty untrue maliciousness. I was talking to this person -- a young woman -- with people walking in and out a la Grand Hotel. "I will shut this door so we can talk, privately," I said and shooed the few remaining fans out. We sat and talked. Yes, TALKED, damnit, and let no one crook a snide eye brow at indication of anything else going on in that room.
Earlier that day John Magnus and Ted Wagner had been squirting perfume out of squirt guns at pedestrians through our window and the smell was overpowering. We sat and talked, til she said something funny and I laughed. Loud. I heard a voice from out on the street which said "Ah, shuddup, Ellison."
I knew it was Maggie (Magnus to you uncultured ones) and went to the window. Sure enough, it was. With Harmon, Bob Madle, Lyle "I can cause more trouble than anyone" Kessler, and one other, I believe.
There was an empty water pitcher on our bureau, and I took it, seeing there was a thimble-full of water at the bottom. I swear, on a stack of any particular volume you choose to name, that is the untainted God-almighty truth.
With a chortle I spilled the water onto the sidewalk. Everyone, Magnus included (at whom the water was aimed), will swear that the water came nowhere near them. They were on the very corner, and the water landed fifteen feet away from them. There wasn't even a splash on them.
They all grinned. All except Harmon, who was too soused to grin. He just stood there and sloshed.
"Hey," yelled up Madle, "You having a party up there?"
"No," I answered hurriedly, "Just someone and me talking."
"Where is there a party?" inquired Magnus.
"Next door at the Terrans suite, I guess," I replied.
"We're coming up to visit you," yelled someone in the crowd, and they started indoors. Get, this: no anger, no fury at being drenched, no maliclousness -- they were just coming up to visit.
"Hell," I said to the other party. "I don't want them bursting in here." We wanted to finishe the conversation, which was very interesting. It was as simple as all that. So I went over and locked the door. In the society in which I was reared, a locked door meant stay out.
They came banging and clanging up the stairs and started knocking loudly on the door, indicating the trend the visit would take. I didn t answer but went on talking. I was told later by someone (a great rationalizer, he) that Magnus, who was paying for the room with me and Norm Browne, wanted in, but concluding from what had gone before, this did not seem plausible for the reasons they indicate. At this point I to realize that the young lady's reputation, unsmirched til then, might have shadows cast upon It by us being in a locked room together. Needless to say I did not answer said door. I heard mumbling and muttering and then the knocking ceased.
I thought they had gone away.
At this point, so the story goes, a blockbuster went off in the hall. No one was near it understand. To your face I call you a goddamned liar, Harmon; Magnus wasn't near the thing when it went off, because he told me so. He and his pants were in no way touched by vhe thing, whatever it was. I disassociate myself with any knowledge of dynamite, napalm bombs, thermite and/or firecrackers.
Anyway, Kessler started bugging Harmon: "Go on, Jim, smash down the door. Go ahead, Jim boy, kick it in. Knock it down! Get it, Jim! Go! Go, boy!"
And Harmon, like the drink be-sotted mastiff that he was, started rearing back like the demented bull he so resembles and gallops toward the door.
I was sitting inside, still talking, blissfully unaware of what was transpiring outside, when a monstrous weight struck the door, shaking paint and dust off it. "JeezusChrist in the Mawnin'," I yelled, thinking we were under seige. "What in the blue blazes was that?"
A few seconds laboriously crawled past, and then that cloppity-clop of The Hog barreling toward the door. This time the impact bowed the door outward and plaster showered all over the place. The door began to crack. "Hold it! Jeezus, hold it!" I screamed, leaping up and rushing for the door. "Wait a minute, you screwballs. I'll open the thing if you..."
The latched was wedged in place by the smashing against it, and I couldn't slip the bolt. While I was screaming for them to wait, Harmon hit the door with his shoulder again and the thing shattered. The two center planks flew out in all directions and there, with the most stupid- Goddamned smile on his oafish face was The Hulk. His expression almost said, "Duhhh, I broke down de door, din't I?"
I was infuriated.
Not so much about the door, though I had visions of Ellison going up to the manager to pay for a broken door on his suite, but because the stupid jerk had invaded my privacy, a thing which I deplore more than practically anything! He had the colossal nerve of smashing down a door, just because I wouldn’t open it so he could carry on his puerility inside. I had seen Harmon at other conventions (I don’t think many of us will forget the fiasco he pulled at Chicago, which almost got us thrown out of the hotel) and knew just how obnoxious he could get.
I saw red. With all my anger I reached out and yanked Harmon up against the shattered but still locked door. All the buttons popped off his shirt, plinkety-plink! "You goddamned stupid, toad-fornicating imbecile," I shouted. "You cougar-leaping ant-brained excuse for Homo Sap! You rediculous oversixed ox!" I went on at some length about his personal, culinary and romantic habits, winding it all up with a beautiful half nelson of a phrase which concludes, "...blue crotch hanger!" It was gorgeous, if I may add.
Harmon just stood there stupidly trying to reach me through the door, but I had his arms pinned against the outside. His breath, well-lubricated with wine and other odd vintages of booze, distict among which was rotten VO, wilted my eyebrows. I was thoroughly and completely roaring mad.
Wouldn't you have been? I shoved him back and leaped through the broken section of the door. "The Hell with this crap," I said. "I'm not getting stuck for the bill on this thing. "I went downstairs to tell the hotel manager, who immediately started yelling Copper, and I realized I should have gone not to him but the less easily excitable Doc Barrett, who would have solved things easier. But this was the directest approach.
The manager came upstairs and shortly thereafter the brass-button bluecoats arrived. Doc Barrett wanted Harmon and everyone began searching. I knew he was upstairs, because one of the folks who had hidden him told me. But other than letting them know it was Harmon, which others had done before me, I said nothing. Then word came down that Harmon should see the cops or he would be clapped in the jug, so the cops, Lynn Hickman and I, went upstairs.
There he was, shaking and remorsefull. Hell, I felt sorry for the poor dumb slob! He was drunk and didn't know what he was doing. We all started pleading for Harmon's life, and the cops said if he would pay for the door he would get away with it if I didn’t want to press charges.
"Who me?" I asked. "No, heck no. Jim's a good guy." I wasn't being magnanimous, I just thought the whole thing was a stupid affair. Then they popped the bit that the door would cost thirty-five bucks. Harmon had perhaps fifteen. "I'll get the rest,” I said.
I tore out into the hall and started browbeating people for a buck a- piece. They all gave. I contributed three bucks myself. The room down the hall with Ike Asimov, Evelyn Gold, Bob Bloch and a few others gave the most they could, and I tore back to the room with the total, plus a couple bucks extra.
I gave it to the Manager of the hotel, and Lynn later collected extra money for Jim to live on. I hadn't considered that angle.
The thing was over and it was all forgotten.
I ate dinner with Jim the next night, and things were fine and dandy. We were -- I don’t know if we are now, though -- friends.
Jim was going to write something for my magazine.
Fine and dandy.
Everyone agreed not to say anything about the door, et. al., as it would cast a bad light on the Convention and fandom in general. It is the rare exception, such as this one, which gives fans and Cons a bad name. We decided amnesia was the better part of reputation in this case.
Fine and dandy.
Til Harmon's article appeared in the last PSYCHOTIC.
Now I ask you, if there is an ass in the caper, who fits the tail? If it's me, by sitting quietly in the room I was paying rent on, then I'll bray a bit. The rigged-up lies that Harmon spreads about the water drowning half the town and this firecracker blowing off Magnus' legs, etc., etc. is all such ridiculous persiflage, that I request, nay I demand others who were present to either send in correlating or disagreeing articles or letters to PSYCHOTIC on this Incident.
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