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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Companionable Time in Chicago

Hugo's Companions Annual Birthday Celebration and Awards Dinner
If there’s anything Sherlockians love, it’s history. The Chicagoland group called Hugo’s Companions, which we visited over the weekend, has plenty of that.

The Companions were founded in 1949 by the iconic Vincent Starrett, Matthew Fairlie, and other members of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), the senior Sherlock Holmes society in Chicago. “The name refers to the drunken and wicked companions of Sir Hugo Baskerville in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles,” according to the program for Saturday’s event.

In fact, the original name of the society was Hugo’s Drunken Companions, according to Irregular Records of the ’Early Forties, edited by Jon L. Lellenberg. Then as now, the titles of the officers were Sir Hugo, Most Idle Companion, Most Drunken Companion, Most Wicked Companion, and (since 1955) Most Bold Companion.

The current Sir Hugo, the leader of the pack, is the affable Alan Shaw, who just this year was invested by the Baker Street Irregulars as “Sir Hugo Bakersville.” On Saturday he emceed the group’s annual celebration of Sherlock Holmes’s birthday, which the group uniquely chooses to believe takes place on May 17. The co-ed assembly included specially invited Sherlockians from around the Midwest, as well as Hugo’s Companions. Like all Sherlockians, they were a fun crowd.

As the guest speaker, I hope that I was well prepared for my talk on familiar plot tropes in the Canon. I was not prepared, however, to receive the society’s Horace Hawker Award, “given to one who keep the memory of Sherlock Holmes green through publication.”

As a recovering journalist, I was certainly honored to receive an award named for one of only three journalists named in the Canon. (The others are Neville St. Clair, “the Man with the Twisted Lip,” and a newspaper editor named James Stanger in the American section of The Valley of Fear.) In addition to a scroll, the award included a handsome tile bearing the Baskerville coat of arms.  

There is one glitch, however: Harker gets the story wrong in “The Six Napoleons” because Holmes manipulates him to fool the criminal. The late Paul Herbert, founder of the Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, occasionally bestowed his own informal Horace Harker Award to newspaper stories about Sherlock Holmes or Sherlockians that were rife with error.

Al Shaw assured me that the award I received was given for more positive reasons!

Like many other Sherlockian societies, Hugo’s Companions has waxed and waned over the decades. It is good to see the group waxing into the 21st century.