A History of Huntsville Fandom

By Mike Kennedy

Acknowledgments: I wrote an earlier version of this article for the 1997 Southern Fandom Confederation Handbook. Two articles from the DSC 25 Program Book were invaluable resources for that previous version: G. Patrick Molloy’s "A History of Conventions in Huntsville" and Larry J. Montgomery’s "DeepSouthCon: How it Began." Special thanks are due to Sam Smith whose longtime maintenance of the Handbook website meant I had little research to do to update the table of Huntsville conventions—at least insofar as NASFA-sponsored conventions are concerned. Special thanks are also due to furry, anime-con, Starfleet, HAAS, and gaming-cons for information and writeups they provided on Huntsville furry, anime, and gaming fandom.

Early History

The earliest (as far as I know) fandom in Huntsville was circa the early-to-mid ’60s. The most often noted aspect of this is DeepSouthCon 1 (or MidSouthCon as it was actually known at the time), which graced David Hulan’s house in Huntsville in 1963. That con was an outgrowth of the Southern Fandom Press Alliance, which in turn was an outgrowth of the Southern Fandom Group. (You can read more about SFPA—which is still going strong—and about DeepSouthCon history elsewhere in this handbook.)

DeepSouthCon 4 (1966) was also in Huntsville (and by this time it was actually called DeepSouthCon—that happened at DSC 2), having come here because the chair, Lon Atkins, moved to Huntsville after winning the vote at DSC 3. After this the recorded sources available to me peter out of information about earliest Huntsville fandom.

For the next era of Huntsville fandom, I have even less information. When I moved to Huntsville in January 1978, there were indications that some activity had been occurring—rumors of a recently-defunct Star Trek-oriented organization for instance—but nothing was happening that I could find. So I guess we’ll just take it as read that there was some fannish activity going on in the ’70s, and let it go at that.

The Modern Era

The modern era (if you will) of Huntsville fandom began with another con yclept MidSouthCon, this one in 1980. Andy Purcell, a dealer living in south Tennessee, wanted to run a convention and Huntsville was the closest sizable town so he located it here—at the now-long-defunct Sheraton Inn on University Drive. My then-wife Nelda and I had been to a few cons in other cities but were quite surprised to hear of a convention in our still-new home town. Needless to say, we attended. Some years before this, our earliest introduction to anything approaching fandom had been though Nelda’s son, Alan, who was very into gaming and comic books. The comics aspect was thoroughly covered in MidSouthCon’s dealers room but we knew that gaming was an up-and-coming interest among young con-goers at that time and sponsored a very informal game room at MSC. Nelda and I had been wondering how to get some organized fandom started in Huntsville and she came up with the idea of posting a sign-up sheet in the con suite to get a list of names of others so inclined.

So, not long after that NASFA, the North Alabama Science Fiction Association, had its first organizational meetings and by late 1980 or early 1981 club members were already talking about starting our own annual convention. Many of us boned up on details by working at other area cons, and in December 1981 ZerCon (short for Zero Con) was held at what was then the Kings Inn on Memorial Parkway. I’m convinced that this one-day party-cum-con still holds the all-time record for the coldest video room. The one person at the hotel who knew how to turn on the heat in the unused hotel bar, where they were letting us use their large-screen TV, was out of town that weekend and the sub-freezing temperatures outside easily made their way inside.

Even while planning and executing ZerCon, the first Con*Stellation was being plotted. The club had struggled to find a permanent name for our convention (going so far as looking through a list of many hundreds of words with the letters c-o-n in them, supplied from an early electronic dictionary by Mark Paulk) and was a bit surprised when Baltimore, after winning the bid for the 1983 Worldcon, announced their con would be called Constellation. Nonetheless, NASFA decided to retain the name since Con*Stellation would be an annual event while Constellation was a one-shot deal (albeit a very big one-shot deal).

Through those first few years of Con*Stellation we struggled to find a permanent time of year for the convention. The first one was a summer con (July 1982), while the second one was a spring con (March 1983). It wasn’t until plans for Con*Stellation III were being laid that we settled on a fall date (first October, then early November, and now October again). Because of the year-and-a-half long gap between Con*Stellation II and Con*Stellation III, we decided on a December two-day mini-con as an interim measure and held Con*Stellation II.V on 10-11 December 1983. For this con we probably hold the record for the coldest "dealers room." We had no actual dealers room, but one dealer showed up to sell out of his room while another— the cold one—sold stuff out of the back of his van just outside the con suite.

Two other Huntsville cons from around this same time certainly deserve mention. NASFA hosted both DeepSouthCon 23 and DeepSouthCon 25 (in the summers of 1985 and 1987 respectively). DSC 23 attracted over 800 fans and DSC 25 neared 1,000, making them the most successful DeepSouthCons to that date (measured by the admittedly limited yardstick of attendance).

NASFA Continues

Coming to our collective senses after hosting so many cons in the early- and mid-80s, NASFA restricted its con-running activities to our annual Con*Stellation for many years. We eventually succumbed to the madness again, first bidding for (but losing) DeepSouthCon 39 then winning (if you can call it that) DeepSouthCon 40, which was held June 2002. (Webmaster’s Note: See below for more information on an upcoming Huntsville DeepSouthCon).

Meanwhile, Con*Stellation has continued going strong. As I write this, 2005’s Con*Stellation XXVI is about a half-year in the past and plans for 2006’s Con*Stellation XXV are coming along nicely. It looks like we could go on forever (he says with an air of resignation). I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow description of all the Con*Stellations, but you can check out the attached table for some of the key info.

NASFA is still active in other ways more than 25 years into its existence. We have monthly club meetings (normally the third Saturday if anyone out there is interested in dropping in) where we conduct business, have a (usually SF- or fantasy-related) program, and generally socialize (most often including an after-the-meeting meeting at someone’s home). Other get-togethers include picnics, holiday parties, and more. There’s also The NASFA Shuttle, the club newsletter. The monthly issues carry club news of course, but also convention, book, and movie reviews; a letter column; mini-reviews of fanzines received; and general news of the SF/fantasy/fannish world. The annual Worldcon issue of the Shuttle is normally extra big, with extensive coverage of that event.

Huntsvillians in Wider Fandom

Of course NASFAns’ fannish activities are not limited to the club and Con*Stellation, and Huntsville fannish activities are not limited to NASFAns. Huntsvillians, and folks we claim as honorary Huntsvillians, have also been active in wider fandom.

The late beloved P. L. Caruthers-Montgomery—who fits in the latter category as a past editor of the Shuttle even though she never lived in Huntsville—was loaned the use of our bulk-mail permit and our assistance to put out several issues of the Southern Fandom Confederation Bulletin.

G. Patrick (Pat) Molloy, a Huntsville resident since the early ’80s, was also a long-time officer of the SFC and is once again serving as Treasurer.

Randy Cleary (who must have liked Huntsville, since he moved back after an absence of several years) allowed himself to be dragooned into being SFC President (and editor of the Bulletin) starting in 2002.

Sam Smith, meanwhile, maintains the web site that includes the Southern Fandom Confederation Handbook, and keeps some of the listings and other parts of it updated with errata and apocrypha.

Baen Books’ Toni Weisskopf came from Huntsville to manage one of the most important SF publishing houses. She is also one of the founders of the bid to bring the 50th Deep South Con back where it all began (see below).

Many NASFAns and other Huntsvillians also have been and remain active as committee members and volunteers at cons and organizations throughout the Southeast and beyond. Various people have been involved with LibertyCon, Con Cave, GAFilk, and many more. Randy Cleary (busy bugger, ain’t he?) was for several years the Central Regional Director for the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists, and has now moved over to the Director-at-Large slot. The largest single group effort at another con was at the 1986 Worldcon in Atlanta, when NASFAns formed the core group running registration at the convention.

Huntsville Fannish Lore

Every local fandom has its tales of the bizarre. Here are two of Huntsville’s.

Pink Pants

The aforementioned Sam Smith had a special outfit for the last day of every Con*Stellation. he shirt was purple while the pants were bright red. After too many washes, the bright red faded to disgusting threadbare pink, ruining many of his other clothes in the wash. To correct the situation, at the 2006 Con*Stellation a group of Samís friends (?) decided to appease the Fates. They also wore pink pants at the con. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but the Handbook editor has them for blackmail purposes. [FIND PINK PANTS ILLO!]

Demon Bunnies

Local fan Anita Eisenberg was working at a furniture store. When the store was remodeled, the workers found some animatronic rabbits that danced in a spastic frenzy. They were dressed in pink polyester. Anita took them to the 1996 Con*Stellation dance. One female bunny got the nickname "Elaine" (it’s a Seinfeld reference).

Other Fandoms in Huntsville

Then there are the "fellow-traveler fandoms" (you can blame California BNF Kevin Standlee for that phrase) like anime, gaming, furry fandom, recreation groups, and media fandoms. The active groups in these areas arose more-or-less independently, but there are overlaps in interests and membership between the various groups and Con*Stellation. There are other SF/fandom related groups active in the Huntsville area, too. Gaming groups may predominate numerically (the group names and the people have changed over the years), but there’s also an SCA shire, an active SF writers group (informally known as the Huntsville Science Fiction Writers Group and Cake Appreciation Society), and Star Trek fandom. All these groups have been helpful time and again in helping at Con*Stellation, plus the gaming and ST folks have sponsored their own conventions.

NASFA

North Alabama Science Fiction Association (NASFA), P.O. Box 4857, Huntsville, AL 35815-4857. Monthly meetings on the third Saturday at BookMark. Business meeting at 6PM, program at 7PM, followed by an "after-the-meeting" meeting for socializing. 2006 Officers: President Mary Ortwerth, Vice President and Newsletter editor Mike Kennedy, Secretary Steve Sloan, Treasurer Sam Smith, Program Director Doug Lampert, Publicity Director Mia West.

Rocket City FurMeet

Rocket City FurMeet is a "Furry" convention held every Memorial Day weekend in Huntsville, Alabama. Not a lot is known about the Furry fandom, outside of the fandom itself, though it sometimes seems to be plagued with bad press and sensationalism. The simple truth is that the Furry fandom, and Furry conventions in general, are an offshoot of the same science fiction fandoms that used to be the butt of many poor jokes and bad press themselves. The main difference is that the Furry fans focus more of their attention on the animals who talk like people, rather than the "hard" SF which tends to focus more on cool technology and possibilities of the future.

Rocket City FurMeet could be considered a crossover between these two schools of thought, though that’s mainly due to its location. Huntsville, AL is known as being the home of Marshall Space Flight Center, as well as the birthplace for most of NASA’s rocket engines throughout its illustrious history. It is common for many businesses and other such entities in Huntsville to adopt the moniker "Rocket City", so it surprised nobody when RCFM did the same thing. It’s such a common ground, the Furry fandom offshoot, that many of the Con*Stellation group have been mingling with the RCFM group and vice-versa.

The first RCFM was "launched" in May 2003, having been organized and made to happen in the six months prior to that Memorial Day weekend. It will likely stay on Memorial Day weekend for the foreseeable future. There were 103 registered attendees that first year, 140 in 2004 and 202 in our third year, 2005. Recent FurMeets had attendance of 325 and 350.

If you want to go to a FurMeet, be aware that some activities at the con are for adults only. Please check the Rocket City FurMeet web site for the specifics.

Just as most science fiction conventions have a more-or-less specific focus, such as written SF, movies or TV shows, Furry conventions such as RCFM are no different. Most of the panels and events are centered around anthropomorphic artwork, fursuit "costuming" or furry- centered videos, such as the animated Disney genre or much of the modern generation of Anime. A Furry convention is often the only time a person of the Furry fandom feels comfortable wearing their tail or mascot costume in public, much as a Trekker would feel about his or her light saber or storm trooper uniform.

Information submitted by Kevin Omel, Head Cat (Chairperson)

(Webmaster's note: DeepSouthCon 50 will be hosted as a standalone convention during June 2012 in Huntsville by the "Moon Ladies": Toni Weisskopf, Julie Wall, Linda Zielke, and Charlotte Proctor.)

A TABULAR HISTORY OF HUNTSVILLE CONVENTIONS

Name Sponsor Date Facility Chair(s) Guest(s)
DeepSouthCon 1 (MidSouthCon) Southern Fandom Press Alliance 1963 David Hulan’s house David Hulan NA
DeepSouthCon 4 NA 1966 ? Lon Atkins NA
MidSouthCon Andy Purcell (?) 20-22 June 1980 Sheraton (University Drive) Andy Purcell Fred Pohl (GoH), Frank Kelly Freas (MC), Wilson "Bob" Tucker (FGoH)
ZerCon NASFA 21 November 1981 Kings Inn Rhett Mitchell NA
Con*Stellation I (The Pleiades) NASFA 16-18 July 1982 Sheraton Mike Kennedy, Mark Paulk Phyllis Eisenstein (GoH), Andrew J. Offutt (MC), Ken Moore (FGoH), Lou Moore (FGoH)
Con*Stellation II (Gemini) NASFA 25-27 March 1983 Sheraton Sunn Hayward, Mike Kennedy Joe Haldeman (GoH), Jack C. Haldeman III (GoH), Frank Kelly Freas (MC), Kevin Ward (AGoH), Charlie Williams (FGoH)
Con*Stellation II.V (Ursa Minor) NASFA 10-11 December 1983 Sheraton Mike Kennedy, Nelda Kennedy NA
Con*Stellation III (Ursa Major) NASFA 19-21 October 1984 Sheraton Nelda Kennedy, Mark Paulk Gordon R. Dickson (GoH), Frank Kelly Freas (MC), Mark Maxwell (AGoH), Maurine Dorris (FGoH), "Uncle Timmy" Bolgeo (FGoH)
DeepSouthCon 23 NASFA 21-23 June 1985 Carriage Inn and Holiday Inn Mary Axford, Richard Gilliam Marion Zimmer Bradley (GoH), Algis Budrys (MC), Barclay Shaw (AGoH), Bob Sampson (FGoH)
Con*Stellation IV (Aquarius) NASFA 11-13 October 1985 Sheraton Howard Camp, G. Patrick Molloy Wilson "Bob" Tucker (Special Guest)
Con*Stellation V (Andromeda) NASFA 24-26 October 1986 Huntsville Hilton Rich Garber, Glenn Valentine Orson Scott Card (GoH), Marta Randall (MC), Ron Lindahn (AGoH), Val Lakey Lindahn (AGoH), Rusty Hevelin (FGoH)
DeepSouthCon 25 NASFA 11-14 June 1987 Marriott Richard Gilliam, G. Patrick Molloy Robert Bloch (GoH), Hugh B. Cave (Special Guest), Ramsey Campbell (MC), Phil Foglio (AGoH), Lee Hoffman (FGoH)
Con*Stellation VI (Lyra) NASFA 9-11 October 1987 Holiday Inn Research Park Sunn Hayward, Mike Stone Julius Schwartz (GoH)
Con*Stellation VII (Centaurus) NASFA 21-23 October 1988 Huntsville Hilton G. Patrick Molloy, Mike Kennedy John Varley (GoH), Algis Budrys (MC), Todd Cameron Hamilton (AGoH), Ricia Mainhardt (FGoH)
Con*Stellation VIII (Cetus) NASFA 13-15 October 1989 Sheraton Karl Sackett, Nelda Kennedy Gary K. Wolf (GoH), George Alec Effinger (MC), Debbie Hughes (AGoH), Mark Paulk (FGoH)
Con*Stellation IX (Sagittarius) NASFA 19-21 October 1990 University Inn Mike Kennedy, Elaine Hinman Lois McMaster Bujold (GoH), C. J. Cherryh (MC), Tom Kidd (AGoH), Susan Honeck (FGoH)
Con*Stellation X (Draco) NASFA 8-10 November 1991 Huntsville Hilton Sam Smith, Nelda Kennedy Algis Budrys (GoH), Toni Weisskopf (MC), Bob Giadrosich (AGoH), Buck Coulson (FGoH), Juanita Coulson (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XI (Scorpio) NASFA 6-8 November 1992 Huntsville Hilton Jay Johns, Mike Kennedy Kristine Kathryn Rusch (GoH), Dean Wesley Smith (GoH), Michael Flynn (MC), Stephen Hickman (AGoH), Mike Glicksohn (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XII (Orion) NASFA 12-14 November 1993 Huntsville Hilton Sam Smith, Robin Ray Jim Baen (GoH), Julius Schwartz ("Super" GoH), James P. Hogan (MC), David O. Miller (AGoH), Marcia McCoy (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XIII (Musca) NASFA 4-6 November 1994 Tom Bevill Center Robin Ray, Rhett Mitchell Spider Robinson (GoH), Timothy Zahn (MC), Alan M. Clark (AGoH), Sue Thorn (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XIV (Monoceros) NASFA 3-5 November 1995 Tom Bevill Center Sam Smith, Randy Cleary Rick Shelley (GoH), Roland Castle (MC), Ruth Thompson (AGoH), Adrian Washburn (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XV (Aquila) NASFA 8-10 November 1996 Tom Bevill Center Mike Kennedy Stanley Schmidt (GoH), Rick Cook (MC), Chloie Airoldi (FGoH)
Star Trek 30: One Weekend on Earth Paramount 7-8 September 1996 Von Braun Civic Center; US Space & Rocket Center NA Original Star Trek Cast (Shatner, Nimoy,Doohan, Koenig, Kelly, Takei, and Nichols), et al.
Con*Stellation XVI (Eridanus) NASFA 17-19 October 1997 Airport Sheraton Marcia Illingworth, Sam Smith Jack L. Chalker (GoH), Les Johnson (MC), Randy Cleary (AGoH), Sue Toker (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XVII (Hydra) NASFA 9-11 October 1998 Airport Sheraton Pat Brooks, Marie McCormack Mike Resnick (GoH), Tim Powers (MC), Bob Eggleton (AGoH), David O. Miller (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XVIII (Lupus) NASFA 29-31 October 1999 Airport Sheraton Pat Brooks, Marie McCormack Allen Steele (GoH), David Weber (MC), Charles Keegan (AGoH), Tom Feller (FGoH), Anita Feller (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XIX (Virgo) NASFA 13-15 October 2000 Airport Sheraton Mike Cothran, Anita Eisenberg Debra Doyle (GoH), James D. Macdonald (GoH), Eric Flint (MC), Kenneth Waters (AGoH), Julie Wall (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XX (Camelopardalis) NASFA 19-21 October 2001 Airport Sheraton Marie McCormack John Ringo (GoH), Jack McDevitt (MC), David Mattingly (AGoH), Steve Francis (FGoH), Sue Francis (FGoH)
DeepSouthCon 40 NASFA 14-16 June 2002 Huntsville Hilton Sam Smith Allen Steele (GoH), Connie Willis (TM), Vincent Di Fate (AGoH), Nicki Lynch (FGoH), Rich Lynch (FGoH)
Con*Stellation XXI (Pavo) NASFA 18-20 October 2002 Holiday Inn Express Marie McCormack Eric Flint (GoH), K. D. Wentworth (MC), Darrell K. Sweet (AGoH), Sandy McDade (FGoH)
Rocket City FurMeet North Alabama Regional Furs (NARF) 23-25 May 2003 Radisson Suites South Parkway Kevin Omel (aka KO) Bill Holbrook (GoH)
PersaCon 2003 NA June 2003 Ramada Inn Airport NA NA
Con*Stellation XXII (Pegasus) NASFA 10-12 October 2003 Holiday Inn Express Mike Kennedy Mercedes Lackey (GoH), Larry Dixon (MC), Don Maitz (AGoH), Guy & Rosy Lillian (FGoHs)
Rocket City FurMeet 2 NARF 28-30 May 2004 Radisson Suites South Parkway Kevin Omel Tyger Cowboy (GoH), Jim Groat (GoH)
PersaCon 2004 NA June 2004 Ramada Inn Airport NA NA
Con*Stellation XXIII (Delphinus) NASFA 15-17 October 2004 Holiday Inn Express Mike Kennedy Lawrence Watt-Evans (GoH), Kinuko Y. Craft (AGoH), Grant Kruger (FGoH)
Rocket City FurMeet 3 NARF 27-29 May 2005 Radisson Suites South Parkway Kevin Omel 2 the Ranting Gryphon (GoH), StickDevil (GoH), Babs Bunny (Panelist of Honor)
PersaCon 2005 NA June 2005 Ramada Inn Airport NA NA
Con*Stellation XXIV (Lepus) NASFA 7-9 October 2005 Holiday Inn Express Anita Eisenberg, Marie McCormack James P. Hogan (GoH), Eric Flint (MC), Guy Gordan (FGoH)
NovaCon DGA Games 11-13 November 2005 Holiday Inn Reseach Park NA Dirk Benedict, Chase Masterson, Virginia Hey
Rocket City FurMeet 4 NARF 26-28 May 2006 Radisson Suites South Parkway Kevin Omel Aura Moser (GoH), Sub-Level 03 (GoH), SantaFox (Panelist of Honor), Kinky Turtle (Special Guest)

 

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