Denny Dobry is known far and wide for his detailed recreation of 221b Baker Street that takes up his entire basement. I was lucky enough to get a detailed description of that process in The Finest Assorted Collection and he gives a rundown of specific pieces in each year's Baker Street Almanac.
But if you think Denny is just a guy who's built one cool thing, you don't know the half of it! First of all, Denny is one of the most down-to-earth and nice guys in this hobby. He ran The Beacon Society for years and has overseen an amazing Sherlockian book sale for even longer. While he hosts an official open house once a year, I can't count the number of Sherlockians who have told me about visiting Denny. The man seems to constantly be welcoming visitors! I could keep going on and on about Denny (I never even mentioned that one time he impersonated a drunken Mrs. Hudson), but let's get to the man himself, Denny Dobry!
How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
A Sherlockian is not merely someone who has read the Canon or collects books and other Sherlockiana. As I relate in the next question, to be a Sherlockian, something has to ‘click’ when you read the Canon. The root of this enchantment has been suggested to be the charm of the British Victorian era, the friendship between Holmes & Watson or the masterful story-telling of Doyle. Without experiencing one of these or a similar enchantment, readers would not return again and again to re-read the Canon. Sherlockians are not merely ‘readers’ of the Canon, but often find themselves as ‘eye-witnesses’ to the tales.
How did you become a Sherlockian?
I read SPEC in the ninth grade, and something ‘clicked’ for me, so I guess from that point on, I became a Sherlockian-in-waiting. However, in my youth, my interest focused on science, not literature. While most Sherlockians-to-be were reading the classics and mystery stories, I was reading Science Digest. I am probably the most ‘un-read’ Sherlockian ever to receive a Shilling. Despite brief emergences of Sherlockian interest inspired by my ninth-grade revelation, I didn’t drop my ‘-in-waiting’ status until all the publicity surrounding the 100th Anniversary of the publication of STUD hit the media. The year 1987 was the first time I became aware of the existence of the world of Sherlockiana. That initial ‘click’ back in the ninth grade grew into resounding roar, and from that point on, I considered myself to be a Sherlockian.
What was your profession before retiring and did that affect how you enjoyed being a Sherlockian?
I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. I took several post-graduate courses from Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin and changed my disciple to Civil Engineering. Eventually I became licensed as a Professional Engineer in four States. My studies and my career really had no positive affect on how I enjoy being a Sherlockian. The professional company that I kept were technically oriented and literature of any genre was never a topic of discussion. I recognize myself as an ‘irregularity’ among the Irregulars. Most Sherlockians are teachers, authors, lawyers, doctors, and other similar professions. As an engineer, I find myself as part of a very exclusive scion of Sherlockians.
What is your favorite canonical story?
I was totally drawn into the mystery in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I vividly remember the first time that I read it and was convinced that I had figured it out and that the Barrymores were culprits.
Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Jeff Decker was the in-house cartoonist of the Baker Street Journal in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In addition, his work appeared in numerous other Sherlockian journals and publications. Although he no longer practices his art, his remarkable sense of humor and imagination is still enjoyed today, and a publication of his cartoons is currently in the works. Jeff and I are close friends and I thoroughly enjoy listening to him recount his personal experiences with Sherlockian legends as John Bennett Shaw, Tom Stix, Jr., and others.
What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
Many Sherlockians have heard of my 221b Baker Street sitting room re-creation. Gathering artifacts from the Canonical stories, therefore is my primary Sherlockiana subset interest. However, as often happens with collectors, I have gone off on a tangent and started to collect Hansom Cab miniatures. I currently have eleven (11) in my collection and have two more on my radar.
How did your 221B recreation come about and what is one item in your collection that sticks out to you?
In 1996, I attended my first scion meeting at Watson’s Tin Box in Baltimore Maryland. Before the meeting I was introduced to Paul Churchill and taken to his home. Paul had a created a 221b Baker Street sitting room, and that experience of being in the presence of actual artifacts from the Canon inspired me to start my own re-creation. Paul and I became very close friends and collaborated on many projects to promote our passion. We lost Paul in 2008, and our world lost a great Sherlockian. I have his photograph in my office and I think of him every day. I’m not sure what direction my Sherlockian life would have taken if I had never met Paul.
It is difficult to select just one item from the many favorites that I have. The one item that seems to be the favorite of visitors, however is Colonel Moran’s ‘air-gun’. In EMPT, Watson describes it as ‘a sort of gun, with a curiously misshapen butt,’ and of hearing ‘a long, whirling , grinding noise.’ From the photograph, the ‘curiously misshapen butt’ is obvious and the crank explains the ‘long, whirling , grinding noise’ as Moran turned the handle to pressurize the weapon. The inscription on the barrel reads: “JOH⋅PETERLONG INNSBRUCK”. Obviously implying that the gun was made in Austria by the blind German mechanic, Von Herder.
The BSI Book Sale and Open House is a Sherlockian book collector's dream. What drives you to keep such a large endeavor going?
I very much value preserving the history of the Baker Street Irregulars. When past-chair of the BSI Trust, Andy Solberg, asked me to sell non-archivable items donated to the Trust, for the benefit of the Trust, I was more than happy to oblige. Not only do I have the opportunity to add to the Trust’s finances, I’m able to keep valued Sherlockian scholarship titles in the hands of Sherlockians. And for my personal gratification, albeit for a short period of time, I’m often in possession of some very interesting and treasured Sherlockian objects. (A Shameless Promotion – If you have something that you would like to donate to the BSI Trust or would like a Sales List of available Sherlockiana, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
The Canon: Baring-Gould’s and Klinger’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Both are essential Sherlockian Bibles.
Doyle Biography: Dan Stashower’s A Teller of Tales. The best, in my opinion, of all the ACD Biographies.
General Sherlockian/Doylean Facts: Mattias Bostrom’s From Holmes to Sherlock. This remarkable work gives the Holmes’ devotee anything and everything they could ever want to know about our passion.
Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
I am hopeful and confident that the Sherlockian world will be alive and well in the future. There will be, as today, a mixture of purely traditional Sherlockians, Sherlockians influenced by non-traditional adaptions & introduced to the Canon and those enchanted by some media that they may not even realize has a Canonical basis. I don’t know where the next Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, or Moriarty the Patriot will come from, but I am confident there will be one – Keeping Alive the Memory of the Master!