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A Brief History of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society and Its Resulting Conventions

by Mark Owings... Originally published 1991 by BSFS in the Balticon 25 Program Book




In a way, maybe I shouldn't be the one to do this. I've been too much in the middle of things, sometimes. I remember that the year Balticon had Philip Jose Farmer as guest of honor, the one time the whole weekend I saw him was at one o'clock Sunday morning in the ice-cream parlor. I never saw Robin McKinley at all.

Anyway. The (old) Baltimore Science Fiction Society was founded on the back of a T railways bus coming back from a meeting of the Washington club. It was the first time more than two of us had gone at a time, and since there were five of us, and the Washington club was started with four ...

We started meeting on second and fourth Fridays (WSF A was and if first, third, and fifth Fridays), then switched to second and fourth Saturdays when the secretary started working Friday nights. This worked better, and still does.

After a year or two, we started a bizarre schedule for elections - every thirteen meetings - for reasons unknown or forgotten, and the elections were held in a meeting room in the basement of a Holiday Inn. We had large attendances, with a number of out-of-towners coming in. One of the last of these had programming of a sort. (A sort I will not detail, since everyone else involved has lived it down, mostly by disappearing.) This was impetus in a way. for holding a local convention.

Also, there was a Worldcon bid around then. I think of this as the semi-competent bid, to distinguish it from later ones.

The first Balticon was held at the Emerson Hotel in downtown Baltimore on Washington's Birthday of 1967. The man who supposedly ran it does not remember any programming there, but there was. We got a meeting room thrown in (or nobody was using it, whatever) and Dave Ettlin put some panels together. There was no guest of honor; Roger Zelazny (who lived here then and was a BSFS member) was the only writer there. We lost money on the convention, and Roger paid his dues for years in advance to make the club solvent. I don't know how much we lost, but with dues at $4 a year, it couldn't have been much.

The second Balticon, in 1968, had Samuel R. Delany as guest of honor, in the Lord Baltimore' Hotel. He gave a confusing and semi-irrelevant speech. That night the program room was used for a con-suite, and was the scene of introduction for a Star Trek role playing game, years before any commercial one was thought of. One of the penalties was having to proposition Spock.

In October of 1968 (10/12) the last meeting of the old BSFS was held in a streetcar, in the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. A slate of officers was elected who had not paid their dues.

The 1969 and 1970 Balticons (Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp, then Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight) were run be Jack Chalker in large measure to promote Mirage Press. Jack quit when Damon Knight decided the convention was rich and .. charged 27 dinners to his room.

The 1971 to 1974 Balticons were put together by Ted Pauls, Dave Halterman, and myself until Halterman went to Spain, then essentially just Ted. The 1971 convention was enlivened by a shouting match between Harry Harrison (the guest of honor) and Ted White. 1972 had the first move out of the Lord Baltimore, to a poured-concrete oddity near Hopkins Hospital, and Gordy Dickson. 1973 was back to the Lord Baltimore with Poul Anderson, then Frederik Pohl in 1974.1973 was the year Ted White wrote a Balticon report for LOCUS that said ''I went up Saturday afternoon, and nobody I wanted to talk to was there, so I left."

Well, things were running down.

In 1974 Sue Wheeler decided that BSFS should be restarted and take over Balticon again, so we did.

The 1975 Balticon, the first one on Easter Weekend, was held at the Pikesville Hilton, the largest to that time, larger than the first Worldcons I went to. That year the stage collapsed when four panelists stood up at the end of an hour, and the hotel claimed we did thousands in damage and couldn't find anybody with money to sue.

1976 was the first of many off-and-on years at the Hunt Valley Inn. We knew thatthe place was, uh, relaxed when a couch caught fire in the con-suite and the night manager didn't think it was worth leaving Earth us. the Flying Saucers for.

The period from 1976 to 1980 saw the convention growing bigger each year, and getting more elaborate, and we still managed to not have any real problems. The club during this time also grew, meeting at different times in homes, at the Hopkins campus, in the back room of a restaurant, in a funeral parlor, and finally for a year or so in what is now the used section at Tales from the White Hart.

In 1977 we had Farmer as guest of honor, and in 1978 we had Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, and Katherine MacLean. As I put it at the time, someone photogenic, someone worth listening to, and someone to attract crowds. Anne McCaffrey worked on registration when we were busy Friday, C.J. Cherryh volunteered for many many panels, and Katherine MacLean went around the con-suite cleaning up on Sunday night.

Balticon 13, in 1979, was our first convention on Friday the 13th, so for a good luck charm we invited Poul Anderson back again. In 1980 we had Algis Budrys and our last truly untroubled year.

1981 is best forgotten. Nothing worked. (See note at end)

In 1982 we moved into the Hyatt Regency downtown, bringing Samuel Delany back. The most memorable things about the 1982-1984 sequence there, to me, were the high price of orange juice in the coffee shop (though the fruit was good) and the awful noise from the band in the lobby. It was, all in all, a nice place, though, and would be great if we could bribe the band members to call in sick that weekend.

Also in 1982, the club moved into longer-term quarters, which we are still in, though by now we are trying to move. It's always been rather basic down there, and it's slowly getting worse.

For the 1983 Balticon began the weekly informal meetings to discuss and work on the convention, which have helped to make things run smoothly. Sprague and Catherine deCamp were guests at one of the better Balticons. This was also the first year that the Compton Crook Award was presented.

In 1984 we had Parke Godwin. It must have run well. I don't remember it. For 1985, the Hunt Valley Inn decided that they wanted our business again, and made a good offer. Roberta MacAvoy proved as lively as her books.

In 1986 we returned to the Hyatt Regency, for (so far) the last time. Nancy Springer was the guest of honor. Attendance was down, perhaps because of the switches between downtown and the suburbs.

1987 was our first year in the Omni in downtown Baltimore. The hotel loused up tremendously by double-booking the function space, we had enormous changes at the last minute, and it still didn't really work. We brought Roger Zelazny back to town and this time, paid his way rather than the other way around.

1988 was back at the Hunt Valley with Spider Robinson. Everyone seemed overworked, though I don't recall anything seriously going wrong for very long.

In 1989 we went back to the Omni, giving them another chance. They blew it again, but in smaller ways, like mixing up guest rooms. On the other hand, the City Paper gave us a long write-up the day before the convention started.

The 1990 Balticon was at the Hunt Valley Inn with Robin McKinley. The only major problem was suffered by the attendee who was hit crossing the road to get to the mall.

This brings us here. [Balticon 25 in 1990] don't know what's up now.



Michael J. Walsh added the following to the original publication.

In regards to the 1981 Balticon a few words from the 1981 Balticon chair:

We suffered a major problem with room allocations for the guests of the convention. Only through the hard work of many members of BSFS and their friends was a total disaster averted.

It should be noted that the guest of honor was John Varley - who was quite pleasant. It was one of Varley's first Guest of Honor appearances. The programming was quite good and the art show was moved from a multitude of minuscule parlors to one large function room (thereby significantly increasing sales).

 
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