When The Parallel Case of St. Louis hosted Holmes in the Heartland back in 2018, most of the attendees were from the Midwest. But there was these two names from California... Joanne Zahorsky-Reeves and her young daughter traveled all the way from the west coast for some Sherlockian fun that weekend. Joanne was the sweetest person and was decked out in Victorian garb that caught everyone's attention. She looked so authentic that many people expected her to be a part of some demonstration at the event. But nope! Joanne was just a Sherlockian wanting to spend time with other Sherlockians.
And she is loved by the other Sherlockians that know her. When Joanne received her investiture earlier this year, the room ERUPTED in cheers! And rightfully so! Her talks and performances have received rave reviews from her fellow Californians (and they know entertainment!). So enjoy this week's Interesting Interview with Joanne Zahorsky-Reeves, a passionate Sherlockian that more people should know about!
How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I define it as a person who has an unusual passion for Sherlock Holmes – not just an “interest;” he or she doesn’t just enjoy reading the stories or seeing the odd movie; this person will drive over a hundred miles to find that tiny, art-house theatre that’s showing an old Basil Rathbone Holmes film so they can experience it on the big screen. He or she makes widows of spouses for long weekends spent arguing over whether Watson was wounded in the shoulder or the leg – or both – or neither! He or she screams with delight at discovering some Holmes-related trinket in a dusty bookshop or a cluttered thrift store, be it a first edition or a plush mouse in a Deerstalker. We are not “normal” by society standards, and we are proud of it!
How did you become a Sherlockian?
Seventh grade, forced to choose a book in the library, when caught doing homework there during Study Hall rather than reading. Found this huge hard-back book, The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes. An impressive six hundred and some odd pages Two and a half pounds. I mean, what girl could say no to this this? I took it back to my chair and started reading at the first story: “A Scandal in Bohemia.” I was hooked. I tore through all the stories and novellas in just a few months.
What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?
I am a laboratory animal veterinarian (I take care of research animals and consult with scientists on their studies), and also hold a PhD in comparative medicine. So I have a medical background, and also am trained to figure stuff out. So at 12 years old, when I first found the stories, my mind was ready for Holmes, a thinking machine, and his side-kick.
What is your favorite canonical story?
My favorite one is probably the first one I read, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Holmes is beaten by a woman. It also gives us a glimpse into how an independent woman like Irene is able to get around in the world, by dressing up like a young man to follow Holmes into the night. With the speed that she does it, it’s obvious it is not the first time.
Being a vet, I also really like “Silver Blaze.” There’s a lot going on there behind the story that I won’t go into here, but lot’s of animal stuff that’s really very interesting
Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Bob Thomalen (who passed away a year or two ago) was one of the first Sherlockians I met in my youth and was just such a wonderful fellow. He also did a lot of work with his World War II squadron, which made him really quite a well-rounded guy. See here: Robert Thomalen Interview: Oral History Project - The Baker Street Irregulars Trust (bsitrust.org)
What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
Well, the medical and animal stuff, mostly. I also collect and restore Victorian clothing, so so many of Watson’s descriptions of the clothing that the women (and the men, but mostly the ladies) were wearing at the time can really be fascinating. He really had an eye for detail! I am currently working on a paper on what Charles Augustus Milverton was wearing, and what that said about his character (literally).
Your fashion sense at Sherlockian events is amazing. What do you look for when putting your outfits together?
You are too kind! Like I said, I collect, restore and copy Victorian women’s clothing. I never ever wear anything vintage that is in good condition. Those items I preserve. Sometimes, for local meetings of the Curious Collectors of Baker Street (CCOBS, my home Scion in Los Angeles at the moment), I will come to the meeting as a character in whatever story we are reading at the moment. Sometimes outfits are just dictated by the weather out here! Not wearing wool when it’s 103 degrees outside! Often just following Victorian etiquette – nothing off the shoulder for daytime, thank you very much….
What goes into your Sherlockian readings and dramatic performances?
Over the years I have had the chance to write and perform quite a few skits etc., back at the Baskerville Bash, then at the Gaslight Gala. Also in “real life” I have tried to bring Sherlock Holmes “to the masses” – I re-edited a script of “The Hound of the Baskervilles for our local community theatre, and during the pandemic, when the theatre switched to Zoom plays, was able to write a series of modern “gumshoe” mysteries where the two LAPD detectives consulted with a great-great-great-grand niece of Holmes. Whatever I have written, especially for the more general public, I always hope that it sparks some interest in the original stories.
What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
There are several books that help to put Victorian London in perspective, that help Sherlockians understand the backdrop of when and where the stories are taking place. Judith Flanders is an expert on Victorian London and has written several very good books on this topic. The Victorian City is very interesting, although it focusses more on Dickens time, which is a little earlier than Holmes and Watson. Still it gives the reader a really good idea of what the City was like. She also wrote The Invention of Murder and The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed although I haven’t had a chance to read the latter yet and I have only read selections from the former. It’s all really amazing stuff, and made me think twice about wanting to go back in time to live in Victorian London!
Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
I see us even more on the Internet, which I think might be a double-edged sword. Personally I enjoy the meetings in-person, and the conversations had about specific stories and plot-points, etc. In my own life, I am so busy that I really don’t have time to squeeze in the time to be able to “surf” what seems to be growing internet presence of Sherlockian sites – which I think is really good for the younger generation, but it’s leaving us older folks behind. And yes, I count myself amongst the older generation now.