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Friday, February 17, 2012

Visiting the Valley of Fear

In their excellent Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, Steven Doyle and David A. Crowder list "Ten Sherlockian Places to Visit." Only one of them -- Salt Lake City, Utah -- is in the United States. I would like to suggest another worthy destination on this side of the Atlantic.

Some years ago, Ann and I visited the town of Jim Thorpe in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, which has a strong connection to The Valley of Fear.

Jim Thorpe, named for the great American athlete of that name as part of a calculated move to attract visitors, was created by the merger of the even more oddly named Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. And Mauch Chunk was the location of one of the trials of the Molly Maguires.

The Molly Maguires, an Irish-American secret society of mostly coal miners, were the inspiration of the Scowrers in the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel. Lehigh Valley, therefore, could be considered the real-life Valley of Fear.

Four of the Molly Maguires were convicted of murder and hanged in 1877. One of them, Alexander Campbell, placed his hand on the wall of the jail while proclaiming his innocence. His hand print is still there, on display in the Old Jail Museum, having resisted every effort get rid of it for 135 years, including building a new wall.

I'm among those who consider The Valley of Fear to be scandalously underrated. The late mystery writer John Dickson Carr considered it one of the ten best mystery novels. Doyle and Crowder point out that the first half is a first-rate classic mystery, while the second half foreshadowed some years the hard-boiled school of American private eye fiction.

What is your favorite place associated with Sherlock Holmes?

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