John Baltadonis' Nycon Reminiscence

1939Nycon
Reminiscences by John Baltadonis
From the Noreascon Three PB

There are times when I find myself standing at a desk wondering why it was I went there…a stamp…a letter to answer…a photo to identify…sometimes it helps to backtrack. I'm sure there are some of you who have similar experiences. So, when I was asked to share my memories of the first World Science Fiction Convention, I shuddered at the prospect of wracking (and maybe ruining) what was left of my brain cells in a mighty effort that was certain to produce a feeble product.

I don't remember how I got to the convention. I think it was by train ($4.11 for a round trip from Philadelphia!), and I'm not sure if I stayed with Richard Wilson (which I had done a couple of other times) or with relatives in Brooklyn. But I do remember that the wonderful New York subway system (for 5ยข you could go anywhere in all the boroughs) was not only important for getting around but also provided the ambiance for many happy hours of science fiction conversations and fan gossip.

The things I remember most about the convention itself were the troubles with the Futurians (who questioned the legitimacy of the Convention), the chairmanship of the convention by my good friend Sam Moskowitz, the presence of so many professionals in the science fiction field (writers, artists and editors), meeting fellow science fiction fans (some for the first time) and the number one science fiction fan, Forrest J Ackerman, and meeting one of my SF idols, Frank R. Paul.

Bob Madle, Jack Agnew, and I ate with Frank Paul, and during the table conversation we impressed Mr. Paul with how much we admired his artwork. In response to our request for one of his original covers for Wonder Stories, Mr. Paul magnanimously wrote a letter to Hugo Gernsback directing Mr. Gernsback to give each of us one of the covers he had done. We made a point to visit the editorial offices of Wonder Stories. When we did, Gernsback read the letter and said that he did have many of Paul's original covers; however, they were the property of the magazine's publisher and he, as editor, did not feel free to give them away. He excused himself for a few minutes. On his return he said that the management said we could have any of the covers we wanted, at the nominal price of five dollars each. Although the price was very reasonable, it was beyond our means.

As a convention, it was everything an SF fan could wish for. If I'd known that it was going to be so historic, I'd have taken notes!