ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

A Sysop, Forever —

I often get updates to the Historical BBS List I’ve been maintaining since 2001. Sometimes it’s just changes in time span or sysop name; other times it’s the addition of an essay or story someone remembers about their own or someone else’s BBS. I get, now, five years later, an average of 4-5 every day.

One that recently came in was for Devil’s Dungeon BBS, which his brother sent with the following paragraph:

“Don DeLapp Jr. & Don DeLapp Sr. worked together to launch Devil’s Dungeon back in the early 80’s. Starting out on the CPM with 300 baud modems. Eventually they upgraded to 1200 baud on a IBM/Compatible. Dedicated phone line, and many late nights coming up with .ans artwork using TheDraw.exe
The BBS almost went down after Don DeLapp Jr. was killed in 1987 by a drunk driver ( I am his brother, and at the age of 10 years old I would not let my father put the Bulletin Board to rest, we renamed it to Don’s Dungeon which is written on my brother’s headstone at the Holy Trinity Cemetary in Webster, NY. Later the name
changed to Space Quest, and other’s started up Space Quest II, and III, Black Cauldron) I recently snagged some information off the old BBS 5.25 inch disks ( Recently Don DeLapp Sr. died, but their memories remain. Live long & Prosper.”

It’s not every day someone sends me such a complete story about the people behind a BBS, and it’s certainly an even rarer event to have someone send along a vintage photo of the sysop with their BBS in front of them:

So this is Don DeLapp, Jr., who was born on Sep. 23, 1971 and died on Aug. 7, 1987. As referenced in the paragraph his brother sent to me, Don was killed on his bike at the age of 15 by a drunk driver. This resulted in his father wanting to shut down the BBS and his brother, 10 years old, convinced dad to instead rename the BBS after him and keep it running in Don’s memory. It’s quite something to ponder how that conversation must have gone, with a father mourning the senseless death of his son and his remaining son pleading to continue on what the eldest son had started, even if it was something as simple as a computer and a phone line.

But what really stunned me was a photograph of Don’s headstone, which shows, clearly, the BBS immortalized along with him:

The way things work with web pages and web forums today, it’s too easy for one of these “communities” to yank up this photo, put it out of context, put it on a “silly gravestone” collection or otherwise dehumanize and detract from what’s really going on here: a family trying to make sense of the loss of their son by etching into his gravestone the things that defined him as a person up to that point. His drums, his portrait, his computer project that must have been endless hours of intensity and fun for him.

All Don had known was the world when BBSes were the way to do things. He never got to see the increased speed, the world wide web, the great stuff that came after; he’s locked, like so many others I could name, in the way things were back then, and how life was lived online. And now, set in stone, the importance of the BBS in his life is there for all to see.

In December of 2006, Don Senior died during an operation and was buried next to his son’s grave. Co-sysops, forever.

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  1. Andy Baio says:

    Thank you to Jim for sharing this story, and Jason for giving it the respect it deserves.

  2. Flack says:

    Wow — and I thought computer-related tattoos showed dedication. Them’s some hardcore computer users, yo. Sometimes in the online world it’s easy to forget that there are, in fact, real people on the other side of the screen.

  3. Myself says:

    The juxtaposition of the big crosses engraved above “Don’s Dungeon” must strike cemetery visitors as a bit odd. I wonder if any of the old users have seen this. I couldn’t find Devil’s Dungeon or Don’s Dungeon on bbsmates, but if anyone has the details, they should create an entry there and link it here.

  4. Quag7 says:

    I lived just a few miles outside of the local calling area of a particularly digitally active part of Central New Jersey – the East Brunswick/South River area.

    One of the better boards in this excellent scene was one called The Gates of Delirium. I purchased what was referred to (colloquially? I’m not sure) as a “scope” – a flat fee which bought 20 cheap hours of long distance from my area to this one. There was just too much going on to avoid it for the purpose of a cheap phone bill.

    The sysop’s name was Pieter Broerson. He had Muscular Dystrophy and was wheelchair bound but I didn’t know that until a mutual acquaintance told me. I was a co-sysop on his board, and talked to him regularly voice on this hacked-up three way calling “box” the same mutual acquaintance made by hooking up a switch and crossing wires in the wall behind his phone jack (he had two numbers running in. This seems pretty simple now but at the time I thought this was really cool).

    Anyway, for a long time we talked and posted and e-mailed, and then one day, he died from respiratory complications following a Rush concert. One thing Pieter was into was music, and he caught something at this concert which led to his lungs filling with fluid, and he died (this is the story I got).

    And I’d never had the chance to meet him in person, because we lived about 20 miles from each other and I wasn’t of driving age, yet.

    But then I asked my parents to drive me to his wake, which was closed-casket. I met all of these people from the local BBS scene who had made the trip. Though still a somber affair, the music of Yes, Pink Floyd, and Rush played throughout. On the top of the casket was a photograph of Pieter (“Astral Traveler”) – I had no idea what he looked like.

    I got to meet a lot of people I’d known for a long time as online friends, and hadn’t had the chance to meet. It made me regret not meeting Pieter.

    After the funeral, myself and the other co-sysops of the board were invited back to where he lived with his family. I saw the BBS for the first time, with an empty chair in front it, and massive shelves of records nearby. It was odd looking at the system I’d called for so long from the other side, especially with the sysop…absent. The board was still up and running, too. I watched a call come in and the familiar C-Net sysop console with its unique light bar come to life. Yet in the house, just silence…absence.

    This is one of those moments in life that sticks out, and I’ve tried to put this into narrative form to try to extract some kind of meaning from it, or communicate how poignant that moment was. I’ve told the story several times but I don’t think I’m getting the point across. I’m not sure what the point is other than, when I was 15, this was an unusually serious moment.

    But it’s like I always say to people who tell me that everything online is simulated and shallow. You get out of all of this what you put into it.

    When it comes to people, it’s worth putting a little extra in…

  5. leahpeah says:

    thank you, jason. that was lovely.

  6. Stacia says:

    Wow. That was very moving. Thanks for posting.

  7. Mary Anne Prashina says:

    Two beautiful stories. Oh so real and at the same time remembrances of the past.
    My best friend from college moved from Indiana to California after graduating in 1978. We lost track of each other, as 22 year olds will when starting new jobs and creating new lives.
    Last year when doing yet another seemingly fruitless search on the internet for any sign of my long lost friend, I finally found a morsel. It turns out that Marc had been sysop of a BBS in the LA area. I was glad to see that my old buddy who waged war against IBM mainframes with me was involved in the new “world” opening up online. Too bad the age of the BBS is gone – otherwise I’d reach out to him.

  8. wow, this really hit me in the heart.

  9. Dabitch says:

    ah shoot, now you made me cry. What a senseless death of such a beautiful promising young man, but I love that the family put his BBS on his gravestone. Thanks Dad, may you RIP too.

  10. PJ says:

    I was Don’s friend throughout grade school when he got me into BBSes. We had a short-lived BBS we called White Screen BBS (I’ll have to look through some dot matrix printed records for the exact dates).

    He was also an adept hacker, often resulting universities asking him what he had done so they could prevent others from doing it in the future (and in exchange for charges not being pressed).

    There’s no doubt that if he were around today he’d be a pioneer in some aspect of the computer industry.