Primordial WSFA by Chick Derry

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Written by Chick Derry for the Program Book at Disclave 31 in 1987, where he was Fan Guest of Honor.

I have been blamed for many things in my lifetime, but no one has the presence of mind to blame me for having created WSFA. Just in case someone decides to rectify this error of history, let me hasten to state for the record that I did not do it alone.

Just to prove that Science Fiction is stranger than truth, consider the following: God created the earth and everything in and on it in six days; WSFA required six people and a couple of years to bring to fruition. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

Just creating WSFA should have been enough; but no, those giants of the past also came up with the Nuclear Fizz, Disclaves and the fine art of Silping. Oh, there were gods abroad in the land in those magical days of the 1940's.

One Sunday evening in September, 1947, still flushed with the Sense of Wonder, those immortals of history met at the home of Frank Kerkhof. This basement apartment was aptly named the Coal Bin, because prior to 1942 it had been just that. Greed, coupled with the tremendous pressure of housing shortages during the war years, caused the building's owner to create an apartment where once a rich treasure of black gold had reposed.

A large galvanized tub of the type with the number 32 embossed on its bottom reposed in the middle of the single room. Ice and bottles of beer (probably Gunthers or Senate, which were cheap and local) filled the tub. Two artists, Bob Briggs and Russell Swanson, were there, as were one student, Bob Pavlat, and three common working types, Frank Kerkhof, Mercedes Mansfield (a very personable female) and YHOS.

Like the current inhabitant of the White House, my memory is faulty. Fortunately for me, none of the original members are here to dispute my recollections. There are no tapes, no pictures, and the only written history was several years in the future. I know that amid all the fine memories of the recent Philcon there was talk about some sort of organization to attract other citizens of like interests.

According to Harry Warner (All Our Yesterdays) and Bob Pavlat (Gallery) the first two years of WSFA were notable for their lack of formal organization or anything else except good talk, good beer and good friends.

You who are gathered here to enjoy this Disclave have the foresightedness of those foundering (sic) fathers to thank for one thing. If the club had gone forward as planned you would have had to turn your head every time you spoke the acronym: WSFS is a dangerous phrase, especially if you have Terry-Thomas teeth.

I draw on a short series of articles that Bob Pavlat wrote for my fanzine, Gallery, in the mid-Fifties, for the rest of this article.

From the Coal Bin the fledglings moved their meetings to the Transportation Building. Frank Kerkhof worked for some mysterious department involved with the American railroad system. On Sunday evenings we would gather in a huge room furnished with long polished tables and many, many chairs. Adjacent to this ideal meeting room was the now legendary mimeo room. Aside from eight electric state-of-the-art mimeographs and tons of paper, this room was notable for its walls and pillars, which were papered with pictures of nude women. You might say we were sexist but that was normal. Despite this wealth of equipment the first WSFA fanzines were more than a year in the future.

Early meetings were very informal. We met on Sunday, for practical reasons, since everyone had the day off and besides, Saturdays were used for more pressing needs. Beer drinking and skirt chasing.

A kaleidoscope of images races through my memory, such as: George O. Smith fencing with Lou Gardner. George bested Lou, but then Lou was operating at a disadvantage; he was sober.

The full-scale dinner that the Club hosted to honor Seabury Quinn, the grand old man of Weird Tales and author of that gentle fantasy, "Roads," that tells the true story of the origin of Santa Claus.

Every organization has its "character." WSFA had the old gentleman who appeared at many meetings accompanied by his favorite companion, a bottle of cheap wine. I can't remember his name and all that comes to mind is that we called him "Mister" something.

Dick Eney and Ted White were the enfants terribles of the growing years. Not only were they loud, enthusiastic, and imbued with the necessary Sense of Wonder, they were active! I guess it was their frenetic activity that daunted us founding fathers. After all they were FANS. We were fans.

The conservative Poul Anderson was once a wild-eyed fan. He was a transitory WSFAn. Wherever he was, a crowd would collect. He had that gift of storytelling even then that shines out of his writing today. There is a little bit of history about Poul that has never been put in print before.

While a member of WSFA he met Karen Kruse. Whether or not it was love at first sight I can't say. But they have been married a number of years and a number of children, so perhaps it was. Nevertheless it was a planned project of the club to separate the two at meetings. Karen didn't approve of a talent that Poul exhibited: limericks! He knew almost as many limericks as Isaac Asimov! We would lure Karen aside with what ever females might be there in order that Poul could hold forth with rhyme and ribald humor.

In 1949 WSFA almost came a cropper. The newer element, Lou Gardner leading, decided they should bid for the 1950 Worldcon. [See Capicon in '50.] The old guard felt this was ridiculous. The club had no money, no expertise and no credit rating. Bob Pavlat, Bob Briggs and I took umbrage (actually we didn't take it, we just sorta borrowed it). We formed an informal splinter group calling ourselves the Elders, as opposed to the youngsters. The club did not get the bid, Portland did, [See 1950 Site Selection.] and one of the least memorable fanzines was created: Hazing Stories, words and pictures by the Elders.

During the late Forties and early Fifties WSFA was host to some of the finest SF pros. I remember Seabury Quinn, Isaac Asimov, Willy Ley, George O. Smith, Lloyd Eshbach, Oswald Train, Poul Anderson, and Sam Moskowitz. I realize that I have left out a number of others; please accept my apologies. As I said at the beginning, these are simply my recollections; there are no notes or files.

After 1950, other very capable hands can take up the narrative, and the club has a proud list of fans turned professional to do the job.

Dedicated to the memory of Bob Pavlat.

Fanhistory 1940s
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