Doc and the 1939 World’s Fair, Part 1

I was born in 1958, so I missed my chance to hang out at the 1939 New York World’s Fair by a couple of decades. I didn’t even know it had existed, until in the midst of obsessively collecting and reading the Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks, I encountered, to my amazement and delight, World’s Fair Goblin. I thought it had the best Bama cover I had ever seen. It had Pat Savage in it (and even as a kid, the novels with Pat were always my favorites). And best of all, I began to realize as I read my way along that the World’s Fair was something that had really happened.

Not the events of the novel of course…the mysterious goblin, Maximus, and all the rest of the wild plot. But the Fair had been real!

As a teenager, long before the arrival of the internet, ebay, and the sources of old literary treasure available today, I longed to own an actual Doc Savage pulp magazine. The paperbacks were great, but the idea of actually holding an original pulp in my hands became something of a holy grail. I haunted used bookstores, flea markets, antique stores, Goodwill stores, garage sales…dreaming of the day when amid a pile of someone’s old National Geographic or Life magazines, I would find that ultimate treasure: a Doc pulp. I never did find one.

But when I was old enough to have a job, and possessed income to indulge such dreams, I determined to get a Doc pulp by mail order. Various dealers advertised in the pages of the 1970’s comics I read, and one, a dealer named Howard Rogofsky, had those glorious words in his ad: Doc Savage pulps. I sent him fifty cents for his catalog, and when it came I devoured the listings. He did indeed have Doc pulps for sale! And among them, the April 1939 issue. It wasn’t as easy as it is today to confirm something by googling it, and there were no pictures in the Rogofsky catalog. In addition, he did not list the story titles. Was it the issue?

I went to the copyright page of my Bantam paperback, looked at the printing history, and yes, the original copyright date was April 1939. So I coughed up $15 plus shipping for it, mailed the postal money order to Rogofsky, and began my vigil.

When it arrived, I literally ripped the package to shreds to get at it. And there it was, my holy grail, my first pulp magazine…World’s Fair Goblin.

Doc Savage Magazine, April 1939

Of course I had read the story (multiple times) already in paperback, but there was something magical about holding that fragile magazine in my hands and turning the yellowed pages with infinite care. This magazine had been on newsstands the same month the Fair had opened! And there were illustrations! Somehow, in my 1960’s paperback mindset, I had not realized the original pulps had been illustrated. Those grainy black and white drawings beckoned to a world of wonder.

Interior Illustration, Doc Savage Magazine, April 1939

That excitement and wonder, amazingly, never dimmed. Almost forty years later, I would, with incredible anticipation, return to the World’s Fair through the writing of the Doc Talos novel Towers.

To be continued…

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