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PresentsSince the last days of the twentieth century, nothing has been heard from...
by Laurence Dunn
Reprinted from ERBapa #66
I'll be the first to admit that long before I even ventured into Hachland Hall, home of the ECOF 2000 gathering, I was giving fellow APA member and convention host Jim Thompson, a hard time over the increase in registration costs for attending this particular gathering. Compared with the Dum-Dum last year at the Marriott Hotel in the San Fernando Valley to a bed and breakfast inn somewhere in Tennessee, the cost had risen considerably. While I may have been alone in voicing my concern aloud over these costs and making them public over the ERBcof-L, I knew that others too felt the same way. My concern was that this new level of registration would set a benchmark for future hosts. The two conventions each year are the pinnacle point for fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs to meet and discuss our favourite author. Over the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in new faces attending these gatherings mainly thanks to the two internet lists ERBcof and ERBlist. But if there is an increasing spiral of costs, we will be driving a wedge between those that can afford to attend and those that cannot. Jim Thompson's decision to host the gathering at the Inn had merit in that we could all stay together under one roof and basically have the run of the place without the intrusion of outsiders. Unfortunately the charges made by the Inn were so high and beyond Jim's control, it led many to find alternate and cheaper lodgings. As I told Jim in a private message, I raised my concern publicly in the hope that future hosts will consider - and cater for the fact that there are many ERB fans who would like to join in these festivities, but may not have deep enough pockets to do so.
Growing up as a kid in the early sixties, my music tastes were obviously affected by the Beatles. In fact for a long time, I didn't think that there was any other kind of music worth listening to - but then I was just a kid of about 7 or 8 years old at the time. Shortly afterwards however I became aware of another music legend, Elvis Presley, and to this day I still enjoy listening to his songs.
So when I began making my plans to attend the ECOF gathering, I made a conscious decision to take the time and visit his home Gracelands in Memphis. Roughly at the same time, fellow APA member Tracy Griffin asked on ERBcof-L if anyone was driving to the convention from the South West of Clarkesville. Since Memphis was in that direction, I offered my assistance to which Tracy gratefully accepted. Actually I was grateful too because visiting Gracelands and other such places of interest is always more enjoyable when you can share it with someone you know. Plus I had a lot of miles ahead of me in a short space of time and I was glad to share the driving.
After flying into Nashville via Cleveland (I had originally intended to visit Memphis at the end of my trip, but that became rearranged when I extended my invite to Tracy), I found a motel for the night and slept soundly. The next morning after breakfast, I headed West to meet Tracy who was flying into Memphis around midday. His flight arrived about 10 or 15 minutes early but I was there in good time to greet him and we departed the airport to have lunch.
||Since Tracy knew Memphis better than I did having spent several of his college years here, I handed the car keys over to him. We soon found signs pointing to Gracelands and entered onto the Elvis Presley Blvd. To our right was the home of Elvis, while to the left was the museum. Parked alongside the museum were the two aircraft that the singer once owned. The Lisa Marie (named of course after his daughter), a Convair 880 which he had converted to contain a dining room, lounge, kitchen and bedroom; and the Hound Dog II which was a Lockheed Jetstar, also customised. Tracy and I took the full tour which included walking through the mansion (only the upstairs was out of bounds), the offices behind, the racket ball court (now decorated with all of his gold and platinum disks). Plus of course his final resting place with his mother and father at either side, along with his grandmother and a plaque for his stillborn twin brother all within the grounds of Gracelands. The curators of the museum have done a wonderful job to his memory.|
After checking into a motel for the night, Tracy and I headed for Beale Street which apparently is well known for its Rhythm and Blues clubs. Some were more popular than others and after choosing a quieter place to have something to eat and drink, we eventually spent the remainder of the evening at B.B.King's (who I guess went onto make a name for himself?) and enjoy the music.
On Thursday morning we headed for Clarkesville, making a pitstop at Jackson for the Casey Jones museum. I recall an old black and white TV show from the sixties of the same name but until this day, I never realised he was a real person (It's amazing what you learn by going to an ERB convention!). Jim had sent me directions to Hachland Hall but unfortunately I carelessly forgot them (plus we had entered Clarkesville from a different direction so they would have been of little help unless we had made a wide detour). However, we pulled into a service station to ask if anyone knew of the Hall and discovered that we were literally just half a mile from our destination.
Entering the Inn, we found our hosts Jim and Linda Thompson waiting to greet us. Alongside them were Barry and Sue Stubbersfield from Australia (it would be just my luck if George McWhorter decided at this convention to resurrect an old tradition of presenting a door prize to those that had travelled the farthest!). I had of course met Barry and Sue a couple of years ago while visiting my sister in Australia, but this was their first time in the U.S. (Jim had decided to host the convention early to coincide with their trip). George McWhorter had driven down from Louisville with former APA member Bobbie Rucker. Other early arrivals included Bruce Wood (also attending his first ERB convention) and Rob Greer who I met briefly last year at the Dum-Dum in Woodland Hills. Actually most of my encounters with other fans last year were brief as it seemed like I spent most of my time in stores buying Disney Tarzan stuff which would not be available in England for several months. I intended to correct that at this gathering.
We were each given our presentation packages which included a schedule of events, the latest issue of the Barsoomian Blade produced by Jeff Long; Burroughs in Australia by Jim Thompson (with probable input by Barry Stubbersfield); a Moon Maid bookmark; a booklet entitled Mary Burroughs, wife of John Coleman; an extract from a company newsletter giving a profile on one of their employees (umm.. namely me); and a fridge magnet with convention logo of the Moon Maid emblazoned upon it. The package was also to include a convention pin and a CD with various articles written on the Moon Maid trilogy, but apparently these were not ready in time although Jim has informed us that they would be sent out as soon as he receives them.
Jim headed off to Nashville to pick up Bill and Sue-On Hillman but unfortunately after picking them up, the car came limping back after a blow-out on the Interstate. Apparently Sue-On offered to look for the missing hub cap while Jim and Bill changed the wheel. Before she even contemplated crossing the busy road in her search, she eventually found the cap lying in the long grass close by. One half of the Capital's chapter of the BB, the Panthans, arrived, but the other half, Bill Ross and J.G. (Huck) Huckenpohler were initially delayed by an hour and then had to wait for Mike Conran arriving from Michigan who was also experiencing delays. Eventually they arrived none the worse for wear and we settled down for the remainder of the evening renewing old friendships.
Arriving at the nearby Comfort Inn, it was almost like Christmas as I passed out some of the Disney Tarzan books only available in England to Bill Ross and Mike Conran (If it is out there - they have to have it). In return, Bill gave me some of the items that I had purchased on Ebay (it makes life so much simpler getting someone in the States to purchase these items for me). Plus there was the latest Panthan Journal (which I had contributed to on my previous visit just over two weeks before this one) and their newsletter that covered the meeting in Huck's home.
Early the next morning we met up with Bob Hyde and Henry Franke partaking the complimentary breakfast offered by the motel. They had arrived late the night before - too late to join us at the Hachland Hall. Shortly afterwards we headed back to the Hall but not before Tracy and I hit the local K-mart (he to get some film for his camera and I wanted to see if there was any Tarzan stuff to be had - but there wasn't!).
The Hall was becoming a hive of activity as dealer tables were being set up and bargains found or something found to fill in that missing niche in someone's collection. Several people went on a book crawl in Nashville which is about an hour away from the convention site. I stayed behind with the majority of the group to listen to the comics panel moderated by Bob Woodley. Bill Hillman gave a history of ERB in the comics, Huck reminded us of the adaptations of the Barsoom stories that have appeared over the years, and Bob reminisced about the Dell, Gold Key and DC years.
Elsewhere, game master Tracy was setting up the role-playing John Carter, Warlord of Mars game which unfortunately never began because not all the contestants were available at the same time. Jim also set up a board for the Martian chess game of Jetan but either no one was keen on losing life nor limb in true Manatorian style or they could not play chess well enough for us to be a spectator on a battle of the minds.
The Va-Gas invade the home of Jim Thompson
|Towards early evening we headed over to the home of Jim and Linda Thompson for a pre-planned barbecue. Despite missing a couple of turnings, we arrived in good time and joined the others for food and drink before touring Jim's book room in his basement. Jim had described his basement to me when he visited England in January, but that did not begin to warn me how extensive it is. The way in which Jim had described it to me with the tight turnings around bookshelves and separating walls, I figured that it was only about 4 metres square (12'x12'). In actual fact it turned out that the room measures the full size of the house and is literally filled floor to ceiling with thousands of books alongside his wonderful Burroughs collection which includes several signed editions. Just a short time previous to the convention, Jim had commissioned from a friend, Charlotte Redemann, to make a model of the Va-Gas. Without the help of artwork that has illustrated book covers for years, this sculptor worked directly from the text in the books and translated it into probably the most accurate concept that Burroughs was describing and produced a truly magnificent figure that was the envy of us all.|
|It was while I was peering through the volumes that sat upon the shelves that Jim appeared with a second cake. The first was already sat on a table upstairs with the convention logo decorated beautifully in icing. This second cake however took my breath away as it had the words 'Barry Stubbersfield' 'Laurence Dunn' around the edge and Happy Birthday in the centre. Barry was celebrating his 50th birthday that day and I would be having my 45th on the Monday following the convention. I had forgotten that I had mentioned this to Jim earlier in the year, but he had not. After a rendition of Happy Birthday by all that surrounded us, we cut deeply into the cake that was as mouth-watering to taste as it looked. Thankyou Jim and Linda for a wonderful surprise.|
Towards the end of the evening we headed back to Hachland Hall for the long awaited meeting consisting of members of the 'new' and 'old' Boards of the Burroughs Bibliophiles. This was the first opportunity that they had to sit around the table to discuss the problems that had arisen since the inauguration of the 'new' board in June 1999. Bob Hyde as President and member of the 'old' board opened proceedings and began by not recognising the 'new' board. However, after it was pointed out that the 'new' board has a legal status, a compromise was met after a suggestion by Jerry Spannraft that will eventually lead to new elections and the appointment of members of the 'old' board to the 'new' if they so wish to be nominated. Also, the members of the 'old' board present took a vote on whether to disband the 'old' board' that had been elected by the membership in 1990. The vote was carried unanimously.
While the board meeting was in progress, over at one of the log cabins where Bob Woodley and Huck were staying, a mini Tarzan film festival was being shown and cries of laughter could be heard emanating from the smoke filled room.
After a successful conclusion to the Board meeting, everyone returned to their respective motels after a long and exhausting day.
As the rain came down upon our final full day, Dennis Willcutt and Tom Yeates arrived. Tom had several pieces of his artwork for sale and offered to accept any commission work.
David Critchfield had brought along some of his juggling instruments that he uses at Renaissance Fairs and offered to teach anyone interested. While several took up the challenge with the soft rubber balls, none however were tempted at trying with the long knives although fellow APA members Bob Woodley and Dennis Willcutt did pick up the armaments in their continuing struggle against one another that is all done in fun of course. All of which reminds me of the wonderful line in the Disney Tarzan film when Tarzan and Terk are wrestling and Tantor watches to one side crying, "It's all fun and games till somebody loses an eye."
In a very interesting discussion moderated by Bill Hillman, Mary Burroughs then gave a detailed account of her life with her husband and the Burroughs family as a whole. Mary had attended the Dum-Dum in Woodland hills the year before but only for a short time and few had had the chance to meet her. This time however, she spent a little longer and the warmth and charm of this lovely lady captivated all of us.
At some point during the day, Bob Woodley somehow managed to back up his pickup truck into a large tree that was growing in the middle(!) of the driveway. He wasn't injured which is more than I can say for his truck with the rear bumper half hanging off.
The banquet that evening was followed by several speakers that included Jerry Spannraft on his plans to celebrate ERB's 125th birthday in Oak Park. Mike Conran spoke of the Dum-Dum that would be held in Michigan in July. George McWhorter invited everyone to visit the Louisville University on the Monday if they were still in the vicinity. While George was standing, he told us that the ERB Lifetime Achievement Award was to be presented to Ken Webber, but unfortunately Ken had left earlier that evening unaware of what was about to be bestowed upon him.
A second board meeting was held to continue the progress made the night before with several items tabled including the outcome of a committee meeting to determine the requirements of any future board nominees, that would be presented to the full board meeting when it convenes in July.
The skies had cleared by Sunday morning when we all met at the Hachland Hall for the farewell breakfast. Apparently there was a 90 year old English lady staying at the Inn during the time of our convention and had heard me speaking the day before to recognise that I was a fellow countryman. The owner of the Inn called me over and introduced us to each other. I cannot recall the lady's name but she was equally as surprised as I was to meet another person from England on holiday in a place that is so far off the beaten tourist track.
I've got to learn to drive on the other side of the road
|One car after another left the grounds of Hachland Hall and most were headed home. Tracy and I were headed up to Louisville along with Bob Woodley accompanied by Bill and Sue-On Hillman. Halfway there, Bob had to pull over to fill up with gas but not before we had just spotted a Corvette museum nearby. Not being in a great deal of hurry, we took the time out to see the history of this car. Each of us took turns to pose for the camera sat in a convertible. But when we saw another car on display that had been in a race crash, Bob, Tracy and I sprawled ourselves out as though we had been victims in the crash much to the amusement of Sue-On.|
Having first checked into a Days Inn close to the University that had been recommended to us and then visiting a nearby restaurant for dinner, we went in search of a cinema to see the film Gladiator. This Roman epic had only just been released in England on the weekend before I flew to the States and I was looking forward to it immensely. Much to our disgust however, the film had already been demoted to one of the smaller screens and the sound effects suffered badly. That aside, I did enjoy the film and the portrayal of the battle scenes proved that they can be shown effectively without the blood, gore and violence as seen in such films as Braveheart. I also enjoyed seeing one of my favourite actors Oliver Reed in this, his final film. Sadly he died during its making.
On arrival at the University and collecting our parking permits, we crossed the campus towards the Ekstrom Library. This was to be my fifth visit to the University and the wonderful Burroughs collection that George has assembled. As I gazed across the campus, my eyes fell upon the 12-storey student apartment block. Fifteen years ago, former APA member Ken Hall and I stayed on the 10th floor along with a whole group of other Burroughs fans attending the ECOF gathering. It was here that I met Mike Conran for the first time with his son Chris. Joan Bledig (staying on the floor below), Brian Bohnett, Phil Burger, John McGuigan and John Flint Roy were to name just a few amongst those that we shared some wonderful times together.
Unfortunately we caught George in his weekly Monday morning meeting with other senior members of the Library staff. But George took a moment away to hand us copies the latest issue of the Bulletin that had arrived fresh from the printers while we were at the convention. This was the first time that Bob Woodley and Bill Hillman had visited the collection, so as George opened up the inner sanctum, Tracy and I let our friends through first so that we could watch their faces light up. And light up they did as George took us on a tour along the glass filled cases and rows of bookcases, opening up drawers and pulling books off the shelves. For the next few hours, taking just a brief respite for lunch, digital cameras clicked away and were downloaded. Cries of "Look at this!" were heard many times as we scanned the shelves at something new. Henry Franke arrived a short time later, but could only stay for an hour or so before continuing his journey home. Bob Woodley also had a long journey by road in front of him. Bill and Sue-On were flying home from Louisville and so left with Bob. Tracy and I stayed for another hour or so before it too was time for us to depart. Since the University was just a few hours drive from the convention site, I was determined to visit George and see this great collection one more time. It was worth every moment.
||Prior to the convention, Jim Thompson
had mentioned another place that we may want to visit. Just a couple of
hours away on the Tennessee and Illinois border is the town of Metropolis.
It is situated on the banks of the Ohio River shortly before it and the
Tennessee River go their separate ways. The riverboat casino draws many
visitors to this small town but would probably be no different to any other
town up and down the river except for one thing, its name. Metropolis is
of course the name of the fictional city where Superman lives and works
with his alter ego Clark Kent. Some fifteen years ago, a small group of
Superman fans raised just enough money to erect a 7 foot tall statue of
the superhero. It still was not enough to draw the fans until fortunately
along came the Superman movies. People came from far and wide, and in time
a newer statue was built in the Town Square. Fifteen feet high the bronze
statue, now painted in that famous red and blue suit stands tall and proud.
Across the road there is a gift shop and museum that began as the personal
collection of just one fan. Each year a Superman festival is held in early
June and thousands flock to participate in the weekend celebrations.
Our tour of the museum was cut short because a TV company was setting up an interview with the owner that will be aired on 'The Daily Show' to coincide with the festival. Tracy and I took our leave and headed for the Chamber of Commerce where the young lady assistant spent much of her time either leaning over a table working, or searching beneath the front desk counter revealing other charms Metropolis has to offer.
It was time to head South once again and head for Mississippi where Tracy's family live on a small farm. On route was the town of Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley but it was getting late so we decided not to stop. Tracy keeps his collection split between his parents home and his own in California, that I only got to see a small portion of it. The visit to his family home reminded me of my younger days when our family took their summer holiday and spent two weeks each year with relatives who also lived on a farm. Having been born and bred in the city, life in the country is so still and tranquil that I often regret the passing of those few bygone days away from the concrete jungle.
My visit was to be a brief one and saying my farewells, I jumped into the car and headed back towards Nashville. I decided to take what was meant to be the more scenic route along the Natchez Trace. It follows the path of the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians that carved a trail from Natchez near the Mississippi River to Nashville - almost 450 miles away. Unfortunately most of the route is tree lined so there is very little scenery to be found. But it does have its many points of interest including the historical burial mounds easily visible from the highway. I'm sure that I would have enjoyed the drive better if I had the time and opportunity to spend on the many diverging trails and discovering more of its history, but I had an appointment with an aircraft to take me home and it would be costly to miss. Jim and Linda Thompson had invited me back to their home for my final night in the U.S.. I arrived just as they were about to sit down for tea and related to them what I had been up to over the last few days. The visit also gave me the opportunity to take a more leisurely look around Jim's fabulous book room.
By early morning I was on the road again and heading for the airport. With over seventeen hundred miles clocked up in the car, I could look back at the last 10 days with fond memories. There was a time when I wanted to tour the world and to some extent I have. But I had other places I wanted to visit like the Himalayas and Africa, seeing the ancient Greek and Roman ruins in Southern Europe. In the end I opted to attend conventions in honour of Edgar Rice Burroughs instead. I think I made the right choice.