All Our Yesterdays 18
by Harry Warner Jr.


There’s one thing that can be said for the fanzines of the early 1940’s: you didn’t run much danger of mixing them up in your mind because of their similarities. First issues contained the inevitable apologies for bad reproduction and there was the common factor of the big push for a giant anniversary issue every now and then. But for the most part, the fanzines had distinct personalities, intents and subject matter. For instance, there was a fanzine called Frontier.

My file of the publication contains seven issues, from July 1940 through January 1942. There could have been another issue or two after that which I failed to stash away in the proper place, but I don’t think there were many more, because it wasn’t long after Pearl Harbour that the editor, Donn Brazier, entered the armed services. He never did reappear in fandom after his hitch in the service, and I don’t think that his name has bobbed up in a fanzine for a decade.

Donn was one of the most intently serious fans in history. I recall one perfectly typical instance from our correspondence. This was after he’d entered the armed forces, had been selected for officers’ candidate school, and had just won his rank of second lieutenant upon graduating. I certainly hope that this new status of yours won’t mean an end to our friendship, I wrote in what I intended to be a joshing tone. Donn wrote back at some length to the effect that he realised the changes in his position in life that had occurred, but he had every intention of still remaining friends with many of the persons that he had known while he was still an enlisted man. From anyone else, it would have been insufferable egotism over a promotion that service men were receiving for no particular reason except the need for commissioned officers to fight the war. From Donn, it was merely an example of the intensity with which he viewed everything that happened to him, as well as everything that he happened to do.

So it was with the first issue of Frontier, which emerged from Donn’s Milwaukee home in a rather faintly hectographed format. It announced the formation of the Frontier Society in this heroic manner:

“The Frontier composed...of science-fiction and fantasy fans who are interested in science and philosophy, and who have the desire to probe the unknown frontiers of these fields in so far as they are able... The frontiers of science are changing at an accelerated rate. We feel that the time is ripe for a group of fans to devote their energies to the better understanding of this eternal change.

“The Frontier Society is that group, and Frontier is the bulletin dedicated to the dissemination of the society’s research into this eternal change in science and philosophy.

“This, then, is our relation to science; and we are not ‘just another fan club.’ We believe we are a unique effort in the science-fiction world; and there is no tried and true path which we must follow. We have a clear, exciting field ahead of us. We travel through virgin territory.

“Watch us!”

Elsewhere in this first issue, the readers learned how the Frontier Society had its origin. The director was Paul H. Klingbiel, West Bend, Wis., another completely forgotten fan by this time. Paul described at great length in one article his changing opinions about science through high school, and his difficulties when he attempted to discover the identity of the things which science does not know. I would probably have asked my science teacher for a brief outline of this, but Paul did it differently:

“The answer suddenly emerged in complete detail. I whooped with joy! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Had I not collected a few quotations from books I had read, and did not those quotations, in the final analysis, show what science did not know? Obviously the thing to do was to was to expand this idea. What I needed was not a passive recognition of thought-provoking material, but an active search for such material. Since there was no one book I had found that could tell me what science did not yet know, I would attempt to make such a book myself.

“One year later I proudly pointed to 25 typewritten pages of quotations, all of which told what science did not know about as yet. This collection, which I titled “Think It Over”, Volume 1, settled the question completely to my satisfaction. There was still much that science did not know; in fact, it sometimes appeared as though science had only begun. I had not been born too late!”

Paul got a new idea then. For the next year, he collected quotations which cast doubt on the topic of whether science knew anything. He finally decided that “Science may demonstrate, it is true, that absolute truth and reality do exist, but science itself is not that reality and that truth.” Finally he and Donn decided to form the Frontier Society, sent letters to the prozines, got publicity in Wonder and Amazing, and. were baffled when Astounding refused to publish anything about their project. They got 13 members in this manner, enough to inspire them to produce the first issue of Frontier.

From this beginning, you can probably understand, might have emerged anything between the level of a Darwin theory and a Degler fan group. With the enthusiasm and seriousness of Brazier and Klingbiel, something important might have come of the organisation, if it hadn’t been engaged so completely with science fiction fandom from its start. Some indication of the way science fiction fandom was beginning to ensnare the high-sounding project can be guessed from the first paragraph of the editorial in the second issue. Fans didn’t want to buy Frontier; they wanted to trade their own fanzines for it. Donn wrestled mightily with this temptation:

“It might be suggested that the club would not lose any money if magazines were accepted and passed to all the members. That sounds like a swell co-operation; but if the society ever put such a proposition to the vote, I would be the first to vote against it! Why? 1. Every fan should boost science-fiction and the fans who make it live by supporting them in the fullest extent possible. 2. In my mind’s eye I can see other clubs buying one copy of Frontier and letting it satisfy twenty potential subscribers.....”

Fannish influences were already creeping into the material for this second issue. A quiz on H.P. Lovecraft, mainly devoted to asking the reader to determine from which stories came brief quotations, could hardly form a part of the high purpose of the publication. But the second issue did contain some items that were more in line with the purpose of the frontier Society. Morris A. Wolf wrestled with several eternal verities in his review of Omar Khayyam’s philosophy. Ackerman, writing under the name of Weaver Wright, tried to talk himself out of his own non-belief in life after death by rehashing an old anecdote that his grandmother used to tell him:

“We assume, for the purpose of the proposition, that frogs are not amphibious but can live only on land. OK. There was a pool of tadpoles. Every so often a tadpole turned up missing. Some there were who said that they were not dead but only had altered form, been reborn in a world beyond the water-top. But that was patently absurd, because how could any t.p. continue to exist without water?

“Time after time tadpoles swore that should the phenomenon of “froghood” ever happen to them they would surely come back to tell the curious other tadpoles all about it. But every t.p. who underwent the metamorphosis found it was cut off completely from its fellows. To return to reveal all was impossible. It was an air-breather now. It no longer could live in its old medium. I suppose we even could admit that frogs could return to their brothers in the puddle, and then – what tad ever would recognise its future self in a frog?”

By the time the third issue had appeared at the end of 1940, the Frontier Society was rejoicing in its possession of 18 members. Aside from the founders, only a few of them are likely to be even vaguely known to today’s fandom: Art Widner, Tom Wright, D.B. Thompson, Paul Freehafer, and Rajocz, the fellow in Scranton who took pity on his correspondents by not using his interminable full name. There was a brief article, unsigned, entitled “Deadly Prophesy”, which went like this:

“From the book called “Outwitting Tomorrow” by Harry J. Gardener comes a very unusual coincidence, or is it? In the year l840 it seems that the planets Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction for the first time in the history of the United States. This conjunction in an earth sign (what does that mean?) occurs at 20 year intervals. Starting with 1840, let’s see what has happened to the presidents elected in those periods: 1840 — Harrison died in office; 1860 — Lincoln died in office; 1880 — Garfield died in office; 1900 — McKinley died in office; 1920 — Harding died in office; 1940 — ....”

The poor guy didn’t fill in the blank because he didn’t know what was going to happen.

There was an article by Brazier about the most famous of non-existent books, the Necronomicon, which ended with a quotation from a correspondent that may possess some interest:

“I have a Catholic boy-friend who is studying for the priesthood. Last summer I showed him the stories which referred to the Necronomicon, etc., and he became just as interested in them as I was. Moreover, he thought he could do something about it. He thought be could find at least a clue to the works at the large religious library at the seminary. Then he happened to think of Dr. Zor, one of the teachers who had travelled in Arabia and could read Arabic, and was the kind to stick his fingers into this type of thing. He wrote to him. The doctor wrote back that he was “pre-emptorily advising him to desist from such unprofitable browsings”. After my friend returned to the seminary he learned that Dr. Zor had died shortly after sending him that letter! Another priest questioned him about this, and soon became sick and was expected not to live!”

By its fourth issue, Frontier had passed from such pious inquiry into the existence of non-existent curses and was a completely mixed up combination of scientific inquiry and fanzine. On the strict fanzine side were such things as an article about Lovecraft by Derleth, an explanation by Clifford Simak of how he writes a science fiction story, and an utterly silly short-short by George Tullis about a guy who spends his whole day looking forward to the great event that will happen that evening: it turns out to be attending a new Boris Karloff movie. However, there were still reports on the progress of the Frontier Society, and an article by Ackerman on the need for an earthwide adoption of Esperanto, and accounts by Hazel I. Shull of Pennsylvania Dutch beliefs. I don’t know what to make of an article by our old friend, George Wetzel, who describes and then extrapolates from an alleged “shaft of purest light” that “astonished New Yorkers by extending into the infinite reaches of the heavens from atop the piercing, steel spire of the Chrysler building.” He apparently thinks there was such a thing, and goes on to describe how some day we may be able to darken our rooms by plugging in the right kind of lamp. Ackerman predicted that Esperanto would become the auxiliary language of the World State within 50 years, so we don’t have too long to wait, considering that about one-third of that temporal distance has already been crossed.

Philip Schumann of Milwaukee had assumed editorship of Frontier in its fifth issue, with Brazier dropping back to the post of associate editor because of lack of time. I think the prize of this issue was a remarkably well-written account of an air raid by Britisher Ron Holmes, entitled “Fritz and His Blitz”. It made no pretension at fantasy or frontierism or anything except how one man reacted to a feature of World War Two that we never knew in this country:

“Leisurely and very horribly it came on, nearer and nearer, every moment it was about to touch the ground, but it never did. Then it hit. A blast of air came shrieking along the road, striking me with breathtaking force, then passing on. The ground vibrated from the shock of the explosion - which had taken place about three hundred yards away. A blinding flash had accompanied it, but my forehead was rested on my bent arm as I lay prone with my eyes tightly closed. I never saw the flash, but my harassed nerves knew of its existence. The awareness of the flash seemed to centre about the base of the skull - where it joins the spinal column.

“It was over, a bomb was spent, the plane had passed on and the guns had stopped again. I was unharmed but slightly dazed, avidly listening to the dead silence which followed in the wake of the bomb. The first piece of shrapnel fell upon a distant roof with a crack! which awakened me from my stupor. I leaped to my feet, and....ran for the railway bridge. Succeeding in reaching the safety of its steel top and concrete walls before the worst of the falling pieces began, here I remained until it abated, then ran across the few yards which separated me from my goal. The door opened at my touch.

“When my eyes were accustomed to the bright lights, I found myself confronted by the janitor, and several girls ascending the stairs.

“Hello, Bill,” I said, forcing a smile.

“I see he knew you were coming,” he replied with a wry grin. I shook my head sadly, and called back as I began to mount the stairs:

“You know, Bill, I don’t believe Jerry likes me.”

For the third straight issue, frontier got a new editor when Klingbiel took over with the sixth issue. He finally succeeded in getting into print "Some Experiences of a Professional Seeress", an article which had been heralded issue after issue. This was written by Loretta A. Beaslay, who, a footnote explains, is known professionally as Madame Loretta. Madame Loretta seemed to feel about fortune telling approximately the same way that some Christians feel about their religion; there's nothing to all this nonsense but I'd better go to church occasionally, just in case. A few samples:

“In Abilene, Texas, several years ago while telling the fortune of a young Mexican, I suddenly had a very strange hunch that trouble was dogging his footsteps and peering over his shoulder. So I told him, without knowing whether or not he was married or asking a single question, to be very careful over the weekend and not to quarrel with any friends or relatives – especially in-laws, because I could see a fight, jail, lawmen, money spent, and a relative or in-law concerned. I told him the disagreement might be through a dark, middle-aged woman with beautiful eyes and a lot of hair. My client just laughed at me and went out.

“I thought no more about it until Monday evening, when two more Mexicans came to have readings. They were my first client’s friends. He was languishing in Abilene’s jail after knifing a man at a dance for talking scandalously about his sister-in-law, who had large beautiful eyes, more hair than most women, and was forty-three years old.

“I built up a nice Mexican trade on the strength of this episode.

“Sometimes I do get strong urgings like this, and what I say at those times invariably comes true, though not always so promptly and drastically.

I’m not quite sure who was editor of the magazine when this seventh and probably last issue appeared. There was a new address on the contents page, and announcement that “Frontier is the bulletin of the Frontier Society and of the recently formed Windy City Wampire Club”, but there wasn’t any signature or other identification of the writer of the long editorial. Most of the issue was taken up by a lengthy story by one Jack Brandon, entitled “The Devil’s Prayerbook” and accompanied by a completely superfluous note that “all rights, including those of quotation, adaptation, translation, cinema, foreign, are reserved by Frontier”. There was a brief article about ships that disappear at sea, a review of “The Encyclopaedia of Occult Sciences”, a page about Paul Verlaine, and a brief letter column. Quite pathetically buried away as a filler item was a note from one William Hess, who had been one of the members of the Frontier Society:

“During past months I have steadily lost interest in fictive science. At the present time I am at college, majoring in biological sciences. So you see I get my science, but don’t have time to read fiction. I feel that, to prevent my being a dead-weight encumbrance in your society, that I should withdraw from it now. Please accept this as evidence of my withdrawal. Yours sincerely, William Hess.

The poor guy had completely forgotten the original purpose of the Frontier Society and apparently thought it was intended to persuade people to real science fiction. However, he wasn’t any more astray from the original intent than the editors. There’s no other evidence in this seventh issue that there had ever been a purpose like that outlined in the first few issues. And another fanzine slipped quietly into the oblivion that is disturbed only when an occasional historian or index-compiler unearths fresh evidence that fans rarely keep their mind on what they set out to do.

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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