The Sherlockian world has been blessed in this decade with an influx of energetic young enthusiasts. One such is Monica Schmidt, whom I have had the pleasure of encountering repeatedly at events around the country. I decided it was time to ask her a few questions. Her interest in Holmes didn’t begin with the BBC’s Sherlock.
When/how did you first become acquainted with Mr. Sherlock Holmes?
In January of 1987, I was 5 ½ years-old. I have a memory of watching a movie on TV featuring a guy who had been cryogenically frozen and woken up in the modern day (The Return of Sherlock Holmes, starring Michael Pennington). This guy wore a funny hat and cape, had an accent, and was a detective. And then my mother made me go to bed before I could catch the name of the movie or watch its conclusion. But the memory of that character stuck with me. When I was 7 or 8, I came across a children’s edition of The Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (featuring abridged versions of BLUE, RED, and SPEC). Thanks to the cover art, I recognized that this Sherlock Holmes fellow must have been the same one from that movie I remembered. I really enjoyed those stories and thirsted for more. A year or so later, I came across Jeremy Brett’s Holmes on PBS and got hooked. I started devouring all things Sherlockian and I haven’t stopped.
What’s your favorite canonical Holmes story and why?
This question is like asking which are your favorite children. But, if I must choose, I would probably have to pick BLUE because it was the first story I read and therefore it’s a sentimental favorite. The story is set during the winter holiday season (which is always a favorite time of year) and it’s become a custom in my household to re-read the story and watch the Granada version of the tale over the Christmas holiday. Also, as someone who works closely with the criminal justice system, I like that the story also plays with the idea of legal vs. social justice: Holmes allows Ryder to go free because he recognizes justice is not served by making Ryder into a jailbird.
How does your day job as an addiction counselor give you insight to Holmes?
I’m a licensed mental health counselor, but I specialize in the treatment of addictions (alcohol, drugs, and gambling). So, I’d like to think I have a fair amount of insight regarding Holmes’s drug use as well as his mental health. Because Holmes is a hero to many, I like to give presentations about the intersection between mental health and the Canon as a way of educating the public about what addiction or mental health concerns actually look like (as compared to the extreme pop-culture stereotypes we are presented with in movies and on TV).
How did you get involved in the Younger Stamfords?
I had to go to Minnesota to find my local scion in Iowa City. My first Sherlockian event was the Norwegian Explorers/University of Minnesota Sherlockian conference in 2010. While I was at the conference, I sat next to Peter Blau (had no idea who he was) and we chatted about youthful engagement in the community. I convinced him that a Sherlockian scion needs a web presence if it is to draw younger people… and this is why The Red Circle of DC has a website. I mentioned to him that I had searched the Internet and could not find a scion close to me in Iowa City or Cedar Rapids. Of course, the idea of searching in books never occurred to this ’net-savvy young lady. Peter pointed at Dr. Richard (Dick) Caplan, founder of the Younger Stamfords, and told me to go talk to him. Thank you, Peter, for making sure I found my way.
How did you become the scion’s president?
Dick Caplan founded the Younger Stamfords in 1988 and decided he would step down from running it after 25 years – just before his 84th birthday in 2013. In a small market like Iowa City, there are a lot of people who are interested in attending, but not a lot of people who are interested in doing. Therefore, if you found a group, you may be president for life. When Dick decided to step down, he resigned himself to the idea that the scion may disband. I was crushed at this idea because I had just connected with the group and couldn’t bear the idea of the scion going defunct. So, even though I was the scion’s youngest (and least experienced) member, I volunteered to carry the banner.
What other groups and scion societies have you been involved with?
In taking over the Younger Stamfords, I made a promise to myself (and an unspoken one to Dick) to educate myself about the greater Sherlockian community so I could feel like I earned the honor of running a scion. So, I jumped in with both feet. I am a member of The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) in Chicago, The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, The O’Lunney’s of Helston Asylum, The Torists International Sherlockian Society, The Wizards of Iz (Sherlockian Brunch Club), The Fourth Garrideb, The Criterion Bar Association, The Friends of the Great Grimpen Mire, The Hansom Cab Clock Club, and 140 Varieties of Tobacco Ash, as well as The Sons of the Copper Beeches.
How do you think Midwestern scion societies are different from those on the coasts?
Every scion has its own distinct traditions and unique flavor, so grouping or generalizing them would do a disservice to all the organizations. But I can say that, within the Midwest, The Illustrious Clients (1947) to the east; The Norwegian Explorers (1948) to the west; and The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) (1943) and Hugo’s Companions (1948) in the middle in Chicago have acted as long-standing anchors of Sherlockian activity and scholarship in flyover country. In the Midwest, scions are a little more geographically spread out and siloed (far less membership overlap than one would find in the Mid-Atlantic region), which means that it takes a larger effort for someone in the heartland to fill up one’s calendar of Sherlockian events.
What has it mean to you to be part of the broader Sherlock Holmes community?
For me, being part of the broader Sherlockian community means being able to look forward while upholding tradition. It is eye-opening when one reads the biographies of those Sherlockians who have come before: so many men and women did great things. Many were at the top of their professions or made major contributions to their fields in addition to making their mark in the Sherlockian community through scholarship and scion involvement. It’s a great honor to follow in the footsteps of those giants of yesteryear and to be able to make our own contribution to the community they helped craft.
What is something you think people should know about you?
Nearly everything I’ve done in this community is the result of a lot of other people giving me a chance. People have allowed me to attend their scion meetings. Someone reached out and invited me to their event. Or maybe a person spoke up on my behalf because they believed I would be a good fit. Others have asked me if I would write a paper, do a presentation, or work on a project. It’s humbling when others have believed in me even when I may not have believed in myself and that people expect great things of me. And I have always tried to make sure that no one regretted their decision to include me. It’s a privilege of being involved in the Sherlockian community.
You can hear Monica speak at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Five in Dayton on March 10, 2018. Register here.