Once Again, Remembering Harry

Harry and me ca. 1995.

By Rich Lynch: Today is the somber 20th anniversary of the passing of Harry Warner, Jr.  Two months ago, in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday, F770 ran an essay of mine which provided a condensed and somewhat dispassionate description of his life as a science fiction fan.  So for this one I’ll give a much more personal remembrance.

I’ll start with when I first met Harry.  That was in 1982, when Nicki and I received a letter of comment from him about the first issue of our fanzine Mimosa.  Prior to that we’d published a clubzine titled Chat, but distribution for that had mostly been limited to members of the Chattanooga Science Fiction Association.  For Mimosa, we made sure to obtain mailing addresses for fans a lot farther afield, and Harry, due to his reputation as a letter writer, was our #1 priority.

Mimosa ran for 30 issue total, and Harry had letters in all but four of them.  And that was only because those four issues didn’t have lettercols.  I’ve gone back and re-read some of his LoCs, and I guess the best way to describe them is that they were eclectic in terms of the things he commented on.  And sometimes even prophetic – in that first LoC to Mimosa he responded to a pessimistic speech reprint about the U.S. space program by stating that: “The only possible way out of the bogged down condition of the space program that I can imagine is a very long shot: cooperation with the USSR and other nations on big new ventures.”  He wrote that 16 years prior to an agreement between the U.S. and Russia for construction of the International Space Station.

Nicki and I moved to Maryland in 1988 and our very first fan activity here was a drive out to Hagerstown to meet Harry in person.  He was welcoming and happy to see us, and we spent a couple of very pleasant hours with him before it became time to head on back.  I had many other visits after that – sometimes with Nicki and sometimes as an escort for visiting fans.  The two that I remember the best were the times that Nicki and I, along with our friend Sheryl Birkhead, took Harry to see minor league baseball games.  At that point in his life, Harry was pretty much set in his ways.  The Hagerstown stadium was only about a mile from Harry’s home and Harry really liked baseball, but he refused to drive or even walk around outside after dark.  So those two outings were probably the first time in decades that he’d attended a game.

It was inevitable that Harry would write an essay for Mimosa, and it appeared in the sixth issue – the tale of an eccentric elderly couple who lived next door to him and, after their deaths, his amazement on how many dumpsters full of stuff were removed from the house in preparing it for resale.  And after that there were five other articles of his which we published, and the topics were as eclectic as his letters of comment: his speculation that Hagerstown could be the site of an alien invasion; his recollection of how he almost was beaten up because of a fanzine article he’d written; his account of being the Fan Guest of Honor at the 1971 Worldcon; his memories of a visit by fans on their way back home after the very first Worldcon; his description of the complex machinations that were needed to keep his life in science fiction separated from his career as a newspaperman. They’re all good reads.

That last article was a reprint from 1958 which we ran in our final issue, and it was posthumous – Harry had died six months earlier.  My in-person memories of him are so plentiful and so detailed that I guess I was surprised to realize that they only encompass a decade-and-a-half total.  Or barely more than two decades if I go back to his first LoC to Mimosa.  Our relationship was good throughout – there were a couple of times we had disagreements about the need to re-research a few things for the 1992 edition of his fan history book, A Wealth of Fable (I was the editor for that project) but they were settled peaceably and I believe our friendship was in the end stronger as a result.  In fact, Harry was such a constant in my life that I probably took him for granted – so much so that I had thought there was a reasonable chance that he would outlive me.  Maybe because of this I can’t remember for sure the final time I saw him – it might have been when I came out to Hagerstown to help him set up a new stereo system (he was a lover of classical music).  I never thought, during that visit, that he was in any imminent danger of dying.  In the end, what took him must have been quick and easy.  And what we have left are all the memories.

There was a fairly-well-publicized dispute after Harry’s death about what would happen to his large and historically valuable fanzine collection.  I won’t go into that except to say it was eventually resolved and the collection’s final resting spot ended up being in the hands of someone who had assured that he would be respectful of it.  One of the few regrets I have from all the times I went to see Harry was that I never got to see the collection – it was in a part of the house that Harry apparently kept off-limits to visitors.  But I have been to see Harry’s final resting spot – it’s near the corner of a large cemetery that’s about half-way between Harry’s house and the Hagerstown baseball stadium.  It was very quiet on the day I was there – I remember that it seemed a good place to reflect on the legend that was Harry Warner.


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