Harry’s Party

By Peter F. Rusch and Harry M. Allcock

“Harry’s Party has been hosted by Harry M. Allcock (IFI/Plenum Data Corporation) at every ACS National Meeting since the early 1960’s. While ‘unofficial’, it has become a divisional tradition to which every attendee looks forward on Monday evening.

Every party is well attended and is always considered as the best place to renew old acquaintances, to make new friends, and to exchange most-up-to-date information, especially on newest trends in information processing as well as who manages whom and what. The best remembered party was the one in the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on August 25, 1980, when Harry and his associates served drinks standing in a huge decorative bathtub.”

The opening paragraphs are from Val Metanomski’s prodigious and detailed history of the ACS Division of Chemical Information (CINF). Our objective is to paint a more complete picture filled with fact, trivia and wit that seemed to pervade all of Harry’s Parties.

Started in 1964 by Harry Allcock (“it’s a title not a name”) when there were few social events for the Division of Chemical Information at ACS National Meetings, it was a famous meeting place for all who attended. Generously hosted by Harry until his retirement when FIZ CHEMIE Berlin continued the tradition until 2012.

Harry headed the successful IFI (Information for Industry) part of Plenum Publishing. Their product was a series of databases covering US patents for as long a period as data could be found. IFI even had information that the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) had lost. The databases contained straightforward bibliographic data for US patents and a deeply indexed portion of high value.

For those of you who have met Harry, you know he is truly one of the most gregarious people to ever be in the chemical information business. Can anyone imagine Harry at a National ACS Meeting and not be involved in a party? Of course not!

Getting the ACS to host a party or, frankly, paying hotel prices for a hosted party, ran counter to Harry’s sensibilities. So, Harry took things into his own hands. I was a willing accomplice in many of these, but not at the beginning.

In the early days, Harry and IFI staff would arrange for refreshments, send out the invitations and have great party. One of Harry’s colleagues, Charlie Merrick, who owned and operated Rapid Patent, a patent copy service, was always present. Sadly his participation came to an end when he perished in a helicopter accident while traveling in New Zealand.

Harry continued. Eventually, I (Peter) became involved and it is those parties that I want to share with you.

How to throw Harry’s Party the old-fashioned way.

Hotel accommodations. Make arrangements at one of the hotels at the ACS National Meeting city, preferably through some ACS staff member who knows a good party. Reserve a hotel suite with a bedroom on either side. High floor is good. Arrive at the hotel on Sunday and check-in to the bedrooms. On Monday (the traditional day for Harry’s Party) get the key to the suite. Open the doors for inspection.

In Anaheim, Harry was unable to access the bedroom on the other side of the suite. The hotel manager assured him that the second bedroom would be cleaned and available by the time of the party. Finally, Harry saw a woman on the balcony that connected the bedrooms and the suite. Thinking her to be from the housekeeping staff, he politely thanked her for making up the room. In reality, her business arrangement with the previous occupant was completed and she wasn’t about to clean up anything.

Refreshments. This starts on Sunday because what’s needed first is several appropriate boxes. These are easily found at the ACS Exhibition that is setting up. Boxes with corporate logos, such as Plenum Publishing boxes, are essential. Also go by some booth to acquire a dozen plastic bags. Mission accomplished and on to phase two.

Harry’s Party is about liquid refreshments. That means: cheap scotch for Harry and other aficionados, jug (or box) of white wine for those who insist, jug red wine, soft drinks, and beer, lots of beer. The acquisition varies depending on the likely attendance. As more Germans attended, the beer component grew. Additionally, napkins, plastic cups, a bag (or maybe 2 bags) of pretzels. All of this is obtained at a deep-discount liquor store probably (but not always) across town from the hotel. In New Orleans we walked to and from a drug store on Canal Street in the mid-day heat and humidity; in Las Vegas it was one of the many cheap liquor stores and a taxi.

Pack all of the stuff in the boxes prior to arrival at the hotel. Hotels don’t want parties to use outside refreshments. This way, the bell staff will gladly take these boxes of “seminar material” to the suite and receive a generous tip. Use of suitcases is not recommended (once in Anaheim, a bottle broke and the leaking suitcase was a dead give-away in the elevator).

Monday afternoon after the announcement is made (vide infra) the next item required is ice. Take the plastic bags and with the help of one or more accomplices go to every ice machine on all of the adjacent floors, except the floor where the party will be held. That way the closest ice is the reserve.

Fill bathtub with ice. Add beer. Set out bags of pretzels and a few napkins. Place IFI sales brochures next to pretzels. Set up bar. At Caesar’s Palace (vide supra) the bar was the ironing board found in the room. The bath tub was a Roman tub close to the circular bed with a mirror overhead.

Invitations. On Monday morning go to the CINF session(s) with a note giving the hotel, room number and time (always 5:00 PM) for Harry’s Party. Have the session chair make announcement.

Believe it or not, there was another “Harry Allcock” who attended most ACS National meetings. He was known to complain bitterly that his phone rang at all hours with callers asking: “Where’s the party?” Even though our Harry Allcock always invited him to the party, he vowed to never attend and never did.

Opening. No directional signs are necessary as by this time everybody knows where Harry’s Party is. The noise of the gathering crowd is sufficient to direct everyone to the right location. Open the door. Harry is at the bar to greet everyone and make generous drinks.

Security. Once the party has started it will get crowded. Standing room only is an understatement. In Caesar’s Palace the heat of the crowd set off the fire alarm prompting a visit from security who asked that we “keep it down.” In Anaheim, one of the guests started a contest to see if she could kick the chandelier. She couldn’t so her escort gave it a beefy right hook. In Atlanta, President Reagan was shot and everyone was on the bed watching TV. In Philadelphia, one of the guests located a trashy paperback book on an outside balcony on the 23rd floor. It was successfully retrieved to the delight of the guests. There was no door to the balcony.

Closing. Sooner or later the refreshments are depleted. Even the pretzels are gone. Frankly, not much is done to keep guests from leaving at 7:00 PM. There’s no more food or drink and they all have other commitments anyway.

Clean-up. After the guests are gone, put all of the empties and other trash in the plastic bags. In high-rise hotels there is bank of service elevators usually in a lobby adjacent to the guest elevators. When the service elevator arrives, look both ways, throw in the bags, push a button for a low floor, and exit the building by another route.