Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Fifty or So Years of Age

Fifty years is a long time, especially for a social organization.  How many groups or clubs have drifted apart as time went by, imploded after a dust-up between members, or crumbled as one or more dynamic members moved on?

So it was a big deal that The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis celebrated their fiftieth anniversary last weekend.  Started by prominent Sherlockian Phillip Shreffler in 1969, the group and its membership has evolved as time went on and leadership changed hands.  The history of The Noble Bachelors is a story best told by someone who has been around for much more of it than I have, so I will focus on the present.

Saturday night's banquet was held at The Lemp Mansion and the room was packed.  I don't know if another chair could've fit in the room.  I made the mistake of spending too much time in the bar at the beginning of the evening, so my seat was at the very back.  But I had good company, so I'm not complaining.

Gasogene of the group, Randy Getz, always plans a great event, and this program was just as packed as the dinner tables!  After Randy welcomed everyone and a toast to Queen Victoria was given, Paul Schroeder toasted Sherlock Holmes:

In A Study in Scarlet Sherlock Holmes says “No man...has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done.”  
Some 130 years later that is still true.  And that commitment has encouraged thousands upon thousands of devoted fans to follow suit and pursue the detection of crime with a passion.
People from all walks of life gather like we are tonight to celebrate Sherlock Holmes.  So raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the Great Detective.

Following that, Nellie Brown gave a toast to Dr. Watson:

A toast, to Dr. John H. Watson, late of the Army Medical Department, Assistant Surgeon to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, and to all of the other veterans and civilians who have made sacrifices in the Afghan wars, past and present.  To Dr. Watson.

Christopher Robertson wrapped up the evening's toasts with her words about The Woman:

Her intelligence blended with kindness
And she merited more than a throne.
By her wits she avoided deception,
And when Holmes returned she had flown.
So he saw in the lovely contralto
The talents that mirrored his own.
To the best and wisest woman
The Master has ever known.

Dinner was served and conversation flowed.  I was lucky enough to sit with Heather Hinson, Tassy Hayden, and her husband Bill Michalski.  Tassy and Heather are some of the people who keep our Parallel Case of St. Louis meetings popping with spirit, knowledge and curiosity.  The dinner conversation with these three was something everyone should be jealous of!

After dinner, Randy took to the dais again to award this year's Noble Bachelor of the Year award to Nellie Brown.  Tassy has a great write up about Nellie on her blog, so I won't reinvent the wheel here, but Nellie is a stalwart Sherlockian, and one of those great folks that you wish more people knew of.  A well deserved, if overdue, award!

Like I said earlier, The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis has had different Gasogenes during its fifty years.  Started by Phillip Shreffler, the society later passed to Joe Eckrich and then onto Mary Schroeder before Randy's time began.  Shreffler moved from St. Louis quite a while ago, but Joe and Mary continue to be pillars in the St. Louis Sherlockian community (You can read a blog post by Joe about his Sherlockian collection on The Parallel Case of St. Louis' blog). 

Joe and Mary both took turns at the mic to talk about the history of the group before the night's entertainment, a radio play written by the late Art Schroeder that envisioned what life would be like if George Presbury (CREE) and Henry Wood (CROO) lived in the same retirement home.  After a long and wonderful evening, it was time to call it a night and we all went our separate ways, looking forward to the next fifty years of The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis.

Friday, April 19, 2019

On The Great Alkali Plain

This month's meeting of The Great Alkali Plainsmen coincided with the first weekend of my school's Spring Break.  So I somehow convinced my wife and daughter to build a mini-vacation to Kansas City so I could attend a Sherlockian meeting.  

I may have a Sherlockian addiction.

Anyhow, the family had a great time at the Royals game, the aquarium, a few BBQ joints and Legloland where I saw Detective Pickachu.  But for the purposes of this blog, it was all about joining The Great Alkali Plainsmen for lunch on Sunday.

The Plainsmen have a long history.  Started decades ago, the group went into hibernation and were just started back up last year.  Texas Sherlockian, Dan Payton, reached out to me when he moved to Kansas City to see if I knew of anyone in the area that might want to form a group. Around the same time another Sherlockian from Maryland, Scott Turner, emailed a different St. Louis Sherlockian, Michael Waxenberg, for the same purpose.  It was meant to be.  Dan and Scott soon got in touch with each other, and the Plainsmen were back!

When I attended last weekend, the story of the month was "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League."  And you know where they had their meeting?  In a restaurant that used to be a bank!  How brilliant is that!?!  There were eight of us in total, including one original member of the Plainsmen who'd been reading these stories and going to meetings for decades.  There were a few "Sherlockian spouses" there as well, and I was delighted to see that they had all read the story and were involved with the conversation.  I don't think my wife would be that dedicated to my hobby!  Hell, I've been to a few meetings where the MEMBERS of the group hadn't read any canonical stories for years.  Needless to say, this was a great discussion!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We had a nice lunch and plenty of Sherlockian conversation was had before the meeting actually started.  I found out that no one in the Plainsmen liked Will Ferrell's Holmes and Watson.  In fact, they've dubbed it the Voldemort of movies, and refer to it as "the movie that shall not be named."  Dan and I were both at Holmes, Doyle and Friends last month, so we filled everyone in on everything that went on in Dayton and Dan listed off some upcoming meetings in the surrounding states.

Then it was on to the discussion of REDH.  Keri Coates gave a fun presentation that invoked time travel, murder, and a visual aid.  The eight of us at the table could've easily bandied about her ideas for a good hour, but the restaurant closed at 3, so we were on a tight schedule.  I can tell you though, if you ever see Keri's name attached to a Sherlockian discussion anywhere, she knows her stuff!

Another thing I found interesting was that they don't do the stories in order.  The winner of each month's story quiz gets to pick the story that they want to do at the following meeting.  Having only been up and running for less than a year, they say that this works well, but wonder how things will go down the road.  In fact, some people at the table said they should pick a story that they thought was the worst and do a talk on that.  An interesting idea that might be worth another drive to Kansas City when that happens!

We closed up with the monthly quiz by Scott Turner.  This guy is tricky.  One of the questions was"

What was hanging from Jabez Wilson's key chain?
a. a Chinese coin
b. a sovereign
c. his keys
d. nothing

A Chines coin, right?  Wrong.  That was hanging from his WATCH chain!  Wilson had a sovereign on his key chain.  There were plenty of good-natured groans and grumbles for that answer.  Scott's quiz also led to a discussion on the difference between Eton and Oxford, a distinction that I'd never given too much thought to before.

Like all good meetings, it was over way too soon.  We all said our goodbyes, and I was back to join my family for the rest of our vacation.  But, if you ever find yourself  on "
the great flat plain-land, all dusted over with patches of alkali" look up Dan, Scott, Keri, or any of the other members of The Great Alkali Plainsmen.  You'll be treated to some great Sherlockian company, and you'll probably learn a thing or two along the way.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Interesting Interview: Michael Kean

It was announced in January that The Baker Street Irregulars will have a new face presiding over the organization starting in 2020.  That new face is Michael Kean, a longtime Sherlockian from California and was gracious enough to take some time to answer questions to be this month's Interesting Interview.  Without further ado, the new head of The Baker Street Irregulars:

How do you define the word "Sherlockian"?
There are no set criteria as to who is a Sherlockian. If a person considers himself a Sherlockian, then in his eyes he is one. Who are we to judge? Were we to set criteria, I would include such areas as interest in and study of the Canon, involvement in Sherlockian organizations and activities, research on and writing about the stories and related topics, and maintaining on-going enthusiasm for Holmes and the world of Sherlock Holmes.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
While in graduate school, my girlfriend (now my wife of fifty years) gave me a copy of the sixty stories as a birthday gift. Several years later, after moving to Philadelphia, I discovered that there were organized groups of individuals, who, like myself, enjoyed the stories and spent time discussing them. My involvement with several local scions opened up a new world to me, and I was invited to the BSI dinner and the following year invested in the BSI.

What is your favorite canonical story?
The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite. It has everything! If I had to select a short story,  I'd list my favorites as BLUE, SILV, MUSG, PRIO,  and BRUC.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
One of the reasons that the world of Sherlockian clubdom is so special is that one would find many of its inhabitants interesting even if they were not Sherlockians. The variety of interests, talents and accomplishments among Sherlockians is remarkable. I would find it impossible to select only one of my many colleagues. However, because I've been involved in the BSI for over forty years, I've been fortunate enough to have known some of the "giants" of the Sherlockian world, alas now deceased. Among those, I'd list John Bennett Shaw, Ben Wolf, Ely Liebow, Richard Lancelyn Green, and Ted Schulz.

What subset of Sherlockiana interests you?
I've found that a strong grounding in the life and (other) works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adds considerably to my understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
"The grand game" offers such a great variety of fascinating possibilities, that I've found it difficult to limit my research interests. I'm an oenophile, so I've written on Holmes and wine. I'm a hiker, so I've walked the moors looking for locations in HOUN. I'm partial to English literature, so I've written on Holmes and poetry and on Dickens and Sherlock Holmes. The list goes on...

How have you seen Sherlockiana change and evolve during your time as a Sherlockian?
Interest in Sherlock Holmes and his world is cyclical. I became involved during the mid-1970's when a series of new books and films rekindled public awareness of the Canon. Then there was the BBC/PBS Jeremy Brett series, and more films. The new millennium has added technology to the mix, and introduced another generation to to the great detective.

What are your goals for the future of The Baker Street Irregulars?
Though I have certainly already begun thinking about this, it would be premature for me to comment until I assume the leadership of the Organization. In his two plus decades as "Wiggins," Michael Whelan has greatly enhanced the BSI by creating a publishing program, topical conferences and the BSI Trust and Archives. Continuing to nurture the growth of these initiatives will be as important as introducing new ones. Ultimately, however, our goal should always be governed by focusing on the simple phrase that appears on our certificate of investiture: "Keeping Green the Master's Memory."

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
In addition to the complete Canon, I'd suggest that every newly interested Sherlockian read Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World's First Consulting Detective, by William S. Baring-Gould.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
I believe that the world-wide interest in Sherlock Holmes will continue. It may be cyclical, but it will continue to expand, especially internationally. Critical to its longevity, however, is our ability to interest the younger generation in Holmes and Watson. Groups like The Beacon Society will play an important role in doing so. Today's youth continue to be infatuated with the "super hero." And wasn't Sherlock Holmes the world's first "super hero?"

Thursday, April 4, 2019

To Cultivate a Friendship [HOUN]

March was an extremely busy month for me (which is my way of excusing only one post last month).  I started the  month off with a trip to New York to visit Scholastic headquarters for work, and ended with Holmes, Doyle & Friends in Dayton, Ohio.  Two amazing trips in one month!

But this is a Sherlockian blog, so you can probably guess which trip I'll be talking about...

I posted last year about my inaugural Sherlockian conference, and this year's trip was similar and different, but no less great.  This year, I rode out with Joe Eckrich, founder of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, and it's amazing how quickly a five hour drive can feel when you talk about baseball and Sherlock Holmes the whole way!

I was excited this year, because I was going to finally meet some Sherlockians in real life that I've been talking to online for quite a while.  And that's just what Friday night's welcome reception was.  Chris Redmond, Denny Dobry, Shannon Carlisle and Scott Monty are all influential Sherlockians that I've been lucky enough to email or tweet with about our hobby.  The best way I could describe the feeling was going to your high school reunion full of people you'd never met before.  When the reception ended, a handful of us found our way to the hotel bar to enjoy (?) the annual tradition of listening to locals, other hotel patrons and one brave Sherlockian do karaoke.  I would say "sing" karaoke, but....

Saturday morning started with the dealer's room.  I had a table this year, selling duplicate items from the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.  There were a few books, but we had a lot of old issues of The Baker Street Journal, including Volume 1 Issue 1, all at low prices.  Some of those issues from volume 1 didn't last too long!  If you are interested in picking up some back issues of the BSJ, please email me and I can send you the price list. 

End of commercial.  Back to the symposium. 

First of all, this year's conference was completely sold out.  It was great to have a room packed with Sherlockians, and Dan Andriacco and crew lined up top-notch speaker for us.

The talks kicked off with Bob Katz, who shed some light onto the childhood of John Watson.  I've heard Bob talk once before, and either his research is really good, or he's one hell of a speaker, because both times he has had me completely convinced that what his theory was had to be the truth.  This talk showed us how Watson's father was a mine supervisor in Australia, the American west, and Pennsylvania.  Watson also enlisted in the Union Army as a drummer boy and found himself at the battle of Gettysburg.  I was sold, and I bet there were plenty of other people in the room who were convinced as well.

The next talk was Susan Bailey and "A Study in Tonga."  With another history lesson, Susan took us through the British involvement with the Andaman Islands, and how anthropologists of the time learned about the people living there.  (Spoiler alert, it wasn't in a good way)  But just where does Tonga come into all of this specifically?  Well, there is a skeleton of an Andaman Islander that went missing after it was sent back to England for study.  Could this have been tied to a certain doctor's medical college?  I think we'll need another talk from Susan for more information on that.

I'm not going to lie, I wasn't excited about the next talk on the polyphonic motets of Lassus.  This had the potential to be a dry or overly clinical examination of a subset of music that doesn't interest me.  Thank goodness Ann Margaret Lewis knew her audience!  We were not a room full of choral music historians, and she knew where to start: with defining each of those words.  I'll admit, that phrase was always one that I sort of knew what it meant, but never thought about too much.  Ann broke it down so that even a dullard like myself could understand it, and her audio clips of different types of this music made it a very enjoyable talk!

Up next was Scott Monty, with an advertiser's look at the Sherlock Holmes Canon.  Did you know that Apple phones, Amazon and Twitter all used product placement in the stories?  You learn so much at these conferences!  Scott's talk was an expanded version of this episode of Trifles and one that had everyone in the room laughing and nodding their heads in agreement as he showed us how some product names were used in the stories and how some should have been.  You wouldn't believe what's been hidden in plain sight all of these years!

There was a break for lunch, and fate found me at a table full of The Beacon Society!  Five members crowded in and talked about upcoming plans for our group and we got to hear Denny Dobry share stories about his very own 221B.

After lunch, Shannon Carlisle was on to talk about her own 221B right in her classroom!  Shannon is a fantastic teacher and an energetic Sherlockian, and I could do a whole blog post about her Sherlockian activities... Oh wait, I already did HERE!  You'll notice that she's the only presenter I don't have a picture of, just one of her slides.  I ended up manning the computer for her presentation so my picture taking opportunities were pretty limited.  Teachers helping teachers! 

Shannon was followed by another teacher, Jeffrey Marks.  But he wasn't up there to talk about his classroom.  Jeffrey Marks is a busy man.  Teacher, author, researcher and publisher!  His talk was about Anthony Boucher's role in Sherlockian history.  Boucher wrote The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, which is widely known in Sherlockian circles, but another one of his books, Rocket to the Morgue, is about the sons of a famous author who want to get every cent possible from their father's estate.  Sound familiar?

There was one last break for people to visit the vendor's tables.  This is when I sold the first two issues of The Baker Street Journal.  It was great to make the sale, knowing that all of the funds raised by selling off duplicate items will be turned right back around to purchase more items for the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection housed at the St. Louis Public Library.  Schedule your visit to the growing collection of Sherlockian research today!

Man, I don't know how those commercials keep sliding in there.  Weird!

You know what else was weird?  This picture that Carlina De La Cova bought during the last vendor break. 

That is Sherlock Holmes playing cards with Richard Nixon, Douglas MacArthur and Miss Piggy.  I was speechless when I saw it, and I'm speechless still.

Vincent Wright led off the last session with his talk titled Around the World in 63,450 Days.  Nobody had any idea what the title meant, but Vince is the leading Sherlockian chronologist of our time, so we knew we were going to be in for some good chronology!  We were wrong.  This was the only talk in Vince's career as a Sherlockian where he didn't talk about chronology.  Instead, he took us on a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon tour of the Canon, that somehow included Vince's high school yearbook picture.  Words can't do justice, but I can promise there were plenty of laughs.

The presentations wrapped up with Regina Stimson taking us through the film life of Sherlock Holmes.  She promised to go through all of the on-screen adaptations of the Great Detective, and she only had 20 minutes to do so.  When she told us to hold on to our deerstalkers, she wasn't kidding!  From Sherlock Holmes Baffled to Will Ferrell, she covered them all!  And she even managed to add commentary and film clips (real and fake) of certain actors.  It was a fun way to wrap up a great lineup of speakers!

The weekend ended with dinner down the street, drinks and billiards at the hotel bar, and goodbyes at breakfast the next morning.  The talks were great, but the biggest joy for me at these conferences is time spent with Sherlockian friends.  From Friday to Sunday, it was one friendly interaction after another.  If you've known someone for years, only talked to them online, or just met for the first time, Holmes, Doyle & Friends in Dayton, Ohio is a great place to cultivate a friendship.