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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Remembering Elmer Davis, an original BSI

The early Sherlockians, those men and women who read the stories of the Canon before there was a completed Canon, fascinate me. So I loved the talk Mary Ann Bradley, BSI, gave at the annual field trip of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis this past Saturday.

Speaking at an old railroad depot in Aurora, IN, now a history library, she talked about Aurora native Elmer Davis. Davis was one of the journalistic giants of his day, for whom there is no parallel in our own time. Importantly for Sherlockians, he also wrote the Constitution and Buy-Laws of the Baker Street Irregulars around the time Christopher Morley formed the BSI in 1934. He was an original member, present at that first dinner. 

Two of the most famous lines of the “Buy-Laws” reflect the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the document: 
4. All other business shall be left for the monthly meetings.
5. There shall be no monthly meetings. 
Davis was a highly paid commentator for CBS during World War II ($53,000 a year) but took a hefty pay cut to head the Office of War Information at the request of a fellow Baker Street Irregular, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In that role, Davis set the gold standard for maximum openness in wartime.

Until Mary Ann’s talk, however, my greatest exposure to Elmer Davis was fictional. He appears as a character in The War of the World Mystery and Baker Street Irregular, two thoroughly enjoyable novels. Perhaps that’s fitting. Davis appeared as himself in the classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. 


  1. I love this kind of history, seeing people with Sherlockian connections showing up elsewhere. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I'd also recommend Jon Lellenberg's 2009 addition to his BSI History series, "Certain Rites, and Also Certain Duties," which has a fascinating chapter on the precursor to the BSI Buy-Laws, also written by Elmer Davis, for The Friendly Sons of St. Vitus.

  3. Ther is also the 1961 book "Don't Let Them Scare You: The Life & Times of Elmer Davis" by Roger Burlingame. Very little info on the BSI, though.