Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Dear Mr. Eliot, Dear Mr. Starrett

Even a non-collector like me is likely to return from Baker Street Weekend in New York with a few literary gems. And I did!

My most unusual acquisition, perhaps, was a 20-page pamphlet called “Conferment by Needle,” Number 69 in a limited edition run of 230 copies printed by Ronart Press Ltd., St. Louis, MO, in 1980. It contains an exchange of letters, just one each, between Vincent Starrett and T.S. Eliot. Michael Murphy wrote the introduction.

Starrett is best known, of course, as a great Sherlockian and Eliot as a great poet (my favorite of the 20th century). I’ve written about both many times on this blog, but not together.

On April 1, 1956, Easter Sunday, Starrett wrote to Eliot to ask him to accept honorary membership in the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), a Chicago-based scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars. Starrett founded the Hounds in 1943 and gave himself the title of “Needle.”

Eliot wrote back on April 10, 1956: “I thank you for your letter of Easter Sunday, & beg to express my appreciation of the honour of being installed as an honorary Baskerville Hound. It is with great pleasure that I accept.” He then noted that he was already an honorary member of two other Holmes societies, “so I hope that amongst the various septs or divisions of the Baker Street Irregulars there is no regulation preventing pluralism.”

The poetry of T.S. Eliot is replete with Sherlockian influences, as I’ve noted before, but it’s a joy to hold in my hands the evidence that he was not only a Sherlockian (or perhaps Holmesian) but a member of the Sherlock Holmes community.   

One of my other weekend acquisitions was a copy of The Last Bookman, a handsome volume about Starrett edited by Peter Ruber. More about that in a future blog. Both the pamphlet and the book came from The BSI Trust, which has an enormous collection of Sherlockian tomes at great prices. To present your want list or see what’s available, email Denny Dobry at dendobry@ptd.net.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

What Every Sherlockian Should Read

Publisher Steve Doyle and The Baker Street Journal

I’m sorry to put this in the past tense, but it used to be that every community had a newspaper, and that paper helped to hold the community together by giving it a common frame of reference.

Holding a community together is what The Baker Street Journal does for Sherlockians, especially in the United States but also around the world. The best reason to subscribe to the BSJ is that it’s great reading, but the next best reason is that it’s what other Sherlockians are reading.

If you need a third reason, the fifth issue every year is a Christmas Annual devoted to one topic. It’s always outstanding. The 2019 issue provided a fascinating look at William S. Baring-Gould, author of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street and The Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

More than a year ago I gave a talk to a scion society about certain aspects of the Canon. One of the members was kind enough to say the talk should appear in the BSJ. With some embarrassment I replied that it already had. “I guess you can tell I don’t subscribe,” the person said.

Bad move. Every Sherlockian should subscribe. I did for a year in the early 1970s, then I fell into apostasy for about 40 years. I missed a lot, but I caught up by acquiring the incredibly useful e-Baker Street Journal, which has all the issues from 1946 through 2011 on CD-ROM.

If you’re not a current subscriber, check out the website.  

Full disclosure: I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing four of my articles published in the BSJ in the past three years, something I never dreamed of when I read the journal at the Cincinnati Public Library as a pre-teen. Canadian Holmes and England’s Sherlock Holmes Journal are also stellar publications.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

From Dr. Watson's Tin Dispatch Box

Bill Harris, the Unknown Constable, and Dr. Watson's tin dispatch box

How many times in the Canon does Dr. Watson mention his tin dispatch box with notes of unrecorded cases?

The answer is at the end of this blog post. The question comes from Bill Harris, who has been a member of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati since the 1980s (although he and wife Teresa live in the Columbus area). It was on a quiz he formulated for our Dec. 13 meeting, at which Bill displayed his own reconstruction of the dispatch box.

Bill’s box contains such items as a stethoscope, a deerstalker, a pipe, a Sidney Paget illustration, binoculars, a magnifying glass, and a photo of William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. But one of the highlights is a set of handcuffs from around 1890 that Bill bought on e-bay some years ago.

We don’t have investiture names in the Tankerville Club, but Bill has dubbed himself (with my august permission) the Unknown Constable in honor of the 36 unnamed constables in the Canon. The reason is that Bill retired as a police officer on January 12, 2011 after 33 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days on the job. Just days before he retired, he clapped those 1890 handcuffs on a man who turned himself in to do a three-day jail sentence for driving under the influence. It caused quite a stir!

Maybe Bill should be a member of Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, Maryland, another great Sherlock Holmes scion society.

Watson mentions the dispatch box three times – in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” “The Problem of Thor Bridge,” and “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.” When I took Bill's quiz, I only remembered the famous “Thor Bridge” reference.  

Friday, December 27, 2019

Compliments of the Season!

Happy Blue Carbuncle Day!

"I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season."  

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

"Two Men of Note" Upon Our Tree

The newest ornament on our Christmas tree this year was handcrafted out of wood by our dear friend, Carolyn Senter. Drawing her inspiration from the first line of Vincent Starrett's "221B" -- namely "Here dwell together still two men of note" -- it features the profile of the immortal duo of Sherlockk Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson.

Carolyn has been selling her amazing crafts and donating the proceeds to projects in honor of her husband, Joel, who passed beyond the Reichenbach in June of last year. Most  important of these is an essay contest in his name, sponsored by the Beacon Society, to keep green the memory of the Master -- and Joel -- among young people. Read about it here.

All of Carolyn's worked is signed by "the Grice Patterson," the name under which she and Joel were invested in the Nashville Scholars of the Three-Pipe Problem. "The singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa" is one of the intriguingly untold tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Holmes Edition for Budding Detectives

A really interesting book came my way recently through the kindness of a friend of a friend. She bought it in a thrift shop.

It’s called Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, but it’s not the Canonical volume of that name. Instead, it’s an 8x11-inch book for children that includes the first half of A Study in Scarlet, three great short stories (“The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”), and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

With all that in one volume, published in 1968 by Classic Press for young readers, you might expect that these stories are abridged or paraphrased. They are not! The complete texts are there (except for the American chapters of Study), plus a “Backward” with two essays.  

Even better is the really distinctive feature of the book: The margins contain informative notes that often amount to little essays. Here the reader learns the definition of a billycock and a street arab, for example. But many of the notes are tutorials for budding sleuths. Here’s one example: 
if: In any homicide investigation, IF is a big word. Not every mysterious death is murder. It might be natural. Or accidental. Or a suicide. The investigator should know that suicides sometimes use strange methods. Conversely, some natural-seeming deaths may actually be murder. 
Another note, accompanied by a drawing, says: 
footsteps: The “walking picture” is important in investigations. This is the whole pattern of walk, not just a single step. This includes length of stride, distance off center, angle, shape, and so on. The usual length of step is 20 inches to 40 inches. Over 40 inches, the person was running. 
I wonder if some previous young reader of this book is a walking in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes today, solving crimes in the manner of the Master?  

Friday, December 6, 2019

"Date Being . . . ?" Check out this Calendar!

Calendar cover art by Jeffrey McKeever
The Strand is more than just the magazine that published Sherlock Holmes stories in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Revived as an American publication some years ago, it is the periodical arm of an operation that sells a wide range of Sherlockian products.
One such product is their Sherlock Holmes calendar, which has a new design each year. I haven’t held a copy in my hands, but it looks spectacular. It’s in full color on heavy stock paper, with color art by Sidney Paget as well as by modern artists Jeffrey McKeever and Phil Cornell.
And who doesn’t need a calendar on your wall as well as on your phone? Check it out at The Strand's website.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

"A Remarkable Mixture" Indeed!

The annual BSI (Baker Street Irregulars) Weekend in New York has no real highlights for me – because it’s all one big highlight! But a scheduled activity that I’ve been privileged to attend the last few years is a cocktail party for contributors to the Baker Street Journal.

At this party, long-time BSJ editor Steven Rothman announces the winner of the annual Morley-Montgomery Award for the best article the previous year. In 2007, Steve edited a book called “A Remarkable Mixture,” putting together in one volume the 34 winners up to that time. 

The title is quite appropriate. It’s a marvelous collection, which I just recently acquired and read. One of its strengths is that the writers take many different approaches – literary analysis, Higher Criticism, history and biography, etc. For that reason, each reader will have her or his favorites, which may differ from mine.
Since my doctoral degree is theological, I enjoyed Henry T. Folsom’s “My Biblical Knowledge is a Trifle Rusty” on Holmes’s religious beliefs. (I wrote on this subject here.)

Robert Keith Leavitt’s “The Origins of 221B Worship” is something of a classic account of the early days of the BSI, and well worth re-reading.

Poul Anderson’s “The Archetypical Holmes” is highly insightful and I once drew on it for a talk. Interestingly, he suggested a connection between Holmes and Mr. Spock long before their relationship was confirmed on the screen, and before Leonard Nimoy played Holmes on stage.

Philip Shreffler’s pean to the original Old Series of the Baker Street Journal really resonated with me. “Merely holding an Original Series Journal gently in one’s hands today imparts a variety of galvanic reverence – as very likely it did then,” Shreffler writes. I know this is true from my own experience, thanks to an amazing gift from a devoted reader of my mystery novels.

The longest piece in the book Jon Lellenberg’s look at the 1940 BSI dinner. To read it is the next best thing to being there.

Susan Rice’s “Dr. Watson’s Hidden Addiction” is a brilliantly conceived, beautifully written answer to the question of when and why Watson became a gambler. Her use of what she calls the Flitcraft Syndrome from The Maltese Falcon is masterful.

Certainly not least of all (this discussion of the articles is in chronological order), S. E. Dahlinger’s “The Sherlock Holmes We Never Knew” about William Gillette is everything that great scholarship should be – painstakingly researched and written with grace and style. For the book, she added to the essay’s original footnotes based on ongoing research. That’s real scholarship!  

The Baker Street Irregulars Press is sold out of this book, but you can order a new copy from Denny Dobry of the BSI Trust at dendobry@ptd.net. I’m glad I did.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In Praise of Irregular Friendships

“If a man has a hobby he follows it up, whatever his other pursuits may be,” said the odious Baron Gruner in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.”

Even in these divisive times, a shared interest can bring people together despite differences of age, race, sex, religion (or lack thereof), politics, employment, economic circumstances, etc.

That was much on display earlier this month as 100 Sherlockians descended on Bloomington, IN for the amazing Building an Archive conference put on by the Baker Street Irregulars.

And the new book “Aboriginals”The Earliest Baker Street Irregulars 1934-1940, by Harrison Hunt and Linda Hunt, establishes in black and white that the followers of the Master have always been a varied lot. Dedicated “to all those who have gone before,” the book is a series of mini-biographies of the first generation of Baker Street Irregulars.

The authors wisely divide the volume into four sections: the stalwarts who were the heart and soul of Christopher Morley’s BSI (23 of them), those who attended one or more of the early dinners but had no other involvement (34), the “irregular Irregulars” who had some connection (7), and those who solved Frank Morley’s famous Sherlockian crossword puzzle and didn’t fit into the other categories (26). At the end is a profile of Christ Cella, whose New York speakeasy was home to those first BSI dinners.

Some of those profiled in the book will be familiar to most Sherlockians – Morley, Starrett, Bell, Gillette, Briggs, Davis, Keddie, Officer, Smith, Steele, and many more. Then there are those whose names are perhaps well known, but not associated with Sherlock Holmes – Stephen Vincent Benét, Don Marquis, Gene Tunney, and R. Buckminster Fuller, for example.

Other names are well known, but only in select circles. Unique among these, perhaps, is William Moulton Marston. He invented the lie detector with the help of one of his wives. He also had a second wife bigamously, with the permission of his first wife. They all lived together, along with the two children of each wife. In his spare time (!) he created the comic book character Wonder Woman. He died at the age of 54 in 1947. His widows lived together for the rest of their lives.

Half of the crossword puzzle contest winners were women and thus never invited to the all-male BSI dinners of their era. Two of them were honored with the BSI’s Queen Victoria Medal in 1990. However, the indefatigable research of the Hunts established that four additional women who qualified were alive at the time but went unnoticed.  

This is a great reference book, but it’s also enjoyable to read straight through as I did. We Sherlockians surely walk on the shoulders of “all who have gone before.”