My journey started disastrously. The airline had placed me in
first class! All that pampering, free champagne, ear phones that
are actually comfortable to wear, food that is edible and one could stretch
out almost horizontally without being a hindrance to the person in front
or behind, all of which could seriously damage my wallet on future trips.
But the main difference between coach and first class is that in coach
you are looking at your watch after just two hours. In first class
you look at your watch and think, "Oh no, only another two more hours!"
The switch in my seats had come about because I had made a mistake when
booking my seat and forgot to ask for an aisle or window seat and ended
up somewhere in the middle. The desk clerk took pity and moved me
into the only aisle seat available - in first class.
I arrived in Detroit early, beating Brian Bohnett by an hour
on his way to pick me up. Over the next few days my time would be
divided spending it with Brian or with his ex-wife Judy, both of
whom I have known for around 20 years and I would hope to retain an equal
friendship despite the situation.
One of the things I did during this time was to visit a five-ring circus
with Judy and her two young children. It was interesting because
I would later see David Fury (currently writing a biography of Maureen
O'Sullivan but had earlier written a book on the life of Burt Lancaster).
One of Lancaster's performances was alongside Tony Curtis in the 1956 film,
where the aim of the young Curtis was to do a triple somersault on the
trapeze. I thought trapeze artists no longer attempted such dangerous
stunts with so many safety regulations in place these days. But attempt
it they did, as they swung up so high to build up the momentum that their
heads would push into the canvas and in one dazzling moment, the artiste
spun in mid-air and was safely caught by his companion.
Although the convention was not scheduled to begin until Thursday, many
people would arrive a day early and take in visits to the homes of Ray
LeBeau and later a cook out with Jerry Spannraft. Brian
had to work that Wednesday and as I had already been to Jerry's home earlier
in the year and planned to visit Ray early next, disappointment was easily
set aside. The drive to Chicago began in the early hours so that
we would be in time for the first scheduled planned event. Along
for the ride was Brian's new fiancée Karen who wanted to find out
first hand what all this Burroughs madness was about.
We arrived at the Write Inn, that has maintained its period look
since it opened in 1926, in good time and found plenty of old friends to
greet us. The hotel let us check in despite our early arrival that
saved us from having to leave our luggage in the car while we were away.
Jerry had hired
the use of a school bus to transport us to the Museum of Science and
Industry that has on display the magnificent Fairy Castle that
once belonged to the silver screen actress, Colleen Moore. Several
years ago it was discovered that there were a series of unique books within
the doll house - all of which are about one inch high and contain writings
by some very eminent people including one book titled Tarzan
Jr. by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I had visited the museum
a few years back and these books were in a glass case on display and some
of the books were open, others not. Tarzan
Jr. was open. Now it seems the books are too rare to be displayed
and are kept in a carefully controlled environment. Our group of
about 60 strong was led into one of the archival sections where the books
are now kept and handled only by staff wearing gloves. It was amazing
to see not just for John Coleman's original drawings, but that the
story was hand-written by Burroughs himself. How often do you get
the chance to see an original manuscript?
After lunch and a quick tour of the museum, we headed back to the bus
for the return journey. However, we discovered the rain had also
arrived and only a few had thought to bring along umbrellas. The
group may not have welcomed the rain, but Illinois certainly did, having
gone through a very dry spell.
Around 5:00 pm, people began to congregate in the small hotel lobby
ready for a visit to the nearby Oak Park Conservatory for our evening
meal and a talk and slide show by Doug Deuchler giving a history of the
early development of Oak Park between 1910 and 1919. Dave Fury had
offered Brian, Karen and myself a ride to the Conservatory along with French
fan Philippe Badre. The Entente Cordiale that has existed
between France and England for over a century almost fell apart when Dave
Fury asked me how things were in England. After the recent suicide
attacks on London's underground rail system, I replied, "Oh, dodging bombs
and winning the Olympics!" (a reference to the fact that London beat Paris
in a bid to host the 2012 games). Philippe took it with the good
humour it was intended and everyone laughed.
Caterers had been brought in to serve the food that went down wonderfully,
in particular the ice cream and toppings. Doug Douchler's slide
show was also very enlightening as it gave a taste of how Oak Park
would have looked during the years that Burroughs spent living in the district.
On our return to the hotel, we discovered that Mary Fabian had
missed the entire event having come down to the lobby close to 6:00 pm
and found that everyone had already left. Without knowledge or transport
of where to go, she sat the evening out. Fortunately Jerry was very
understanding and refunded the cost of the meal. It did highlight
a problem that has on occasion occurred in the past when someone gets left
behind and misses out on the fun. To be frank, I'm not sure what
the answer is other than people should arrive in plenty of time before
an event, particularly if they are rooming alone.
The hotel also had a free internet connection for use by its patrons
albeit very slow. This allowed many of us to retrieve our email or
any other searches that we required. I was desperate to know how
a cricket match was panning out back home between England and Australia.
Things were looking up as England was winning.
The huckster room was set up shortly after breakfast in the gymnasium
of the church next door to the hotel. Convention attendees were then
let in just after 9:00 am where there was something to be found for everyone.
I was fortunate to get to John Rose's table before Philippe to find
a couple of issues of the Barsoomian (a 1960s ERB fanzine) that
I needed along with a copy of a Barsoomian Newsletter that I knew
nothing of. Philippe could not decide which issues he wanted, so
he bought the lot - including whole runs of Erbania, Burroughs Newsbeat,
ERB-dom, Barsoomian and many others. For those with deeper pockets,
there were even two original St John paintings for sale. These
were not Burroughs scenes, but delightful anyway.
Pat Kampert from the Chicago Tribune was there to write
a feature of the convention that would appear in the following Sunday edition.
After lunch at a nearby hot dog restaurant, it was time to reconvene
back at the hotel to catch the school bus once more. This time with
Phillips acting as our guide, the journey took us on a tour of downtown
Chicago where Burroughs spent much of his early life. The tour
did not go exactly as intended with time and traffic proving to be the
biggest headache such that we ran out of time before seeing any of the
houses that Ed lived in. However, it did give us an opportunity to
see much of Chicago and to get to know some of our fellow ERB fans a little
The bus finally stopped on North Boulevard (Oak Park) where Burroughs
once had an office. There a dedication plaque was placed commemorating
his time working there.
After briefly returning to the hotel, we headed over to the Edgar
Rice Burroughs Museum situated at the Pleasant Home. Cheese
and wine were laid on as small parties at a time were allowed to go
in and see the exhibits, much of which had been donated by Jerry Spannraft.
On Saturday morning the huckster room was once again opened with many
new treasures to be found. Rain had begun to fall yet again but not
enough to dampen anyone's spirit. However, it was causing our hosts
a slight headache, as the evening banquet was to take place on the open
roof of a restaurant a short walk away. An alternative strategy of
having the caterers bring the food to the gymnasium was abandoned when
it was discovered that another event was scheduled to take place there.
Meanwhile a walking / riding tour of Oak Park was arranged, particularly
for the spouses that had no interest in the Burroughs convention.
An auction then followed in the chapel where many items
went for a lot less than was originally hoped. I picked up an original
Maxon strip #2391 for just $35 - which was a steal considering its
asking price was $150.
The rain had eased off by the time we headed for the Avenue Ale House
and clear skies greeted us. The staff had obviously borrowed every
umbrella in town just in case the rain arrived, but things were looking
After a wonderful meal, George McWhorter introduced Max Allen
Collins, author of The Pearl Harbor Murders to say a few words.
As I listened to him tell how the book came about, my mind was cast back
to my book room in England where copies of his book still sat on the shelf
having been left behind and not added to my luggage. Hopefully the
opportunity will rise another time to get them signed.
took centre stage again to give out the annual awards to which I was sure
Spannraft would be the recipient. However, George started off
by saying that this year, two people would receive an award. George
had only to mention that the first award would go to someone who has attended
many conventions to know that he was talking about me. It was a wonderful
feeling to finally be awarded one of these plaques after so many years.
The biggest problem I discovered is what does one say on such short notice?
Fortunately I fell back onto what is now an old story of how I reached
a crossroads in my life of whether I really wanted to see the world, or
spend my summers with ERB friends. The plaque reads: "For outstanding
achievement and devotion to the memory of Edgar Rice Burroughs" and
has my name underneath with the year 2005.
The second award did indeed go to Jerry Spannraft but unfortunately
George had not checked on the plaques before presenting them. Otherwise
he would have spotted that the engravers had substituted the two 'r's in
Jerry's name with two 'n's making Jenny! George was mortified when
he discovered the error but Jerry saw the funny side of it.
It was too dark to take group photos so everyone headed back to the
hotel. The Board meeting of the Burroughs Bibliophiles
then took place where one of the first things to take place was voting
on nominations to join the Board, then a drawing of names to determine
the staggered term length of Board members and finally we had to vote for
a chairman after John Tyner made it known he was stepping down.
After the first count, the vote was split equally but Brad Vinson
(newly elected to the Board) stepped aside and allowed me the chair.
It was turning out to be quite a night with winning an award and now being
elected as chairman of the Burroughs Bibliophiles. Without an agenda,
a discussion followed concerning the number of conventions there were to
be next year and whether we should demote the name Dum-Dum back
to the Saturday night dinner as our founder Vern Coriell had intended.
It was late by the time the meeting ended and everyone headed for his
or her respective beds. Some 25 people made it to the farewell
breakfast the following morning much to the surprise of the restaurant
that was not expecting us until the afternoon.
Later Brian, Karen and myself followed Jerry Spannraft back to his home
for a cook out on his rear porch. Before long it was time to head
home and the end of yet another wonderful convention put on by sheer hard
work of our hosts Jerry Spannraft, Joan Bledig, Mike Conran, Greg Phillips
and Frank Lipo of the Oak Park Historical Society.
Postscript: England went on to not only win the cricket match, but
the series as well – the first time they had achieved that in 16 years.