Sunday, December 27, 2020

Interesting Interview: Greg Ruby

When the world went awry in March, Sherlockiana was put on pause.  You may have noticed that this is not the norm anymore, and that is thanks in large part to Greg Ruby.  Greg stepped in and quietly started running events and meetings via Zoom, happy to show any reticent Sherlockian that virtual meetings weren't scary.  If it weren't for Greg and a few other technologically adept Sherlockians out there, we may have reverted to sending telegrams to keep our Sherlockian activities alive!

So who is our hobby's Mr. Wizard?  First of all, Greg is an absolutely great guy.  Always happy to welcome folks to any conversation he's a part of, Greg's Sherlockian energy seems to know no bounds.  He's running THREE big scions, putting out an annual journal, and showing up to as many scion meetings as he can (of which he is a member of 23!).  And like I said, he's the man behind the curtain for so many major virtual events, including this year's Scintillation of Scions, A Saturday with Sherlock Holmes, and January's official BSI Birthday weekend events.  Greg is a beehive of Sherlockian activity, and one that doesn't get enough recognition for what he's done for us this year.  So, I think it's very fitting that I'm ending 2020's Interesting Interview series with the most important Sherlockian of 2020, Greg Ruby!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I consider anyone with a interest in Sherlock Holmes as a Sherlockian. My definition is somewhat broad to include fans of some of the recent movies and television shows, as well as pastiches.

I was at a Sherlockian meeting in pre-COVID times where a first-time attendee admitted to never reading one of the 60 stories but enjoyed watching Elementary episodes on television. Another attendee scolded that person telling them everything wrong, in their opinion, of the series. The first person never has returned to that club, but thankfully has attended other groups since and is working their way through the Canon.

Anything that introduces others to Sherlock Holmes is a good thing. I’m not particularly enamored with most pastiches but I know of several folks where that was their introduction to this wacky world of ours.

Of course, there are various levels of being a Sherlockian from the casual to the hardcore, and most settle into a level that suits them, which is great. Then there are the chronologists, but we’ll save that for another time….

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes in Mrs. Raver’s reading class in fifth grade. With some reservation here, I now admit that it is the only thing I remember from that year, including having to memorize some poem to be later recited.

In the years that passed, I would pick up some related volumes – gathering enough so they took up an entire shelf on the bookcase in my first apartment. A friend gave me a copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street after seeing my shrine to Holmes. Still remember reading about the Baker Street Irregulars and playing the Game, thinking what a bunch of wackadoodles these folks were. There was no thought that 25 years later I would be dining with those wackadoodles annually.

Let’s fast-forward to Christmas of 2013. I severely broke my right ankle that day and would spend next 5+ months laid up in bed. A month before my accident, I rearranged my bookshelves to relocate my Holmes material to be within reach of my bed, otherwise it would have been Tom Clancy stories I would have been reading. Having some free time, I went online and discovered a Sherlock Holmes event was coming up in my area.

I would attend Scintillation of Scions that June, followed by my first meeting of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore a few days later. Each event / meeting that I would attend had other Sherlockians inviting me to attend other scion functions. By the end of that first year, I was travelling several hours away from Baltimore to northern New Jersey and other cities to talk about Sherlock Holmes with my new friends.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite of the 60 stories was also my first story – “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” so my fifth-grade reading class was not a total loss. In fairness, this was around the same time I had started collecting coins, and I was enthralled by the inclusion of a counterfeiting money element in the story. This was reinforced with my next story of “The Red-Headed League,” dealing with the possible theft of gold French coins. There was a letdown when I then read “The Speckled Band” and there were no references to coins or money in the tale.

Dan Payton of the Great Alkali Plainsmen likes to tell the story that I cornered him after his presentation during the summer 2019 conference of the Norwegian Exploders of Minnesota, where he made an offhand comment criticizing 3GAR. I pointed out two reasons why he was wrong.

Holmes first appeared on television in 1937. They had their pick of all 56 short stories and would obviously choose the best story for that first broadcast. They chose 3GAR. Likewise, when the Granada / Jeremy Brett series aired “The Mazarin Stone,” they combined it with 3GAR to salvage the episode.

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

This is an unfair question in my opinion, as I have found every Sherlockian that I’ve met to be interesting. Since I have to answer with only one name, let’s go with my BSI 2019 classmate, Ira Brad Matetsky. IBM is a trial lawyer, based out of New York City, that I first met at the running of the 2015 Silver Blaze race at Saratoga (later leading us to be involved with recently published BSI volume Upon the Turf) where we had a wide ranging conversation that afternoon. I was amazed when I learned he was on the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee. An admirable Sherlockian with a wicked sense of humor in bad puns, he serves as the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, the literary society for Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout fans.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Being a coin collector, that was the first subset that appealed to me. In the years since becoming active in Sherlockiana, I have branched out into what I call the pop-culture media. I actively seek out the old-time radio recordings and film/TV appearances with references to Holmes, skipping most of the fan-made material that is appearing on YouTube.

During the pandemic, I’ve started looking for cartoon versions of Holmes – editorial, daily comic strips and comic books – where it’s obvious who they are referencing.

But the biggest interest are the Sherlockian friends that I’ve made over the last six years.

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

The biggest research item are coins and other numismatic items with Sherlockian themes. When The Fourth Garrideb group was formed, we were aware of about 75 collectable items and thought it would be great to get up to 200 items. We are now at over 400 items cataloged.

In a related item, I have begun researching Louis Hector, the first actor to portray Holmes on television, with his stage and radio acting career.

I also enjoy doing some research regarding the old-time radio broadcasts. Before the pandemic, it appears that I stumbled across several recordings of the old Richard Gordon episodes from the early 1930s that have been forgotten. Hopefully, when things return to normal after the pandemic, I’ll be able to confirm these episodes.

For those of us outside of central Maryland, what is the difference between Baltimore's two scions, The Six Napoleons of Baltimore and the Sherlockians of Baltimore?

The quick answer is about 70 years. The Six Napoleons will be celebrating 75 years in September 2021 without any long hiatuses like many other groups have experienced over time. From its founding in 1946 until December 2017, the group was strictly males only for membership. After attending three meetings, attendees undergo a examination, lovingly (?) referred to as the Inquisition, where three Napoleons test the neophyte’s knowledge of the 60 stories. After the Inquisition, the now Postulant is expected to give a presentation at a future meeting and is then installed as a Napoleon.

The Sherlockians of Baltimore was formed in 2016 as I was being greedy – I wanted more Holmes than just a quarterly meeting of the Napoleons. Originally, I hoped to jumpstart the Carlton Club of Baltimore, the co-ed alternative to the Napoleons. Founded in 1971, the group had gone inactive before I came into the Sherlockian scene in 2014. After spending 18 months trying to track down the leadership of the Carlton Club and being frustrated at every turn, I brazenly announced a relaunch of the Carlton Club in February 2016. Within days of my announcement, word funneled down to me that they were still “active.” So, we changed gears, and launched the SOBs in May.

While I love the group names of the Speckled Band, the Copper Beeches, and other Sherlockian groups, I thought it be wise to have a straight-forward name of who and what we are to attract those not as familiar with the stories, and serve as a feeder system into the Napoleons and nearby Watson’s Tin Box.

Anyone who attends a SOB meeting is automatically considered a SOB and a member. After attending two physical meetings, they are issued a membership card so that they are now a “card-carrying SOB”. Giving a presentation, leading a story discussion or preparing a quiz earns the status of a “Certified SOB” with a Baltimore-themed moniker. As opposed to meeting on a weeknight at 6 pm, the SOBs gather on Saturdays at lunchtime in hopes of more attendees might be able to attend.

How did The Fourth Garrideb come about?

The early months of 2014 found me with lots of free time as I recuperated. While rereading the Canon, I remembered a conversation with Ed Rochette back during the 1994 American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money in Detroit. Ed was a longtime coin collector, who also served as a consultant to the Pobjoy Mint who had just a struck a series of Sherlock Holmes coins for the principality of Gibraltar. Ed had asked about an elongated cent my local coin club had rolled with a Sherlockian design (I had nothing to do with the design!). I promised Ed a sample and we went on to discuss forming a group of Sherlockian coin collectors. I was just starting my professional career and Ed was juggling several projects, so nothing happened until 2014 while I was stuck in bed.

I tracked down Bob Fritsch, a fellow longtime numismatist in New England who I also knew to be a Sherlockian, and bounced the idea off him. He liked the idea, so I arranged for a meeting space at the 2014 ANA event in Chicago. Seven of us crazy people showed up and joined on the spot, with Bob suggesting the name for our group. Six years later, we have over 100 members throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and South America.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Jack Tracy’s The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana has been a lifesaver for me, explaining terms that I encounter while reading the Canon. A more fun recommendation, and a delightful read, is A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney. Curious about what happens on a given day in the world of Sherlockiana? The book is my go to source before I attend any club meeting and has led me down many a research project.

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

The world of Sherlockiana will still be growing strong in the next decade. It will be interesting to see how we continue to incorporate the virtual elements into events as we move forward. While it is a poor substitute for being face to face with friends, I am now spoiled by being able to dial into meeting and events to talk about Holmes with new friends internationally. I expect that many groups will try to work this technology into future events.

Likewise, with the remaining stories coming out of copyright protection in the next few year, I expect to see more pastiches and adaptions coming forward. If the Enola Holmes stories lead to more films and the long-promised Robert Downey Jr. third film happens, there will be a steady flock of new Sherlockians.

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