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.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sherlockian Pharmacist Mike McSwiggin

Mike McSwiggen, decked out for the Baker Street Irregulars dinner  

If you spend much time traveling in Sherlockian circles, sooner or later you will run into Mike McSwiggin, BSI. Mike is Second Most Dangerous Member (vice president) of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati and one of the speakers at the upcoming Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference in Dayton, OH on March 28. Let’s meet Mike:   

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

I was in the first grade.  My school librarian saw me repeatedly grab Encyclopedia Brown and Hardy Boys books.  She suggested I try something different.  By third grade, I had read them all.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

In middle school, I started reading about mystery writers.  Then, at some point early in high school, I came across Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  That opened up Pandora’s Box for me.  Explanations for terms that I didn’t know, theories about why certain things happened, and (probably most importantly) a chronology of the stories – all of these things just lit a fire inside me.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I went to a few conferences (such as From Gillette to Brett), but kept to myself until I met Paul Herbert and all of the great folks at the Tankerville Club in Cincinnati.  Sharing this interest with other like-minded people truly made me a Sherlockian.

Your talk at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends will be about Solar Pons, who is almost but not quite Sherlock Holmes. How do you rate your interest and/or affection for Pons vs. Holmes?

Pons is certainly not quite on the same level for me as Holmes, but I do enjoy the stories very much.  The magic of the Holmes stories is the relationship between Holmes and Watson: two genuine friends who care about each other and happen to have adventures and solve mysteries.  The language of the stories, the atmosphere, and the genuine goodness of the main characters all set the original Holmes stories at the top tier of detective fiction.  The Solar Pons stories are pastiche – good pastiche – driven far more by mystery and plot than building up atmosphere or characterization.  At their best, the plots are outstanding.  However, they rarely achieve the same emotional complexity as Holmes and Watson.  But that is a very high bar.  I recommend the Pons stories to any Holmes fan who needs more than the 60 stories in the Canon.

And where does Nero Wolfe fit in there?

Ah, now Wolfe is another thing entirely.  The Wolfe and Goodwin stories (which is really what we should call them, especially if I’m saying Holmes and Watson) are the only other stories I put on the same level as the Canon.  We’re both Wolfeans, Dan.  We fell in love with the language of Rex Stout.  It drives me crazy that so many fans of twentieth-century American literature always mention Hemingway and Chandler, yet omit Stout (the word “omit” is a nod to fans of Wolfe).  When at his best, Stout could write RINGS around those two!  I love Chandler, too, but Stout seems to have been forgotten by too many.  The plots weren’t always tops and the two main characters didn’t age in the many decades covered by the books, but so what?  I smile every time I read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories, and I have read them all multiple times.  Any fan of Holmes and Watson (especially those who read the stories for the relationship) should give Wolfe a try.

Your BSI investiture is “a seven per cent solution” in homage to your profession as a pharmacist. How has that profession affected the way you read the Canon?

Well, I certainly have a better understanding of the poisons mentioned in the Canon than when I first read the stories as a kid.  I did a presentation at A Scintillation of Scions last year entitled “Pharmacy in the Canon,” where I went through the state of pharmacy in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period, as well as talked about every drug and poison mentioned in the Canon.  It is actually pretty chilling the lack of understanding so many in medical world had regarding the substances they were prescribing or recommending.  That’s not to say we live in a perfect world now, by any stretch, but we have a better understanding of how things work.  But honestly, part of what drew me to mysteries is what drew me to pharmacy: I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and am always trying to turn chaos into order.  That is essentially what a detective in a story does: he or she is presented with a problem that needs to be solved.  The world needs to be made right (at least this small piece of it).  So, too, must a pharmacist (or anyone in the medical field) solve a problem presented to them.  Of course, I rarely meet engineers with nine digits, but I do try to help make things better where I can.

Although you and I both live on the same side of Cincinnati, we’ve crossed paths in numerous other cities at scion meetings and at conferences. What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

Well, our home scion is the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, of course.  I also belong to the Agra Treasurers of Dayton, the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the Six Napoleons of Baltimore, the Sherlockians of Baltimore, the Denizens of the Bar of Gold (Eastern Shore of Maryland), the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago, the 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash, the Fourth Garrideb, the Diogenes Club of Washington, DC, and the Baker Street Irregulars.

What’s your favorite Sherlockian event?

As much as I love the Birthday Weekend in New York, I think I have to be honest and say From Gillette to Brett in Bloomington.  Steve and Mark (and everyone else in Indiana) do such an amazing job there.  The guests, the presentations, the movies on the big screen – all fantastic!  Which reminds me, I haven’t nagged Steve and Mark yet this year about when the next one is happening…

What has it meant to you to be part of the far-flung Sherlockian community?

It really means more to me than I can say.  I work a lot, I have a child with special needs, and I don’t have a lot of other hobbies.  I spent a long time reading everything I could get my hands on that involved Holmes, but I never knew the joy of sharing it with others (face to face).  When I finally got the nerve to start attending Tankerville Club meetings, I really began to understand the community aspects of this obsession hobby.  And that has made such a difference to me. Two or three folks in my personal life have said that I am a happier person as an active Sherlockian.  And they are absolutely right.

What is your Sherlock Holmes guilty pleasure?

Without a doubt, it is the much-panned Hound of the Baskervilles starring Tom Baker (BBC, 1982).  Is it great?  Nope.  Does it add an original twist, like Brian Blessed as Geoffrey Lyons in the Ian Richardson version from 1983?  Nope.  Is it at least commercially available on DVD in the United States?  No.  It is the Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who, chewing scenery.  And the title sequence is a cartoon, for some unknown reason.  But I love it anyway.   

You can still register here to take part in Holmes, Doyle, & Friends on March 28, with an opening reception on March 27. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Sherlockian and His Pipes

Al Shaw, pipe smoker and master Sherlockian 
Al Shaw, BSI, is the new Master of the Hounds (i.e., leader of the pack) for the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), founded in Chicago by the legendary Vincent Starrett in 1943. He is also Sir Hugo of another Windy City group of Sherlockians, Hugo’s Companions. And on March 28, he will be one of the presenters at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference in Dayton, OH. Al is a great friend of mine, and one of the wittiest people I know. You should know him, too.   

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

Ahh, the implication here is that there is some seminal moment when we bump into the master detective coming out of a yellow Victorian fog and exclaim, “Who is this guy?! I must know more.”

I suspect the reality is not that simple. Growing up in the 20th century I, like all of you, have always known of Holmes as he is part of our culture. When we are kids, we see Mikey Mouse, Goofy and even Popeye sporting deerstalkers, smoking a pipe, and being “detectives.”  When we are older, he is still there in Classics Illustrated and even Batman comics. In school, the odds are one of the first pieces of literature we read will probably be a Holmes story. 

Still, there was one encounter that motivated me to read all the stories, to take that Doubleday volume of complete stories and read it through. I was 16 years old and working till closing time at a drug store on weekends. When I would come home, I was too wired to go right to sleep. I would turn on the TV for a while and there were late night showings of Sherlock Holmes films each Friday night. It should be noted that this was the same year that I had begun smoking a pipe.  That was how Basil Rathbone went, for me, from Guy Gisborne to the quintessential Sherlock Holmes.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

First, for me, being Sherlockian means the desire to revel in the Canon and the Victorian setting therein. There are moments when one transitions from “a guy reading the Sherlock Holmes stories” to being a “Sherlockian” – a student of the canon.

The 1960’s had just ended. My brother was in the Peace Corps in Africa. He took only one book with him – The Complete Sherlock Holmes. In those days, the Peace Corps (and sometimes the government) would open your mail.  So, my brother wrote to me in the dancing men cypher so that our letters would not be understood by others.  This rekindled my interest and Sherlock Holmes.

My interest in Holmes was further sparked by another event.  In 1971, Hugo's Companions, a Scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, was featured in an article in the Chicago Tribune.  They posted a notice that they were hosting their annual birthday party for Sherlock Holmes.  I decided to attend and my reservation was graciously accepted. The dinner was a very formal affair, with everyone in jackets and ties or dresses.  This was my first experience with a large group of people with a common interest. It was also my first experience with a group of Sherlockians “playing the game.” The members, recognizing me as new, greeted me warmly. It was then that I became aware of the term “Sherlockian” and realizing that I had been one for quite some time.

What has it meant to you to be part of the Sherlockian community?
The interaction with various scions and Sherlockians has been a golden thread woven throughout most years of my life. The first time my son, as a child, was invited to a costume party, he decided we should attend as Sherlock Homes and Sherlock Jr. (not Buster Keaton for the erudite among you). It has been there for me through multiple marriages, moves, and jobs. As I have stated elsewhere, during those years, I have had the privilege to walk among Sherlockian Giants.

You’ve been a Sherlockian a long time. What are one or two of your fondest Sherlockian memories?

My first meetings in 1971 of Hugo’s Companion, when I formed my “Theory of Determining the age of a Sherlockian by their Choice of Favorite Sherlock Portrayal.” I mentioned to someone sitting next to me that I thought Basil Rathbone portrayed the quintessential Sherlock Holmes. The retort was, “Ellie Norwood was the best homes in film.” Who the hell was Norwood? I was to find out that Sherlockians in every generation chose their own Holmes as portrayed on film or television, and, if you knew who their favorite Holmes was, the odds were that you could guess their age better than a carnival conman could.

In those early meetings, one would little suspect the day-to-day identity of the person you sat next to. Some examples:

John Nieminski.  John, I later discovered, was manager of the Midwest Regional Office of the U.S. Civil Service Commission offices. He authored The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic): A History of Chicago’s Senior Sherlockian Scion Society, 1943-1983.  He twice co-chaired the annual Bouchercon (the national Anthony Boucher Memorial Mystery Convention). Mystery scholars prized his notable bibliographies of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (1974) and The Saint Mystery Magazine (1980), He co-founded the quarterly Baker Street Miscellanea. (He was primarily responsible for publishing my previously referenced paper in said Miscellanea).  John also compiled histories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visits to Chicago in 1894 and the 1920s. He authored “Sherlock Holmes in The Tribune.”

Dick Olberg was a French Horn player in the Chicago Symphony.

Ely Liebow. He was Chairman of the English Department at Northeastern Illinois University. It turns out that Ely took part in the historic 1965 Selma Alabama march! In 1982, Ely presented me with one of the first copies of his book Dr. Joe Bell: Model for Sherlock Holmes

Dave Stevens was an editor for Playboy! (A magazine, which at the time, to which I faithfully subscribed for the fine articles).

Jay Marshall from his TV show, “The Magic Ranch.  Jay appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” fourteen times. 

Nieminski and Liebow came up to me after my first meeting. John said, “Let me buy you a drink. We expect you to sit with us at the next meeting.” 

What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

The Baker Street Irregulars, Hugo’s Companions, The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), The Criterion Bar Association, The Torists International, and 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash. Any others that I may have omitted are strictly due to failing memory.

Your topic for the Dayton conference is pipes in the Canon. Tell us a little about your fascination with pipes and your involvement in the pipe-collecting community.    

On my 16th birthday I am known, in some circles, as not only the guy who reads, but the guy who reads Sherlock Holmes. My dad comes into my room with the box and he says “You’re 16 years old now. I would rather not have you smoke cigarettes.”

I open the box and inside is a pipe. It is a “Yellowbole Thorn.” There is a box of tobacco called “Cherry Blend,” a particularly nasty blend available in drug stores at the time. My dad says, “When you smoke a pipe you do not inhale.”  My dad, himself was “Kaywoodie” pipe man as was his father before him. This was the most expensive brand of pipe sold at Walgreen’s drug stores.  I have related in articles and monographs elsewhere, many of the shapes and materials that we associate with Sherlock Holmes are available today or were indeed available to Holmes during his time. I have endeavored over the years to acquire many examples of these pipes both modern and antique.  I belong to the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors. We put on the largest pipe collectors show in the country each spring.  Holmes just seems to read infinitely better when smoking a pipe and creating my own “Yellow Fog.”

Besides Holmes, Doyle, & Friends, what other major Sherlockian events are on your calendar this year?   

It is actually my plan to cut back a bit this year. In the past I have gone to the Norwegian Explorers event, BSI in NY of course, and numerous events hosted by The Illustrious Clients in Indiana.  This year it is my intention to limit myself to mostly local Chicagoland gatherings.

What question haven’t I asked you that I should?
Pizza… Chicago or New York?

You can still register here to take part in Holmes, Doyle, & Friends on March 28,with an opening reception on March 27.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Profile: A Lawyer Looks at Sherlock Holmes

Rich Krisciunas with daughter Emily and wife Kathy

Rich Krisciunas, a veteran attorney and law professor, has prepared a marvelous talk for the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven conference in Dayton, March 27 & 28. Let’s get to know him better.

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

I first met Sherlock Holmes as a child in the 60’s watching Basil Rathbone movies on Sunday afternoons on Bill Kennedy’s Showtime television show. I was impressed with how Sherlock Holmes remained calm and cool and was able to use his mind to solve a variety of crimes. I enjoyed the genre of the detective story, and also remember watching the Charlie Chan movies as well.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

There are many layers to this answer. I watched the movies in the early 60’s. I started reading the stories in the Canon. I am the kind of person who becomes obsessed with anything I do. I throw all of my energy into a subject. So as I went to law school in 1972, my focus was on my studies. I became a trial lawyer at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in 1976 and attended a meeting of the Amateur Mendicant Society in Detroit and began subscribing to the Baker Street Journal. I read the journals in what spare time I had, but I only had time to read one book a year during Christmas break when the courts were closed My wife would buy me a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, like The Seven-Percent Solution and The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer or The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren D. Estleman. She also bought me a deerstalker which I wore in the winters.

Over the years, I played softball four or five nights a week. After my daughter was born in 1985, I threw myself into being Emily’s dad. I coached my daughter’s soccer team for 12 years. I coached high school soccer. I taught Trial Practice as an adjunct professor in law school for 38 years. I taught a Criminal Trial Clinic and was Director of Externships at Detroit Mercy School of Law. These duties interrupted my ability to focus on the Canon.

Ultimately, three years ago, I retired and looked for something else to do in addition to playing golf. I Googled Sherlock Holmes scions and discovered several in my midst. I started attending meetings, which forced me to read a different story for each meeting. I tried to read as much scholarship about each story as I could find. I bought the CD of old Baker Street Journals and read articles about every tangential topic so that I could contribute something meaningful to the discussions at the meetings. The more I read, the more meetings I attended, the more I enjoyed the new friendships I had made.

Your topic for the Dayton conference is “No Obstruction, but Much Collusion: The Alleged Crimes of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson.” There are many such apparent crimes! Has this been a fascination of yours as you read the Canon over the years?

As a criminal trial lawyer, when I watch a movie or read a story, I always consider how a case would be prosecuted in a real courtroom. There are so many movies that leave me shaking my head, saying, “That would never happen in court.” As I read the Canon, I always think about the evidence and what I would argue in a closing argument to convince a jury or what I would say in an opening statement to capture a juror’s attention. How would I defend the person accused by Holmes or how would I defend Holmes for the crimes he committed? I would always think about how the Crown could prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Which witnesses would have to testify? Would they be willing or able to testify?  How would the defense cross-examine them, and would they be credible? It’s easy to say that Holmes broke into a house to steal some papers or he carried a gun, but it’s quite another thing to be able to go into a courtroom and find a witness with personal knowledge who could testify to their observations in front of a judge and jury. As I examined all the crimes that Holmes and Watson allegedly committed, I thought about writing my paper and sharing my experience as a trial lawyer.

Tell us a little about your law career – especially how it has been affected by Sherlock Holmes.     

I graduated from the University of Detroit School of Law in 1975. I had worked as a student intern in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit, Michigan during my third year in law school. I had worked in a special unit that prosecuted repeat offenders and serial rapists, robbers and murderers. I had a chance to watch some of the best trial lawyers in the state. I also played shortstop on the office softball team and batted cleanup. After I passed the bar, I was hired by the prosecutor’s office. I always joked that I was hired on the basis of my athletic ability.

I was an introvert and assumed I was going to be an appellate prosecutor because I had written several appeal briefs as a student. I never saw myself as being a trial lawyer.But when I came in to work on my first day, I was assigned to the Trial Division to work for the manager of the softball team, who was the chief of the Trial Division.

He told me to watch a jury trial on a rape case. I watched the trial and took notes on jury selection and evidentiary objections and closing arguments. After the trial ended, I told my boss that I was ready for some more training. He handed me a file and said, “Go try this misdemeanor jury trial.” I tried the case and he gave me another jury trial. Next week, I tried three more jury trials. I had tried five misdemeanor jury trials in six days. It was Friday and I was sitting in my office when a prosecutor came into my office and said, “Hey kid, you want to try an Armed Robbery?” “Whoa. I’ve never tried a felony case. Will you sit with me?” “Sure,” he said. He lied. When the jury came in, he disappeared and I tried the case by myself. I ended up winning my first nine jury trials. I was trying cases every day. Robberies, drug cases, bad checks, breaking-and-enterings, rapes, thefts and homicides.

Within a year, the judge I was assigned to, who had been a former prosecutor, wrote a letter to the elected prosecutor and praised my ability as a trial lawyer. I was promoted to the Prosecutor’s Repeat Offenders Bureau (PROB), the same unit I had worked in as a law student intern two years before. I continued trying high visibility cases in that unit for several years until I was promoted to become the special prosecutor assigned to the Detroit Police Department’s Felony Murder Squad Seven headed by Inspector Gilbert Hill, who gained fame for acting in the movie Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. For two years, I handled nothing but Murder First Degree trials. In seven years, I had tried over 150 hundred jury trials and another 400 bench trials. Ultimately, I became a supervising attorney, responsible for the prosecution of 4,000-5,000 cases a year and training new assistant prosecutors, and retired, after 28 years in the office, as the Chief of the Trial Division.

I rose through the ranks very quickly. I think what made me successful was, like Holmes, my attention to detail and my ability to keep an open mind. I felt that no one could outwork me. I thought I needed to be as prepared as possible to make up for my weaknesses as an introvert and my lack of experience. I began my preparation for trial in every case in an unorthodox way as a prosecutor. Instead of thinking how I would convict the defendant, I started by assuming that I was prosecuting an innocent man. I looked at the defendant’s story as if it were true and tried to corroborate the defendant’s theory of the case. If the defendant was really at work, as he claimed, there would be records at his place of employment that would confirm it. I subpoenaed the records and found that he was off on the day of the crime. I looked for physical evidence of injuries, witnesses who could corroborate the defendant’s claims, common sense explanations for apparently guilty behavior. Ultimately, I could poke holes in every defendant’s story and that helped me build a stronger case for conviction. I found that many times, my case ended up being so strong that most defendants elected to plead guilty rather than go to trial.

In the Canon, there are many examples of cases where Holmes would do some investigation that would prove that the man he suspected was not being truthful. In “The Speckled Band,” for instance, Holmes looked at the will of Grimesby Roylott’s widow to see how much he stood to lose if his stepdaughters married. In that way, he determined Roylott’s motive to kill his stepdaughters. It’s that extra bit of knowledge that helped Holmes solve a case.

After I retired as a prosecutor in 2004, I decided to take court-appointed criminal cases so I could take my students to court. I defended clients for 12 years until I gave up my practice. Now, I work one day a week as a city attorney prosecuting traffic and misdemeanor offenses in my local district court. I also golf four times a week with my friends. This gives me much free time to read the Canon and related books and articles.

What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?

I joined the Ribston-Pippins, the Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit, The Greek Interpreters of East Lansing, and the Bootmakers of Toronto. I subscribe to the Baker Street Journal and listen faithfully to Scott Monty’s podcasts “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” and “Trifles.”

Besides Holmes, Doyle, & Friends, what other major Sherlockian events are on your calendar this year?

I am hoping to attend the BSI Conference at West Point, New York in July and was thinking about attending “Holmes in the Heartland” in St. Louis.

What has it meant to you to be part of the Sherlockian community?

I have really enjoyed being part of the Sherlockian community. With only one exception, everyone has been warm and welcoming. There are some really smart people who play the game. I have learned so much about many different aspects of the Canon’s stories – the era, London, history, Baker Street, etc. I have been surprised by how many people who don’t belong to a scion enjoy talking about Sherlock Holmes. We have a lot in common.

What else is up your Sherlockian sleeve?

I have written a paper on who killed Charles Augustus Milverton. Spoiler alert. He is a close personal friend of Doctor John Watson.

You can still register here for Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven, March 27-28.

Friday, January 31, 2020

A Sherlockian Journal Called "The Newspapers"

The Baker Street Irregulars is a literary society, and so are the hundreds of BSI scions and other Sherlock Holmes associations. And literary societies tend to create literature in the form of literary journals.

A relatively new group, the Sherlockians of Baltimore, has joined Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD, the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, and the Crew of the Barque Lone Star as scions publishing a volume every year. I picked up The Newspapers: An Irregular Journal of Sherlockiana, Number 3, at Baker Street Irregulars Weekend in New York.

The variety of old and new in this journal is fascinating. There are articles on astronaut Harrison Schmidt taking Holmes to the moon, William Gillette’s last appearance in Baltimore, Holmes on the radio, Rex Stout at the BSI dinners, Sherlockian friendship, and much more. Mike McSwiggin’s touching memoir of his grandparents alone is worth the $20 price of admission.

The journal is edited by Greg D. Ruby, founder of the Sherlockians of Baltimore. (Investitured members are known as Certified SOB’s.)

Originally, I was hoping to get 60 pages of material but nearly doubled that in the first volume,” he said, “and the next two volumes just kept growing to where we were nearly 200 pages. I’ve been very lucky to have several members and friends convert presentations to the written format and sprinkle in some items from old local newspapers.”

The title of the publication honors five great Sherlockians who worked for Baltimore newspapers at various times. That ties into origin of the journal.

“I had seen some interesting feature articles from old local newspapers that had not been seen by many Sherlockians,” Greg said, “and I thought there was a lot of great talent in the area that could also support the project based on some of their presentations at other groups.”

The fourth volume of The Newspapers is due out this summer. learn more about Volume 3 here. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Interviewing Denny Dobry of 221B

Denny Dobry holds Colonel Moran's air rifle in his reconstruction of 221B

Last summer, I wrote here about visiting our friend Denny Dobry’s recreation of 221B Baker Street. Denny will be sharing the story of that remarkable achievement as one of the speakers at the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends conference in Dayton, OH, on March 28. I recently asked Denny a few questions:  

How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?

“The Speckled Band” was required reading in the ninth grade at my junior high school.  Although I was not much of a reader at the time, something clicked and became planted deep in my brain to emerge many years later.

How and when did you become a Sherlockian?

Although little signs of interest in Sherlock Holmes revealed themselves over the years, I didn’t really do anything to advance my interest until 1987, when the centennial of A Study in Scarlet generated some articles in the local newspaper.  That would have been the start of my informative years.  With life intervening, I didn’t get the time or the courage to attend a scion meeting until 1995.  From that first meeting, I would say that I was firmly hooked as a Sherlockian.

What has it meant to you to be part of the Sherlockian community?

Participating in the Sherlockian community is my major interest outside my family life.  Almost all of our friends are Sherlockians and we socialize together in and outside Sherlockian events.  I can’t imagine what my interest would have been without Sherlock – probably something more constructive, but not anywhere near as much fun.

You’ve been a Sherlockian a long time. What are one or two of your fondest Sherlockian memories?

By far, my most-fondest Sherlockian memory was the day I walked into Paul Churchill’s home and saw his re-creation of his sitting room.  Paul was the inspiration to create my own re-creation of 221B, and he was my first and best Sherlockian friend.  Paul passed in 2008 and I think of him and miss him every day.

How did you come to recreate 221B Baker Street in your basement? 

I was blown away when I met Paul Churchill and visited his 221B re-creation.  Paul’s creation brought the Canon to life for me – Watson’s stories became real.  Paul and I became great friends and he encouraged me to pursue my recreation. He was instrumental in helping me with ideas to enhance my sitting room.

What Sherlockian groups do you belong to? 

I have belonged to Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD; the Denizens of the Bar of Gold of Cambridge, MD; the Six Napoleons of Baltimore; the Copper Beeches of Philadelphia; the Clients of Sherlock Holmes of Philadelphia; the Epilogues of Sherlock Holmes of New Jersey; the John H. Watson Society, and the Hounds of the Internet.   I am no longer active in all those groups, and a few of them have faded away.

I received my investiture into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2018 as “A Single Large Airy Sitting-room.”

And after many years, I continue as Gasogene of the White Rose Irregulars of York PA.

Besides Holmes, Doyle, & Friends, what other major Sherlockian events are on your calendar this year?

I plan to attend A Mountaineer Named Sherlock at West Virginia University in March, A Scintillation of Scions in Columbia, MD, in June, and the BSI conference Sherlock Holmes and the British Empire in West Point, NY, in July

What question haven’t I asked you that I should?

I am currently the Headlight of the Beacon Society, a scion society whose sole purpose is to promote the reading of Canon by our youth. 

I also operate the BSI Trust Parnassus on Wheels, collecting donated books and other Sherlockiana, and selling the same to raise funds in support of the Baker Street Irregulars Archives which are housed at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana.

To find out what treasures the BSI Trust has available that might interest you, email Denny at dendobry@ptd.net. Although Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven, March 27-28, 2020, is closed out for vendors, participants can stillregister here.  

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."