V is for Vincent, Vernon, Vytautas

In our never-ending quest to capture and preserve the history of fandom, we encounter mysteries that stick in our brains like splinters from old barn wood. We can’t stop picking at them. Unless dug out, they fester. Herein lies the tale of Three Vs that got under our skin until the precision tweezers of research extracted the root of the inflammation. (I pronounce this metaphor bled dry.)

V is for Vincent

Below is one of early fandom’s most iconic images. On Independence Day, 1939, this carload of irascible youth from states far and wide ventured forth from the World Science Fiction Convention in New York to Coney Island. It’s a who’s-who of prominent First Fans: Madle and Agnew from Philadelphia, Korshak and Reinsberg from Chicago, Rocklynne from Ohio, and one very tanned Ray Bradbury from Los Angeles.

SF Fans at Coney Island, NY (July 4, 1939), on a side expedition from the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention.
Rear – V. Kidwell, Robert A. Madle, Erle M. Korshak, Ray Bradbury.
Front – Mark Reinsberg, Jack Agnew, Ross Rocklynne.
Collection of Robert A. Madle, courtesy of John L. Coker III

But among the who’s-who, there’s a “who’s that?” V. Kidwell. Upper left, looking awkward and perhaps slightly embarrassed — though warmly embraced by the adjacent Robert A. Madle.

What do we know about V. Kidwell? An exploration of contemporaneous accounts of the WorldCon yields but one tidbit — Kidwell manned center field for the PSFS Panthers, the Philadelphia team in the fan-v-fan softball game of July 4.

Rosters for the first-ever fan softball game. New Fandom, v1n6, January 1940

Fortunately, the person who could shed the brightest light on the obscure V. Kidwell is still with us. In a conversation with John L. Coker III, Bob Madle provided the answer:

“V. Kidwell is Vincent Kidwell — my uncle, even though he was three months younger than me.  He was not an sf fan.  Jack Agnew and I stayed at my grandmother’s house (Vincent lived there too) in New York.  Vincent played in the softball game and then went to Coney Island with us and was included in the photograph.”  

As the only non-fan, it’s understandable that Vincent felt somewhat out-of-place.

V is for Vernon

FFE’s current project is a retrospective of fan-artist Roy V. Hunt. An introduction to Hunt and his work can be read here. We expect to publish a richly-illustrated ~160-page volume in January 2021.

Fans at the Third World Science Fiction Convention, Denver, July 1941
L-R: Olon F. Wiggins, Lew Martin, Roy V. Hunt
Hunt holds a copy of the Convention’s Program Book which bears his cover art.
From the collection of John L. Coker III

Like many early fans who engaged in publishing, Hunt’s citations often included his middle initial. But in all of our reading, we never saw his full middle name. Shame on us if we hoped to provide a definitive look at a personage we couldn’t fully identify.

In this case, Ancestry.com came to the rescue. Among other artifacts, Hunt’s definitive identity can be found on his draft card from 1940.

V is for Vytautas

Among early fans, John V. Baltadonis stood tall. Literally, as he towered well over six feet — and figuratively, as one of the most prolific editors, authors and artists among his peers.

John V. Baltadonis, c1938. From the collection of Steve Baltadonis.

Although “JVB” almost always included his middle initial when stating his name or signing his work, his middle name has remained a mystery. He’s known to have stated that — for reasons he refused to provide — he would never reveal his mysterious V.

Letter from John V. Baltadonis to Daniel McPhail, November 17 1936.
From the McPhail Collection at the University of Iowa

Again we’re fortunate to have a primary source for the answer. According to JVB’s son Steve:

“So, the middle name. I was told it had to do with an ancestor.  Great grandparents and previous family maintained inherited land — maybe from black plague days, 13th century — through 1910 or 1915. When the Bolsheviks took over?  Anyway, my dad said an ancestor’s ‘giant sword’ was over the fireplace mantle, and that he used it to fight off invaders in the 13th, 14th century.  Lithuania was apparently much larger then. So, thus the name Vytautas.  In some records on the internet it is spelled Vytold.”

From Wikipedia, it seems Vytautas was a pretty big deal:

Vytautas (c. 1350 – October 27, 1430), also known as Vytautas the Great, was a ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which chiefly encompassed the Lithuanians and Ruthenians. He was also the Prince of Grodno (1370–1382), Prince of Lutsk (1387–1389), and the postulated king of the Hussites.

In modern Lithuania, Vytautas is revered as a national hero and was an important figure in the national rebirth in the 19th century. Vytautas is a popular male given name in Lithuania. In commemoration of the 500-year anniversary of his death, Vytautas Magnus University was named after him. Monuments in his honour were built in many towns in the independent Lithuania during the interwar period from 1918 to 1939.

For our part, we’d be bragging about such an august ancestor.

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