Worldcon Wayback Machine: Noreascon Three (1989) Day One

Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA. Contemporary photo.

Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA. Contemporary photo.

Twenty-five years ago today Noreascon Three began in Boston, Massachusetts. I’ve been working on a post about its epic Science Fiction’s 50th Anniversary Family Reunion Sunday brunch which will appear September 3. The research reminded me what a superb convention it was, a once-in-a-generation, and I have decided to republish my whole conreport. Here is the first daily installment.

The Worldcon was among the first events held in the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, built the prior year in 1988. In the words of one travel writer the Hynes’ “severe gray interior is reminiscent of an early 20th-century German railroad station.” I see from my first paragraph I at least picked up on the “German” vibe.

(Incidentally, the convention’s name was officially agnostic: “Noreascon 3”, “Noreascon Three” and “Noreascon III” were all declared correct forms of the name.)

Noreascon Three by Mike Glyer (from File 770 #82): Boston’s renovated Hynes Convention Center has ceilings tall as the Tombs of Atuan, floors black as Kubrick’s monolith, and walls as green as Tiffany enamel. The entry from Boylston Street looks like a stark glass and basalt-colored proscenium perhaps waiting for Leni Riefenstahl to jump out of a cab and demand to know who removed the swastikas, but just beyond are breathtakingly tall chrome escalators hurtling toward a promise of incredible activities.

Hynes Convention Center in 2009.

Hynes Convention Center in 2009.

Within, Noreascon’s Extravaganza Division marked the convention with unparalleled heart and understanding. Their events did not merely entertain, they touched the emotions of large numbers of fans. Ellen Franklin and Jill Eastlake’s division existed to stage the big events at Noreascon Three spectacularly. The 50th Anniversary Party (Thursday), SF Tonight! (Friday), Boxboro Fandom Party (Friday), Hugo Awards (Saturday), Masquerade (Sunday) and Closing Ceremonies and Retrospective (Monday) headlined the con’s hundreds of successful programs and events.

Hynes escalators in 2009.

Hynes escalators in 2009.

Mother of Invention: Some of the decisions forced upon the committee by necessity were so successful they will probably form part of the essential architecture of future Worldcons.

When the 1987 Boskone’s crowd problems instigated the Sheraton to dishonor its agreements to host future science fiction conventions, Noreascon Three was forced to create attractions in the Convention Center to compensate for the loss of hotel facilities, or later when they regained the Sheraton through litigation, to keep crowds in the Hynes for the sake of peace with the hotel. A new idea, the ConCourse, with the Huckster Room and the convention program gave members ample reason to hang out in the Hynes. The ConCourse amalgamated fanhistory exhibits, convention information, the fanzine lounge, the daily newzine publishing area, convention bidding and Site Selection tables, and a Hynes-run snack bar in one place, and layed it out as an indoor park. Fred Isaacs and Peggy Rae Pavlat [Sapienza] led the development of the ConCourse and fans responded to it so positively we should see others like it in the future.

A second invention whose mother was necessity, SF Tonight!, showcased the guests of honor in a talk show format hosted by Tappan King. Andre Norton in particular was not suited by health or preference to do her star turn in the form of a long stand-up speech. The interview format made a virtue of necessity, but the audience approval for SF Tonight! Is such that future committees should note how this format uses the guests of honor’s interesting friends to illuminate the guest’s career and personality.

The Virtual Trees: Noreascon Three attracted 7,100 members, including 700 full-attending memberships at-the-door and 900 1- and 2-day passes. The largest one-day attendance was 6,600 on Saturday. [It is the third-largest Worldcon ever.] Over 1,825 pre-registered members checked into the convention Wednesday before it started – probably to set up!

On Wednesday, green-stickered set-up volunteers poured in to convert the Hynes Convention Center Hall C to an artificial park with Astroturf paths, benches, couches, and a gazebo adorned with laserprinted “virtual pigeons” – white signs containing the word “pigeon.” Noreascon Three Hynes Liaison Joe Rico discovered fellow committee member Fred Isaacs also scotch-taping signs saying “tree” to the concrete support pillars. Joe reminded him the con’s agreement forbade taping anything to a painted surface. Fred dismissed that saying, “These are virtual trees.” Steam shot out of Joe’s ears as he announced, “Well I’m a virtual forester –“ *rip* *rip* *rip*

Amy Thomson passed among the set-up crew distributing jars of “100% Organic Apple-Ginger-Mint Jelly… Not For External Use.”

National computer networks Genie, BIX and CompuServe all had booths demonstrating their online services and special interest message bases. Free-lance journalist Francis Hamit, checking out GEnie, logged onto Jim Turner’s board and found himself talking to Tom Clancy; Hamit wangled a phone interview out of it. While setting up her BIX booth Bjo Trimble spied me 20 yards away laboring over my fanzine tables and descended on me announcing: “Flash! The Trimbles have taken over Texas and are selling it to Panama – write that down!” Critically inspecting an air bubble in Amy’s jelly, Bjo said, “That looks like it’s about gone – it will ferment and blow up on the plane and get you arrested – better drink it here!”

Bjo Trimble saw the yellow Ryder truck brought up in the freight elevator was disgorging heaps of cardboard boxes on pallets. She asked, “What’s that van for?” I told her it was the exhibit of the NESFA Displacement Authority.

Right on cue, Spike Parsons arrived to help me move cartons of my own, full of fanzines, from the truck pile to my exhibit. Spike said, “I told them I’d do anything as long as I didn’t have to carry a radio.”

Chef’s Tour of the ConCourse: Hynes Hall C was dubbed the ConCourse at the suggestion of “Filthy Pierre,” Erwin Strauss. The ConCourse was the con suite, although a Hynes snack bar and its satellite hot dog stand were the only sources of refreshments. The Hynes prices and Noreascon’s budget didn’t permit them to compete with the Atlanta (1986) or Baltimore (1983) con suites, nor did anyone really miss the spectacle of fans running on rugs full of broken Fritos in pursuit of the committee member setting out the last unopened carton of popcorn.

Green Astroturf paths flanked by park benches created a unifying visual theme for the ConCourse. Two open spaces, carpeted with green Astroturf and bordered by one-foot-high white picket fences, were designated Hyde Park and Jekyll Park.

All the convention information services and exhibits were in the ConCourse. Strauss set up an all-members message area at the corner next to the Sheraton, and beside it rows of “Filthy Pierre boards” with their string holders for all the different flyers distributed at a Worldcon. Along the wall were Site Selection, worldcon membership and bidders tables. Also, any club that wanted a table could get one.

The ConCourse strategy involved more than static exhibits. Autographing sessions were held there. Myriad events and diversions occurred within the area under the heading of Passing Fancies. It might by a filk performance by Orion’s Belt and Windbourne in Hyde Park, “Stfnal Pursuit” in Jekyll Park, belly dancing, origami, or the Gilbert and Sullivan sing-along, but something strangely fannish and entertaining was going on all the time.

Gavin Claypool showed up at the September 7 LASFS meeting decorated with all kinds of Worldcon souvenirs including what Bruce Pelz termed “A large pink thing he got at Boston.” Gavin, with an even pinker face, was brought up front to explain how he won a Passing Fancy ribbon. Gavin said while the trivia “pros” were off playing Stfnal Pursuit, he competed in a Trivia Bee and won a ribbon. He also won a Noreascoin, worth 10 cents at the convention. “Trivia pros” Jerry Corrigan and Leo Doroschenko won Stfnal Pursuit.

At the corner of Warp Drive and Alice Way (names given to two of the Astroturf paths) was the History of Costuming Exhibit. Dressmaker forms were used to display a variety of prizewinning Worldcon masquerade costumes. On Sunday the convention arranged a guided, tactile viewing for vision-impaired fans. Exhibit organizers Gary and Janet Wilson Anderson described details of the costumes.

Noreascon 3 Worldcon Masquerade History Exhibit. Photo from

Noreascon 3 Worldcon Masquerade History Exhibit. Photo from

Behind that was the Alice Exhibit of costumes and paraphernalia worn by the Noreascon bid committee in a past masquerade. Beside it was Joe Siclari’s exhibit of Worldcon bidding artifacts, including a wall of t-shirts (such as the glow-in-the-dark zebra shirt sold by LA in ’90.) Next to Pigeon Park (so named by fans because of its “virtual pigeons”) was a bulletin board of Mundane News containing the front page from a daily paper, coverage of the con, and weather reports from the world outside the Hynes.

T-short display in History of Worldcon Bidding Exhibit organized by Joe Siclari. Photo from

T-short display in History of Worldcon Bidding Exhibit organized by Joe Siclari. Photo from

Nancy Atherton arranged the History of Fanzines, which displayed rarities from the 1930s-1960s on vertical boards secured with plexiglass. It was a breathtaking array of important zines, mainly from the collection of Peggy Rae Pavlat [Sapienza]. The exhibit stirred up nostalgic memories for many fans of their early days in fandom, once again making an emotional connection that will distinguish memories of Noreascon Three from other conventions.

I heard all the comments about Nancy’s exhibit while at the fanzine sales table in my Contemporary Fanzine Exhibit. Fans purchased about $1500 worth of zines (including about $230 of one media zine going for $9 a pop.) The sales table ran with tremendous help from Linda Nelson, Dick Lynch, Hawk, Spike, Tony Ubelhor, Teddy Harvia, Marty Helgesen and Nancy Rauban. I also set up eight tables full of recent vintage fanzines for fans to read. Even though it was an unsecured exhibit open at all hours it seemed few zines disappeared, and a number of fans were observed reading and enjoying.

Bruce Pelz assembled the History of Worldcons exhibit. It included program books, banquet photographs, unique Worldcon sales items and press clippings. Most impressive were the sealed exhibit cases displaying 31 of 35 years’ worth of Hugos. Poul Anderson loaned 7, Larry Niven 4, Mike Glyer 4, ASF 5, Richard Geis 5, Carol Carr several, and one each came from Longyear, Whelan, Scithers, Kelly Freas, Virginia Heinlein and F&SF.

A sheet from Bruce Pelz' Worldcon History Exhibit. Photo from

A sheet from Bruce Pelz’ Worldcon History Exhibit. Photo from

The ostensible 1958 Hugo loaned by Kelly Freas was merely a brass plaque mounted on wood. After the con Bruce asked Len Moffatt, who remembers Solacon well, whether they gave out rockets at South Gate in ’58. Len Moffatt insisted there were rockets and that Rog Phillips manufactured each individual handmade base. Moffatt remembered in the 1960s Avram Davidson complained he took his 1958 Hugo to Mexico and it fell apart.

A like fate befell my 1984 Hugo with the ceramic L.A.con II rat base. The metal rocket battered apart the ceramic base during shipment to Noreascon. Fortunately veteran costumer Kathy Sanders came to the con prepared with all kinds of quick-fix tools and glue, and reassembled the base well enough to be displayed. (There happened to be spare rat bases back in LA, so no harm done.)

View of the Hugo exhibit at Noreascon 3. Photo from

View of the Hugo exhibit at Noreascon 3. Photo from

Distressed by the deteriorating condition of the bases or metal in some of the Hugo rockets he was loaned for his exhibit at the convention, as well as concerned about the advancing age of some winners and prospect that their Hugos may vanish in the same junkheap with the fanzines and old pulps, Bruce Pelz asked the business meeting to create a Hugo Preservation Study Committee to address both problems. The members so far are Bruce, Ben Yalow, Colin Fine, Peggy Rae Pavlat [Sapienza] and Debbie Notkin.

Some of the exhibits will continue on to Holland [the 1990 Worldcon], but the Hugo Awards were returned to the individual owners. Maybe in a few years somebody will find an excuse to do it again.

Thursday Night: The Bay-to-Breakers is an annual 10K run across the Golden Gate Bridge. Its exotic entries include “centipedes,” eight runners in tandem, usually in silly theme costumes. The knots of fans surging towards dinner on Boylston Street looked a little like that. I knew, because I was in Ross Pavlac’s centipede on its way to Legal Seafood with Spike, Bill Bodden, Tasmanian Robin Johnson, pediatrician Elst Weinstein, Rick, Jaice and little Connor Foss.

Walking in the door we found the waiting room so crowded that several of the fans with us despaired and were on the verge of bailing out in the direction of an Italian restaurant. If this had been the International House of Pancakes they might have been right to expect an hour wait for a table, but I had been here several times before and knew they moved people surprisingly quickly, and actually preferred serving large parties. Adding to that the fact that this was a Ross Pavlac expedition, I started giving odds against our waiting longer than 15 minutes. Wisely, nobody took my action for by agreeing to sit in the smoking section the “Aardvark, party of nine” was seated within 10 minutes.

Poring over the menu, I saw out of the corner of my eye Robin Johnson pointing emphatically at his paunch. No, he wasn’t having an attack. He was illustrating a point about his travels with the diagram of the Moscow subway system on his t-shirt.

The meek at the table ordered shrimp nachos, while others, encouraged by Rick Foss, savored fried squid rings. It gave Foss his opening to repeat a favorite story about the squid burritos he made one night, and how the next morning used the leftovers for a squid tentacle omelet. He thought the grey squid bits needed more color and reached into the pantry for some blue food coloring. Right about then his neighbor, Indian Mike, dropped in. Rick waved the beastly-looking omelet under his nose. “Want some breakfast?” Rick admits, “I didn’t know he was on acid at the time.” Foss says it took two years for Mike to get up the nerve to ask whether what had been stuck under his nose was blue with tentacles. Rick moralized, “It must be awful when reality is worse than your hallucinations.”

I had to leave in the middle of dinner to attend the SF Tonight! brainstorming session. Later, I caught up with part of our group and other fanzine fans in the ConCourse. When the subject of restaurants came up, Stu Shiffman explained where Legal Seafood got its name while Gary Farber did an interpretive dance behind him.

Spike was engaged in conversation with Gary, explaining her job in Program Oops. “I’m Fred Duarte when he’s not there – and you thought being Jeanne Gomoll was a hard job.”

Next installment: Friday, and SF Tonight!

4 thoughts on “Worldcon Wayback Machine: Noreascon Three (1989) Day One

  1. Although my first Worldcon and first ever SF con was L.A.con II, I then missed the next four, and N3 turned out to be the first of an unbroken string to date of Worldcons I’ve attended. Mine is of course by no means the longest unbroken string, but it’s important to me. (It includes absurd turns of luck such as if the 2011 Worldcon hadn’t been in Reno, I would have had to break the string because I had to sign a house-purchasing contract for my home in Fernley the day after Worldcon in Reno.)

  2. I didn’t know Elst was a pediatrician — for some reason I’ve been thinking for the last 30+ years that he was a urologist.

    (And that’s not some kind of dick joke, I really was under the impression that was his medical speciality.)

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