Porter: It Was 50 Years Ago Today

By Andrew Porter: In 1963, I was a 17-year-old student at Milford Preparatory School, in Milford, Conn. I was in my second year, due to graduate in May, 1964. Milford was a small school, all male then, now long shut down. I was, even then, known for my love for science fiction. My nickname there was “spaceman”; those who didn’t know me thought it was an insult, but I was happy with the moniker. Among other things, they let me keep my growing SF collection, as long as I kept my grades up, and, even better, I was allowed to use the school’s electric Ditto machine to run off the first several issues of Algol..

We had Friday afternoon after lunch off from classes, and I’d gone into Milford’s small center, to the variety store that had been supplying me with new SF paperbacks. Afterwards, I went to the local Goodwill store on the way back to the campus. That store had received a big batch of mint condition pulp magazines – Planet Stories, Startling, Thrilling Wonder, etc. — from the late 40s through the end of their days in the early 1950s. I’d been buying them up, as many as I could carry, each time I went in. (And I still have them, a little dustier, today.)

There, with customers and employees clustered around it, was a big old b&w TV set, and …

When I got back to school, the dorm master, teacher Francis Gemme, was running around the dorm in his underwear, holding an antique whaling harpoon he owned, shouting about a conspiracy. The students in the dorm, and likely much of the school, thought he was acting like a madman. (In later years, Gemme did introductions to academic paperback editions of such books as The War of the Worlds, Leaves of GrassOur Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey, etc. He and his wife were on the DC-10 headed to the 1979 American Booksellers Association Convention in Los Angeles which crashed just after takeoff from Chicago’s O’Hare, killing everyone on board.)

That evening, at dinner, they announced that the school would close early for Thanksgiving Recess, sending everyone home the next day. From my parents’ reaction on finding me unexpectedly returned from school, apparently they failed to tell anyone about this.

Lost in the press of events: C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley also died on November 22nd, 1963…