Sunday, May 9, 2021

Interesting Interview: Nicholas Utechin

Just when I thought Sherlockians - I'm sorry, Holmesians can't get any nicer, along comes this week's Interesting Interview subject, Nicholas Utechin.  Since I first got into this hobby, Nick has been one of the names that I've seen time and time again.  And every time it came up, I've always been impressed with the man's work, knowledge, and longevity in this hobby of ours.  Well, let me tell you, those all pale in comparison to what a nice guy Nick is!  Our email exchanges this week in preparation for tonight's interview have been a highlight every time I got something from him in my inbox.  

If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance that you know Nick Utechin as the longtime editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal, or author of a number of books such as Sherlock Holmes at Oxford or Sherlock Holmes: Amazing and Extraordinary Facts.  And the man isn't stopping any time soon!  He's just edited a new book celebrating the history of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in its 70th anniversary year, This August and Scholarly Body, he's been popping up in Zoom meetings all over the place for presentations, and he brought canonical insight to a Sherlockian puzzle that came out last year!  And I think his knowledge, passion, and connections all come down to two things: he loves Sherlock Holmes and he's a great guy.  So let's kick off the month of May with a true delight, Nicholas Utechin!

How do you define the word ‘Sherlockian’?

In the same way that I would the word ‘Holmesian’ – which we use more often over on this side of the Atlantic!   Basically, anyone who wishes to take matters just that bit further than merely reading and enjoying the stories.   You may want to dress up in Victorian clothing, you may be able to afford the odd Beeton’s Christmas Annual or Lippincott’s Monthly, you may adore Gillette, Saintsbury, Wontner or Wilmer, or you may enjoy playing “the game” – that is, the pseudo-scholarship.

Those who espouse “fandom” are not necessarily Sherlockians.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I became a Holmesian in 1966, at the age of 14.  My mother had tried me on The Hound of the Baskervilles some years earlier, but it was a touch too early and I was frightened.   Then my great-aunt wisely gave me the John Murray Omnibus edition of the Short Stories when I was 12.   The crucial breakthrough came when my mother took out of the public library the English edition of Baring-Gould’s Biography – and there at the back was an address for The Sherlock Holmes Journal, of which I had previously never heard.   I wrote to the Editor, the Marquess of Donegall, and his assistant (an unsung heroine called Miss Cecelia Freeman) put me in touch with the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.   It really all spiralled out of control from there.

The fact that I am a third cousin twice removed of Basil Rathbone (my middle name is Rathbone) may have helped. 

What is your favo(u)rite canonical story?

“The Bruce-Partington Plans”.   It has absolutely everything: dense fog, Mycroft, a proper mystery, a good murder and splendid deductions and denouement.   It has the added benefit of being a chronologist’s nightmare: there is absolutely no work to be done on the dates of the case!

With Dame Jean Conan Doyle in the early 1980s

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

This is an invidious question, for which, I fear, I cannot give an answer.   I have been around for such a long time plying this great hobby and meeting or corresponding with so many other enthusiasts that to pluck one name simply is not on.   I apologise!

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

No single one.   I was lucky enough to start collecting the classic works of scholarship when they were not yet too expensive.   In more recent years, I have managed to put together a reasonable number of single issue Strand Magazines containing Holmes stories; I still need (please?!) one or two Collier’s Magazines with Steele covers, and have picked up a few Harper’s Weeklies.   

Autographs of actors associated with Holmes are fun to accumulate.   

It has long been apparent that I shall never be in a position to own an original Holmes drawing by Paget or Steele, so I have begun a little mini-collection of non-Sherlockian works by artists who have done Holmes illustrations: thus, I have an illustration Sidney Paget did for The Tragedy of the Korosko, an unpublished (I believe!) watercolour by his brother Walter, and a 1916 draft of a Collier’s cover by Dorr Steele, as well as works by other lesser-known artists.

With Douglas Wilmer at his home to record an interview for the Baker Street Irregulars

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I have been fairly eclectic.   My first published article – back in 1969 – pointed out the lies Holmes told Watson at the outset of FINA: in later years, I have proved that Holmes murdered Moriarty at the Falls, discussed Moran’s shooting of Ronald Adair (indeed, I have written long mini-biographies of the Professor and the Colonel), and worked out Mycroft’s true role in EMPT.   During the 30-years I edited The Sherlock Holmes Journal, I had quite enough to do without contributing to the scholarship; but since then I have hit upon the main reason for Holmes having gone to Montpellier during the Great Hiatus, worked out why Sherlock turned down a knighthood, and identified “Emsworth, the Crimean VC” (BLAN)…and lots more.

Back in 1977, I entered what has become known as the “Controversity” with my brochure Sherlock Holmes at Oxford; in 2018, Gasogene Books published my Complete Paget Portfolio.

So: a fairly broad spectrum – helped perhaps by being friends with editors and publishers!

Launching my Paget book at the Bloomington SH conference in 2018

As a long-time member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, what are some positive trends you've seen in our hobby over the years?

That’s a very broad question – and again not an easy one to answer.   It goes without saying that the admitting of women to such groups as the Baker Street Irregulars and the Sons of the Copper Beeches was long overdue (although I freely admit that I was made a member of both when they were still men-only.)   The way that younger people continue to be ensnared in the web of Sherlockiana in all sorts of ways is a triumph: the re-inventions in the BBC’s Sherlock and the two Guy Ritchie films were, as we all know, of paramount importance.   While Enola Holmes was not a Sherlock film and and a decision has been made not to renew The Irregulars, Netflix has successfully continued the general media journey.   Why there were so many (any?!) series of Elementary is utterly beyond me, but anything that manages to continue to spread the word 134 years after STUD first appeared is “a good thing”.

One of the best things I did during lockdown last year was The World of Sherlock Holmes puzzle and I was absolutely delighted to see your explanatory essay that identifies so many of the Easter eggs throughout the puzzle.  How did you become involved with this project and what was your role in the development of the puzzle and its explanation?

I’m glad you enjoyed it (I can’t do jigsaw puzzles at all…let alone 1,000-piece ones!)   This is an easy question to answer: I was approached by the producer/manufacturer and asked to come up with essential characters, essential objects, a few extra-canonical personages, and some locations to be hidden around the picture.   I then had to write the accompanying text/crib accounting for who everyone/thing is.   I had no contact with the artist whatsoever: he just had to work with the material I provided.   The fact that he is primarily an architectural illustrator is fairly apparent.   Ludicrously I forgot Scotland Yard – and sadly I was only paid a small buy-out fee and so am not on royalties!

They also want me to come up with some thoughts about a set of Sherlock Holmes playing cards – which is proving somewhat problematic.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

So, so difficult to come up with just one…Since you are compelling me to do so, I shall have to say D. Martin Dakin’s A Sherlock Holmes Commentary.   The mixture of scholarship, clever writing, and humo(u)r is, I think, unparalleled in our field.   I don’t know how many of your readers subscribe to The Baker Street Journal (they all should), but there is more on Dakin in an article I had published in Vol. 66 No. 1 (Spring 2016).

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I couldn’t begin to guess.   The only thing I so hope for is that the printed page will still exist.   I would say that, wouldn’t I, since I am the age I am, and chair the Publishing Sub-Committee of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.  Rude as it is to a blogger such as yourself, nothing beats hard copy.

That said, as mailing charges mount up grotesquely, who knows?

With Val McDermid at the SHSL Annual Dinner, 2020

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Interesting Interview: Barbara Rusch

The name Barbara Rusch was one I'd hear long before I actually got to meet this lovely person.  She is a very active Canadian Sherlockian, being a Master Bootmaker and Vice Chair of The Friends of Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Public Library.  You'll also see her on the roll for the Baker Street Irregulars and the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes and her byline appears all over the place!

But I got to meet Barbara through email last year when she was recruited to be part of an anthology I co-edited.  And just like she did with her interview questions below, Barbara goes above and beyond when it comes to talking about this hobby of ours!  And I typically ask for 4-5 pictures to go along with interviewees answers, but Barbara sent along more than double that, and there were too many good ones to pass up!  I also got to meet Barbara and her delightful husband, Donny, at the Minnesota conference in 2019, and let me tell you, they both wonderful people.  So settle in, and get ready for a fun interview with the queen of Victorian ephemera, Barbara Rusch!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A question I’m asked every time I use the word amongst the uninitiated. Specifically, “A wha?” “Well,” I respond, “a Sherlockian is anyone interested in the tales of the world’s most iconic detective.” Of course, for me, it extends far beyond a casual study. I’ve been devoted to exploring the stories on a variety of levels – from their literary and cultural components to psychological and socio-sexual perspectives – in addition to the life of their creator, which I find equally fascinating, for decades now. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I read my first Holmes tale as a teenager, when my grandmother’s tenant, Mr. Ash, passed away, leaving his library behind, and along with it a legacy of incalculable value. Amongst the books was a slim volume of The Adventures, and I recall “The Speckled Band” as the first story I read, inducing a terrifying nightmare of a whistling snake slithering down the wall and into my bed. Not sure if it was no more than a Freudian dream sequence brought on by puberty or a frightening re-enactment of a Sherlockian vision, but horrifying nonetheless. In addition to the enthralling mystery, I found the Paget illustrations riveting, their fifty shades of gray dissolving at the edges, leaving me to wonder what might have been happening just beyond the margins. 

Years later, when I was pregnant with my son, and suffering from morning sickness 24 hours a day for 3 months, I went looking for a book – any book – to take my mind off the nausea. By the end of the first trimester, I had finished off all 60 tales and was feeling a good deal better, in addition to having discovered a lifelong superhero. 

In 1983, I was doing some research on 19th-century ephemera and its relation to social and commercial history. The librarian at the Toronto Reference Library, Janice McNabb, suggested that I might find the Bootmakers of Toronto, the Sherlock Holmes Society of Canada, of interest, since it delves into all aspects of Victorian and Edwardian life. At the first meeting I attended, the speaker was modelling Victorian women’s clothing, which she was removing layer by layer, stripping down to her corset and knickers. This is the group for me, I thought. And the rest, as they say, is history – at its finest.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I’m drawn to those stories which I find particularly intriguing, opening up to questions that lead down unexplored paths. Just what was the subject of that infamous photograph of Irene and the King of Bohemia? Surely it couldn’t be a simple image of the two of them posing sedately together. Upper class gentlemen, including royalty, married or not, were notorious rakes, and an armload of mistresses was a sign of virility rather than notoriety. Edward, Prince of Wales, the Illustrious Client, never allowed his marriage to Princess Alexandra to interfere with his love life. 

So what did that photograph contain of so scandalous a nature? My opinion is that it was not simply scandalous, but salacious, perhaps more suitable for a French postcard than a royal memento. I’d love to have a copy of it in my collection.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find   interesting?

I have great admiration for Dan Posnansky, both as a learned and dedicated Sherlockian, and as a collector of all things Doylean. I regard him as something of a mentor. My husband, Donny Zaldin, another Sherlockian I admire, and I were privileged to take a tour of that splendid collection before it went up for auction a few years ago, and I’m honored to now call a few of his prized pieces cherished treasures which have now found their way into my own collection. 

I also have tremendous admiration for Sherlockians who singlehandedly run entire societies, amongst them: Mike Ranieri of the Bootmakers of Toronto (Canada), Steve Mason of The Crew of the Barque Lone Star (TX), Ben and Sue Vizoskie of The Three Garridebs (NY), Ron and Carol Fish of Mrs. Hudson’s Cliffdwellers (NJ), Monica Schmidt of the Younger Stamfords (IA), Phil Dematteis of the Hansom Wheels (Columbia, SC) and Jay Ganguly of the Sherlock Holmes Society of India. Noteworthy Sherlockians all.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Anything that resonates of 19th- and early 20th-century culture is of interest to me. The Holmes tales are, as Watson observes, “a perfect quarry for the student not only of crime but of the social and official scandals of the late Victorian era.” I’m intrigued by certain aspects of “Black Peter,” which led me to an examination of domestic violence in Victorian England, while “The Creeping Man” forged an unexpected connection to eugenics and the subject of the monster in Victorian literature. 

I’m also fascinated by Conan Doyle’s belief in Spiritualism and what led him to place his trust in two young girls who claimed to have taken photographs of fairies. I’ve written a novella on the subject of the Cottingley Fairies, beautifully illustrated by Laurie Fraser Manifold. I’m currently searching for the right publisher.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

To quote Holmes’s chronicler again, “The problem has always been not to find but to choose.” Unlike Seinfeld, which was “a show about nothing,” the Canon is a treasure trove of everything, a place where I have been fortunate enough to find an outlet for my insatiable curiosity of all things Victorian. As Nathan Garrideb expressed it, “I am, in fact, the student of many subjects, and you may be surprised at the universality of my interests. The general effect is amiable though eccentric. One day a profession might be made out of what up to this time has been the merest hobby.” 

For the past three years I have been pleased to contribute a regular column in Canadian Holmes, the quarterly journal of the Bootmakers of Toronto. “The View from the Bow Window” is an examination of various aspects of Victorian and Edwardian life as they relate to the Holmes tales, often illustrated with treasures from my collection. As our detective himself observes, “To anyone who wishes to study mankind, this is the spot.” The subjects I’ve explored include: pipes, brandy, the London Underground, cursed gems, the history of wax figures, Prince Albert watch chains, commonplace books, Stradivarius violins – and bow windows. I am eternally grateful to the Sherlockian movement for affording me a platform for my creative urges. 

Your collection of Victorian ephemera is unbelievably impressive.  How did you start collecting items from this time period and what are one or two of your favorite items in your collection?

My fascination for the period led naturally to amassing objects, mostly of paper, and representative of their time. Their significance cannot be overstated. Maurice Rickards, founder of the Ephemera Society UK, wrote in his landmark book, Collecting Printed Ephemera, “In every fragment of ephemera resides the genius papyri, the spirit of the paper – the abiding essence of its message, origin and content.” It presupposes that the paper is somehow possessed of its own DNA – and an immortal soul. My treasures began with a collection of commercial culture – advertising trade cards, calendars, and posters – then progressed to photo albums, valentines, and holographic material such as illustrated friendship albums, private journals and personal letters, anything to do with Queen Victoria, (who, after all, was the centrepiece of the age to which she lent her name), Houdini, and, naturally, Sherlock Holmes and ACD. 

Like Horace Harker, “All my life I have been collecting other people’s news.” How to pick one or two choice items? It’s as if you’re asking me to choose a favorite from amongst my children. However, I, like Sherlock Holmes, “will dive my arm down to find something a little recherché … a small wooden box, a crumpled piece of paper and an old-fashioned brass key.” The wooden box features a brass plaque on the lid which identifies it as a gift proffered in 1872 by ACD’s mentor and the inspiration for the great detective, Dr. Joseph Bell, to his prized pupil, Edwin St. George Baldwin, a medical student from Toronto attending the University of Edinburgh, and contains a gruesome-looking set of surgical knives. 

The crumpled piece of paper? Sorry, but it’s impossible to choose just one from amongst several: a letter from Conan Doyle to Bram Stoker, writing to connect on the subject of a project together (which somewhat fancifully feels like correspondence between Sherlock Holmes and Dracula), another to a friend of Houdini’s stating that he and his Spiritualist crew were foretold of his impending death, one to Sidney Paget sending greetings and regrets that the artist wasn’t illustrating his next story after all, and a cheque signed by Charles Dickens and sent by his granddaughter to famed actor William Gillette in exchange for a signed photograph. 

The old-fashioned brass key is an easy one: for many years I have worn one of Houdini’s handcuff keys around my neck, its provenance a fascinating story in itself. Whether or not it helps me escape from tight spaces and dangerous situations is anybody’s guess, but as a good luck charm it sure beats a rabbit’s foot. And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least make mention of my collection of eclectic undergarments, specifically the oversized knickers of “a certain gracious lady,” and a boxful of Lady Conan Doyle’s intimate apparel culled from her bedroom drawer at Windlesham, Crowborough.

How did you decide to bring Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, and Harry Houdini together to hash out their issues with Arthur Conan Doyle in your play, "The Crossing: Three Authors in Search of a Character?"

It’s difficult to know whence such inspiration – or craziness – originates. I was aware that Poe, Wilde and Houdini, three literary and cultural titans with enormous egos, all had unresolved conflicts with Conan Doyle. What I could not have imagined when I embarked upon this journey was just how much they had in common – how similar their narratives, their insecurities and their recriminations. It began to feel as though they were always meant to find themselves in a room together (in this case a barren chamber in the afterlife), engaging in this dialogue, their resentment and appreciation for Arthur Conan Doyle their common point of intersection. A Mystery Interloper (guess who?) only adds to the tension and suspense. Moreover, it was very gratifying to be able to incorporate relevant images from my ephemera collection into the text.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I read some of Conan Doyle’s lesser-known short stories in preparation for a pastiche published in an anthology of the Crew of the Barque Lone Star, and was enthralled by his tales of mystery and some of the so-called uncollected tales. The man had a way of gripping you by the hair follicles and carrying you along to the end. His tales of horror, like “The Leather Funnel,” which in my opinion rivals Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” on a similar subject, and “The Brazilian Cat” are absolutely terrifying. 

While we’re all aware that The Lost World was the inspiration for “Jurassic Park,” “The Ring of Thoth” which essentially forms the plot of the first “Mummy” film, is rarely credited. Some of his novels, like Rodney Stone, are hilarious. The man had a great sense of humor. I highly recommend a glance beyond Sherlock Holmes.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

The popularity of Sherlock Holmes will never wane, and each succeeding generation has a new take on the quintessential detective. It’s my fervent wish that our current infatuation with Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr. – or whoever comes next – will not overshadow our hero. As thrilling as the films and television shows may be, no visual medium can hope to surpass the canonical writings and the wonderful adventures Conan Doyle leaves to our imagination.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

It Was My Game to Watch [HOUN]

This week's post is a toast I gave at the Sherlockians of Baltimore meeting on Saturday.

The tradition of being investitured into the Sherlockians of Baltimore comes with a title linking you to that city, and being a baseball fan there was only one choice for me: The St. Louis Browns.  

Ah, that long-lived Baltimore institution of St. Louis baseball.

So imagine, if you will, it is spring 1902.  The Hound of the Baskervilles has just been published in book form.  Arthur Conan Doyle would be knighted later that year.  And St. Louis had a new baseball team!

The St. Louis Browns took up residence in the newly built Sportsman’s Park, where they would play for over half a century.  They would even go on to win the American League pennant while there, but another local team would beat them in that year’s World Series, but we’re not here to talk about St. Louis’s other baseball team.

(Excuse me for a second.  I'm a little thirsty so I will stop and take a quick sip.)

The St. Louis Browns were not known for being a good team.  In fact, in their 52 years of playing in St. Louis, they only had twelve winning seasons.  But they were a fun team, participating in plenty of stunts, including letting fans in the stands manage a game and trying to cheat Ty Cobb out of 1910’s batting title. 

But my favorite of their stunts came in August 19, 1951 when pinch hitter Eddie Gaedel stepped up to the plate.  What was so great about this?  Gaedel was a 3 foot 7 little person, who was so small he had to borrow the bat boy’s jersey with the number ½.  The Tonga-sized Gaedel never swung his bat, the pitcher never found the strike zone, and the shortest player in baseball history walked on four straight balls.

Sadly, these stunts weren’t enough to make money.  While fun, St. Louis baseball fans hearts’ belonged to a different team.

(Phew, it's bright in here.  I better take a second and put a hat on.)

Realizing St. Louis wasn’t big enough for two teams, the Browns eventually moved to Baltimore in 1954, where they were renamed The Baltimore Orioles, FINALLY connecting this toast to Charm City.  

So here’s to the St. Louis Browns, who were last place in St. Louis baseball, and turned in to the Baltimore Orioles, who are currently last place in their division.  But hey, at least we didn’t have to have a toast to the Yankees!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Interesting Interview: Joe Eckrich

Man, I don't know where to begin with the introduction for this week's Interesting Interview.  Joe Eckrich has been a Sherlockian mentor to me for years.  Some of my fondest Sherlockian memories are the car rides he and I have taken to events or to visit with folks.  This is a guy who is a Sherlockian down to his bones.  He collects books, autographs, friends, and knowledge like you wouldn't believe.  

But first and foremost, Joe is a great guy.  He founded my home scion, The Parallel Case of St. Louis, and ran it for decades.  He's been on the planning committee for our first Holmes in the Heartland, the one that had to be cancelled, as well as lots of the Holmes Under the Arch conferences long ago.  Joe travels to as many events and meetings as he can and is always up for meeting new Sherlockians.  As you'll see below, Joe's passion is the friendships he's made along the way.  If you talk to anyone who is involved in the wider Sherlockian world, they will either know Joe Eckrich, or have heard of him.  And I will bet money that they all have good things to say.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I loosely define it as anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes, in whatever media.  I believe in a “big tent” theory in which there is room for everyone, regardless of their interest, even if it doesn’t match mine.  In a narrower sense, I suppose, I would define it as anyone involved in organized Sherlockiana in any way.  I have been a member of various Sherlockian societies for over 45 years and have spent some of my happiest times at various Sherlockian events.  I would hope anyone truly interested in Sherlock Holmes could eventually find their way to such a group.  And, of course, however they might have arrived at Sherlock Holmes, I would hope they would appreciate the written word, the actual stories themselves.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Like most things I suppose it was a combination of things.  I began reading and enjoying detective fiction at an early age and, along with my mother, watched a lot of old movies on television (The Early Show, The Late Show and The Late, Late show) many of them mysteries, including the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, which I very much enjoyed.  Rathbone is still my favorite Holmes.  Anyway around seventh grade I would routinely ride my bicycle to the local public library and take out books, usually mysteries.  They had the one volume Complete and I would periodically check it out and read as many stories as I could before I had to return it.

Flash forward quite a number of years and Nicholas Meyer published The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and the floodgates opened.  Books by Michael Harrison and Michael Hardwick and others were being published.  I would visit local bookshops on my lunch hour and pick up whatever I could find, including a remaindered copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.  While I am not a big fan of the book, it was in the appendices that I found a treasure trove of books and articles on Sherlock Holmes.  I was always a collector and this opened my eyes to a whole new area of collecting.

About this same time the local Sherlockian group, The Noble Bachelors, participated in an event at Southern Illinois University across the river and the local television station ran a piece on it.  My father, who was an engineer at the station, told me about it and from there I contacted Philip Shreffler, the head of The Noble Bachelors, who invited me to a meeting.  The rest, as they say, is history.

What is your favorite canonical story?

While not my favorite story by a long shot I do have a fondness for “The Stockbroker’s Clerk”, since that is my investiture in the Baker Street Irregulars.  When Tom Stix conferred that on me he mentioned it was because I was a government employee.

My favorite story is "The Hound of the Baskervilles."  I also like “The Sign of the Four”.  It has a lot to recommend it, including a mention of St. Louis, which is where the name of the society I founded, The Parallel Case of St. Louis, comes from.  And I am probably in a minority when I say I enjoy "The Valley of Fear."

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

I greatly admire Steve Doyle.  I simply don’t know how he does everything he does.  Just in the Sherlockian world he is one half of Wessex Press, publisher of the Baker Street Journal, head of The Illustrious Clients and broadcaster and host of “The Fortnightly Dispatch”, as well as a collector and friend to many in the hobby.  

Two Sherlockians who are no longer with us were certainly worth knowing, Gordon Speck and Paul Herbert.  Gordon and I travelled to many Sherlockian events in the US and Canada and wherever Gordon went he made friends.  Both are sorely missed.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I love attending Sherlockian events whenever and wherever possible, not just for the programs but especially for the people.  Getting together with friends and making new friends within the hobby is what makes everything worthwhile.  With Covid-19 it has been difficult but, thanks to zoom, I have been able to actually attend meetings I might not otherwise have an opportunity to get to and I at least get to see friends.  I can’t wait to get back to seeing people in person but I will miss attending some far-flung meetings.

I spend much of my time collecting Sherlockiana, particularly books.  I primarily collect the “writings on the writings”.  I don’t much care for most of the pastiches out there, although I do have a select few.  I also collect Sherlockian autographs of actors and actresses who have appeared in Sherlockian films, TV and stage productions.  I also spend quite a bit of time reading and rereading the books I have.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

Well, most people who know me know I don’t write papers. That’s not to say I haven’t.  I have actually done a number of them, just not for quite a while.  I also was co-editor of our society’s newsletter for over 10 years and for several years wrote a monthly column on all things Sherlockian for “Plugs & Dottles”, the newsletter for The Hansoms of John Clayton.  While I enjoyed both of those activities, writing is not my forte.  I truly wish it were.

Any research I do is for my own information and enjoyment.  I love to read such books as The London of Sherlock Holmes and In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes by Michael Harrison which delve into the Victorian world that Holmes was a part of.  I also enjoy reading books and articles on Sherlockian media productions and the people involved in them.  The latest issue of The Baker Street Journal had just such an article on H. A. Saintsbury by Paul Singleton which was excellent.  I love anything about the history of the BSI and early Sherlockians.  As a collector of early Sherlockian books it is always interesting to research the background of the books and their authors.

How did you become a Sherlockian actor autograph collector and what are some of your favorites?

I have two sons, one of whom is actually a Sherlockian, and when they were young I would take them to baseball card shows to pursue their hobby.  These shows would usually bring in former players, including Hall of Famers, to sign autographs.  After a while we started obtaining the autographs at these shows.  I wasn’t that interested in the cards, although as a youngster I had been, but I enjoyed collecting signed baseballs and photographs, particularly of players from my youth.  From there we began collecting autographs of various actors and actresses that we liked.  It was a fairly short step to collecting Sherlockian autographs.  Since I have always been interested in old films, classics and otherwise, I am naturally very interested in the various film presentations of Sherlock Holmes and the actors in them.

Most of us love buying books, but you can also be found at many conferences selling books at a dealer’s table.  How has collecting and selling old books shaped your views on our hobby?

I didn’t start out to sell books.  Early on a local BSI and collector was moving from a large house to an apartment and offered his collection for sale, wanting to keep it local if possible.  It was a huge investment for me at the time but I took the plunge (never regretted).  I had been collecting for a while so there were duplicates and, in order to help pay for the collection, I offered the duplicates for sale, sending out lists.  Then a few years later, when I was preparing to get married, I sold off some of my collection the same way in order to clear some debts.  Fortunately I have been able to reclaim almost all of what I sold.  As with most collectors I would periodically upgrade the condition of a book or just buy something interesting if the price was right, even if I had a copy.  Over time I had a supply of books to sell and the logical thing was to set up at the various conferences within driving distance, which I did.

I try to price my books fairly for other Sherlockians, although values are going up.  While the selling helps me afford to attend these and other conferences (I am a retired civil servant), I often wish I were just there to enjoy the conference and mingle with the attendees and I do attend meetings and conferences without selling.  

I am not sure that buying and selling has shaped my views on the hobby other than the observation that there are not as many collectors as there once was.  Also, I find that many newer Sherlockians are unaware of many who went before them and the wonderful books that they provided to the hobby.  While selling I try to educate as well.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I think a must for anyone, collector or not, is Klinger’s nine volume The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library if you can get it, otherwise his three volume set.  Also, Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Steve Doyle.  

As for older books, I recommend Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is available in inexpensive editions.  I am very partial to A Sherlock Holmes Commentary by D. Martin Dakin.  It has interesting commentary on each story plus a chronological table.  I would recommend anything by Michael Harrison as well as Sherlock Holmes Detected by Ian McQueen and Seventeen Steps to 221b, a British anthology edited by James Edward Holroyd.  

As you can see I am unable to recommend just one book.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 to 10 years from now?

I think the future is very bright.  Not so long ago many, including myself, were lamenting the lack of young people coming into the hobby.  I am heartened by the many changes taking place which included more and very talented young people joining the ranks.  Also, a large number of older Sherlockians are becoming welcoming to these new members and open to new ways of viewing Sherlockiana.  I also believe that along with the accepting of new there is still a desire among most to keep many of the worthwhile traditions of the past.  

Joe told me I had to include a picture of Louie.
Who am I to argue?

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Interesting Interview: Tamar Zeffren

Tamar Zeffren is a special kind of Sherlockian.  She's not one to crave the spotlight but she is everywhere!  The interesting thing is, you don't know she's there until you look for her.  And then you'll notice that Tamar is one of the amazing folks that is putting her time and expertise into so many things!  You'll see her name in the Baker Street Journal, the Baker Street Almanac, as a member of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, one of the Baker Street Babes, on the Board of Advisors for, the faculty of The Priory School, keeping the Baker Street Irregulars Trust site humming....  Seem like a long list?  I'm sure I've missed a thing or two!

But here's what's great about Tamar: she doesn't lead with any of that stuff; you're just naturally drawn to her charm.  In fact, I've known her for a while and only learned about some of her roles in Sherlockiana as I was doing research for this interview!  Tamar seems to be involved in so much and know so many folks in our hobby because she is a genuinely nice person who also happens to be wickedly smart.  So it's no wonder that people want to work with her on projects.  If you're a Sherlockian on the east coast, this is a name and face that's familiar because she's sure to be found in the middle of a group of fun-loving folks at an event.  And with all of the Zoom meetings over the past year, Tamar's smile is probably familiar to a lot more folks from across the country.  Whether you have known her for years or she's the lady that said that smart thing that really stood out on your last Zoom meeting, you know that Tamar Zeffren is definitely going to be an interesting interview!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A person with an excess of excitement and whimsy who has decided to deploy it on behalf of anything which relates to Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately for Sherlockians, that can truly be anything.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

My introduction to Sherlock Holmes was, conveniently, buttressed around a mystery. I first encountered at home the Bantam Classics two-volume mass market paperback. This version was so cheaply printed that, no matter whether I turned one page or 100, tell-tale Canonical smudges ended up in many unwanted places. This Whodunnit, or more accurately Whoreadit, was easy to solve.

My interest in Holmes dwindled during my adolescence, possibly because I did not know anyone else who was interested in reading or discussing the stories as often as I wanted to. While in college, my interest rekindled and one of the first purchases I made to lend my dorm room a homier (Holmesier?) feel was a new edition of the Canon. This sparked a sudden impulse to Google Sherlockian groups in New York; this expedition first led me to the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) under the leadership of the truly incomparable Susan Rice and the ASH Wednesday dinners on the first Wednesday of every month.

I feel very fortunate that ASH was my first introduction to a Sherlockian group, not only because it is such a welcoming group, but because so many incredibly knowledgeable Sherlockians from India, Sweden, and everywhere else would visit New York, or pass through, and end up holding court at an ASH Dinner. These gatherings exemplify the literally global reach of Sherlockian friendships—and nothing could stand as a more fitting tribute to the bonds between Holmes and Watson which animate the entire Canon.

Through this channel I ended becoming aware of and participating in many other groups—and Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockians have remained a “fixed point” for me ever since.  My life is immeasurably enriched by online and offline Sherlockian gatherings, projects, and above all, people. I even have Holmes to thank for appearing at Lincoln Center(!) with other Baker Street Babes on a panel in May 2016 about “The Forensics of Storytelling” discussing the science of Sherlock Holmes, narrative genres and techniques, and lessons for storytelling and experiential design.


What is your favorite canonical story?

“The Man with the Twisted Lip.” Such a piquant mystery. And that’s even before you take into account that Watson’s wife calls him James.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Talk about an embarrassment of riches. To pay tribute (again) to a quotation that Bob Katz often shares, “Come for the stories, stay for the friendships.” (If I have misquoted, I’m sure I will hear of it.) Every Sherlockian I have had the privilege of meeting is interesting!

Two fascinating individuals who come to mind are 1) Peggy Purdue and 2) Andy Solberg. Each is a remarkable and kind Sherlockian with a range of fascinating interests and the ability to hold a spellbinding and erudite conversation about any of those.

[Reader, I have also cheated on this question. See further below.]


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

As someone with no musical talent but a surfeit of enthusiasm (I consider myself as a professional “audience member”), I find musical homages to Holmes, from parodies deployed at scion meetings to large-scale productions, utterly brilliant. I hope there is a more concerted effort to collect and preserve those delightful creations so that they can inspire and delight future generations.  

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I am keenly interested—which is not at all the same thing as being skilled—in applying natural language processing (NLP) methods to the Sherlock Holmes stories, and to the astounding output of Sherlockian writings as well. When I ponder the fertile research possibilities inherent in being extract and analyze heretofore unseen, or underseen, patterns across a vast corpus of text, the mind boggles (and addles!). I think a consulting detective would look favorably upon Sherlockians employing this technique to continue exploring his world.

How did you become involved with the BSI Trust and why should more people know about it?

My involvement with the Baker Street Irregulars Trust began in 2014. The inimitable Steven Rothman, stalwart Baker Street Journal Editor and yet another Sherlockian force of nature*, remembered that I am an archivist (that billing sometimes does stand out in people’s minds) and put me in touch with the BSI Trust, the BSI’s institutional archives. The Trust had embarked on a project to post a page about every Annual Dinner, complete with relevant images and archival material from the Trust’s holdings. I began assisting Andy Solberg, who was then Trust Chair, with compiling content for those Dinner pages. My involvement with the Trust has continued as the collection has evolved, including its move from Harvard’s Houghton Library to the Lilly Library at Indiana University.

[*Cheating accomplished]

In 2020, I was asked to assume the role of Content Manager for the BSI Trust website. Work in this vein got off to a slow start in that year, for obvious reasons, but the development of a content pipeline (don’t be surprised when you hear from me on this front) and re-envisioning the user experience is now well underway. In this capacity, I work with Randall Stock, who oversees all websites associated with the Baker Street Irregulars.

The mission of the BSI Trust (necessarily abridged here for space) is to “collect, preserve, and provide access to historical [records]…relating to the BSI and its members and friends.” The Trust is the repository of the BSI’s impact on the Sherlockian world—and the Sherlockian world encompasses multitudes! These records hold meaning not only for BSI members, but for anyone interested in researching numerous aspects of the pursuits of individual Sherlockians and the collective impact of this entity.

Access to archives belongs to all. None of us exist apart from it—our mutual activities today seed future Sherlockian directions, and therefore influence the archival record that will (we hope) endure. Becoming more familiar with the wealth of archives emboldens us to comprehend the impact we can have in this world to which so many devote so much time and that can yield such fulfilling returns.


As an avid theater fan, how does that influence how you enjoy the Canon?

It offers me an even greater appreciation for the agility and succinctness of Conan Doyle’s prose, and as well for the incredible acuity that playwrights and actors can bring to reinterpreting that text. It is a pleasure to revel in the texture on the page about, for example, Holmes “scraping upon his violin,” and then to encounter so many visceral elements of such a scene in performance: the chosen passage, Watson’s facial expressions, the ambient noise in 221B, and so forth.   Experiencing theatrical interpretations offers me the chance to return to a familiar passage, now imbued with new sensations. What a treat!

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Holmes Reads Holmes by my BSI classmate Ross Davies.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

The ramifications of the almost universally virtual landscape that all manner of Sherlockian activities (scions, conferences, book fairs, a day at the Silver Blaze races) have been forced to adapt for over a year now are, of course, still unknown. Even when circumstances safely permit in-person gatherings, I cherish the hope that we will not depart from a a greater commitment to accessibility.

I see an ongoing and deepening focus on local networks, including the revitalization of defunct groups and more focus on smaller conferences that do not only occur in urban metropolises. I hope there will be more conferences jointly organized by a global range of Sherlockian groups; we have so much to learn and share with one another that should not be circumscribed by travel costs. I anticipate further innovation in the audiovisual sphere, especially as that medium has been such an instrument of outreach and cohesion for the Sherlockian community during the current crisis.

Publishing will continue to be a ferment of activity for Sherlockians! However, how much resemblance will today’s publishing environment—scope, research, distribution, publicity, etc.—bear to the landscape of a decade or more from now? “[T]he future will decide.” (NORW)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Interesting Interview: Tim Johnson

What if there was a place that collected all of the printed Sherlockiana since the beginning of our hobby?  And who could we trust to be the keeper of such a magical place? Tim Johnson, that's who!

Since 1998, Tim has overseen the Sherlockian collections at the University of Minnesota, the largest collection of Sherlockiana in the world.  He also served as a consultant on the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes that has been delighting audiences around the world over the past few years.  

That would be enough for anyone to pay attention to Tim.  But my biggest reason for wanting to interview Tim this week is his heart.  If you've ever heard Tim speak, you'll know what I mean.  It's hard to put into writing how heartfelt he is about this hobby, but his big-tent Sherlockian philosophy is evident in everything he says and does.  Tim is a fan of all Sherlockians and encourages everyone to join in the fun, no matter how.  

We could all be a little more like Tim Johnson.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Broadly. And with a sense of jollity. Just for giggles—and in the habit of a librarian—I looked up the word in The Oxford English Dictionary. The first thing I noticed is its longevity. It first pops up in The Bookman in 1903. “If you decipher this you are a real Sherlockian.” So, it is a word that has been with us for over a century. Some might say it is an aged word, an elderly word. But I prefer to think, in this case, that with age comes wisdom. It is a word chock-full of information, knowledge, and understanding. The question might be, in this continuum of knowing, whether or not it has reached a point of wisdom? I think it has, but the fact that we are still curious about its definition perhaps says something more about us and less about the word itself.

The second thing I noticed in the OED definition is its sense of space or geographical limits. Traditionally, we’ve used the word to describe an enthusiast of the Master and his adventures resident on this side of the Pond or other reaches of the globe, leaving “Holmesian” as the proper term for those in the United Kingdom and to a lesser extent those followers in Europe. I think technology and fandom disrupted that distinction, that the terms have become interchangeable, or ones of preference. Each word has its own lilt, its own poetry, but also its own harshness. “Holmesian” seems a more rounded term, with a bit of gentleness, or at least the appearance of good manners. “Sherlockian” is a bit rough around the edges, with sharp elbows, somewhat indicative of how we sometimes treat each other in a world meant for enjoyment. I find myself using both, depending on the situation. I like to think of them as inclusive, welcoming, playful, and in the end, kind and caring.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Have I? Or am I rather in a state of becoming? I’m teasing you a bit, but I do think the identity also contains some sense of still being on the road, still learning and experiencing. If you want to try and nail me down, then I’d say I started to become this thing when PBS first aired the Brett series on “Mystery” starting in the mid-1980s. I read the stories as a kid and enjoyed the Rathbone/Bruce movies as a Saturday television matinee, but these were pastimes or diversions, not something taken seriously. Brett was another matter entirely. Colleagues from work (these being seminary faculty along with me as archivist and student) would gather to watch the stories and discuss them over following days. It was the first time I seriously engaged the adventures.


A second waypoint would be my introduction to Sherlockian society, first at the fiftieth anniversary conference of the NorwegianExplorers in 1998, three short months after I started my position as curator at the University of Minnesota, and then again the next year when I received my first guest invitation to the Baker Street Irregulars birthday festivities in New York. These occasions informed me that there was a whole other world and level of engagement with Holmes and Watson that I never experienced before. Somewhat solitary person that I am, I was unfamiliar, experientially and existentially, with enthusiasts or devotees on this level.

A third waypoint, and one I will always be thankful for, came with my attendance as a Guest of Honor (along with my friend and colleague, Peggy Perdue) at the 2015 Sherlock Seattle Convention. I have written elsewhere of this encounter (, so I won’t go into detail here except to note that this experience changed my life. It was an insightful, reflective, and moving weekend that will stay with me to the end of my days and brought me into the world of Sherlockian fandom.

Would I have become (or am becoming) a Sherlockian if it had not been for my work at Minnesota? It is a question I sometimes ask myself. If I’m honest, I would probably say no. I have as much enthusiasm for baseball or model railroading or hunting or fishing as I do for Mr. Holmes. I’ve watched trains and wet a line since the age of three. But I’m glad that in 1998 the Norwegian Explorers and The Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections got their hooks into me and started to draw me into this delightful world and group of friends and acquaintances that makes life ever so rich.


What is your favorite canonical story?

From the time I found out a childhood friend’s older brother served on a nuclear submarine, I’ve been fascinated by these ships. So it’s probably no surprise, then, that I am rather fond of “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.” There are a number of other reasons why I am drawn to this tale, some by content, and others by association.

First, it is one of few adventures that features that somewhat mysterious older brother, Mycroft. I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Gray’s performance as Mycroft in the Granada series. I am drawn to Mycroft as a character and wish Doyle had developed him further. From Mycroft it is a very short step to spies, the British government, and international intrigue, something else that occupies some of my reading and entertainment (for example, the late John le Carré, Len Deighton, House of Cards—the British version, please—and the Johnny Worricker trilogy). 

Second, there are a ton of interesting characters and locations in this tale. Plus, it includes trains and an emerald pin. Finally, it was the BSI investiture of someone I was pleased to know, if ever so briefly, and whose name I carry in my job title: E. W. McDiarmid.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Well, I hope he won’t be embarrassed by this answer, but it would have to be perhaps the first Sherlockian I ever met, Dr. Richard (Dick) Sveum. Dick attended my public presentation, part of the day-long interview I had for the Minnesota position, and called me after I accepted the post to welcome me to Minnesota and alert me to the upcoming Norwegian Explorers anniversary conference. Curiously and comically, I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done, before or since, during that phone call. I asked if Dick was the elderly gentleman sitting near the back during my presentation. It must have been his beard that fooled me (it fluctuates in length depending on the season; being January at the time of my interview, it was quite long), but it was (and is) totally out of character for me to describe someone like this, especially to their face (or over the phone). We chuckle about it now, but I was horrified as soon as the words flew out of my mouth. I must have been overly excited about coming home to Minnesota!

Dick is interesting in so many ways. He’s a very accomplished, knowledgeable, and networked collector as well as a compassionate, intelligent, and community-spirited physician (lately retired). He reads widely across a number of areas and makes connections in the manner of the late James Burke that can take your breath away. If you ever go booking with Dick, you’ll need your best walking shoes and plenty of stamina. I was full of enjoyable aches and pains following such a stint with Dick across Manhattan during a Birthday Weekend. He also enjoys many things Scandinavian, the outdoors, and being a grandfather—things we share. Our children overlapped during high school, so there’s another family connection. He’s generous to a fault and someone I deeply value as a friend. He couldn’t have been a better introduction to Holmes and a welcoming presence as I returned to Minnesota.


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

After my experience in Seattle, I would have to say that it is the creative energy and content I have seen and read coming out of the newer fandom. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface and need to read a lot more fics, view a lot more videos, and just sink myself into this ocean of material and experience. After Seattle, a highlight for each year has been the 221B Con in Atlanta, and recently, the gathering in Portland, Oregon

On a related note, I’m interested in ephemera, the hard to collect and fleeting material that is here one day and gone the next. In a digital age where so much is being created on electronic platforms, it is both hard to capture and preserve. I don’t know how many times I’ve clicked on a link only to discover that the thing I was interested in is no longer there. I am afraid of a “digital black hole” that might confront students, researchers, archivists, and fans in the future because so much of this material is transient by nature. I’ll never be able to collect it all; the best I can hope for is a representative sample.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

Here your question touches on things I would like to do, but have not yet had time to really dig in. Some of this involves Doyle and some Holmes. On the Doyle side, I’m interested (as someone with a theological studies/church history degree) in his epistemological and spiritual pilgrimage. Coming, as he did, from a family with a deeply held Catholic experience, what caused him to break with this tradition in search of something else? What did he find objectionable in the Catholic faith? What was he looking for and why did Spiritualism seem to satisfy this religious longing? What impact did World War I have on his faith? (My grandfather was in the war, so there’s a personal angle to this question.) 

I also would like to dig a bit more into Doyle’s interest in photography, an area that touches on another collection I curate, the Mertle Collection on theHistory of Photomechanics. I like it when there are crossovers between collections and ACD’s work in photography would be an interesting avenue to explore.

On the Holmes front, and given my life-long interests in railroads, I would enjoy the chance to dig deeper into the junctions between rail transportation in the United Kingdom and the adventures. There are so many stations, for instance (some of which I have visited or transited through) that seem to call out for further attention. Or the routes and timetables. I have barely touched any existing writings on Holmes and railroads, so that would be my starting point: to build a bibliography of extant writings and then take it from there. 

Beyond trains, earlier I mentioned an interest in espionage. I’ve played around with a few ideas that might develop into a short story (or stories) about Holmes (both brothers) and the early history of the Secret Service in the United Kingdom. I know others have written some fictional works about this, but I would still like to explore the possibilities. Having lived in Chicago for nearly two decades, I’m also intrigued by Holmes’s experience in the Windy City.

What are one or two of your favorite items in the UMN Collections?

The first items that come to mind are the four original manuscript leaves from The Hound of the Baskervilles. First, because they are so iconic in terms of the Canon. Second, because they are simply beautiful to look at. And, third, because these leaves are connected with a very special tour I gave to a grandfather and granddaughter that moved us to tears and confirmed that I was doing the right work in the right place. It is a longer story, told in part elsewhere (, but I’ll give you the “Reader’s Digest” version. During this tour of the Collections and the underground caverns, I was in the presence of a very conversant and well-read teenager who was absolutely thrilled with everything I showed her, from Beeton’s Christmas Annual to Frederic Dorr Steele and beyond. The mystical moment, however, was when I set one of the Hound manuscript pages in front of her. Here she was, face to face with her favorite story, in the handwriting of her favorite author. She wept at the sight, as did we who watched. We were all overcome by the moment. I still get choked up in the recollection. I was meant to be the curator of the Holmes Collections for just this reason and this instant. It was one of those precious events that confirmed my choice of profession.


How have you seen Sherlockiana change over your tenure with the Collections?

Seven years before my tenure marked the first year that women were admitted as members to the Baker Street Irregulars. I think this change was still playing out and in its early days when I began as curator in 1998. Since then, now twenty-three years into my tenure, the role of women and the LGBTQ+ communities continue to influence and lead Sherlockiana in energizing and productive ways. But in some fashion we’re still taking baby steps and have a long way to go. I look forward to a day when someone other than a white cis male leads the Baker Street Irregulars or edits The Baker Street Journal

People of color are few and far between. Has institutional racism been present in Sherlockiana from its beginnings and overdue for eradication? At the same time, beyond the communities I see in Portland or Atlanta, the traditional Sherlockian world is getting grayer and older. I do not know if a younger cohort is waiting in the wings to step in, or if “traditional” Sherlockiana might be a thing soon past, evolving or merging into something new and wonderful.


What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Just one? Then let it be a book that touches on both Doyle and Holmes, one I enjoyed and would wish for more attention: Andrew Lycett’s The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Free Press, 2008). If I squeezed in a second it would be Daniel Stashower’s Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle (Henry Holt & Co., 2001).


Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Do I see it or hope for it? In either case, I would desire a younger and more diverse Sherlockiana. The promise is there. But it will take hard work; meaningful and deep relationships; and open arms to make it a reality.