A Spirited Conference by Gayle Lange Puhl

Statuettes that made up part of the exhibit of "Spirits of Sherlock Holmes" at the Elmer L. Anderson Library at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis

“The Spirits of Sherlock Holmes”, a conference held at the Elmer L. Anderson Library of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis was held from August 6-8, 2010. It was presented by The Norwegian Explorers, the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, Inc. is a non-profit organization interested and dedicated to the appreciation and advancement of Sherlock Holmes and his world. In a grey world they help keep the memories of all things Sherlockian forever green.

The Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections is a non-profit group dedicated to the maintenance and growth of the Collections held by the University of Minnesota. Those consist of rare Sherlockian books, papers and other items. The Collections are held in a subterranean vault 85 feet under the Anderson Library on University grounds. They make up the largest grouping of Sherlock Holmes-related reference material in the United States.

The University of Minnesota Libraries houses, maintains and cares for the Collections. Timothy Johnson is the E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections and Curator of the Special Collections and Rare Books of the University.

I arrived in Minneapolis on August 4. I stayed at the home of Karen Murdock, ASH, a member of the Norwegian Explorers and Sherlockian author. In fact, the book she edited, “Sherlock Alive”, came out at the conference. It is the collected Sherlockian references of Vincent Starrett, a founding member of the Baker Street Irregulars, from his Chicago Tribune column “Books Alive” from 1942 to1967.

On August 5 Karen drove me to the Elmer L. Anderson Library where I met Timothy Johnson. We inspected the display set out in the exhibit space. It was devoted to Holmes and ranged from stuffed animals and dolls of Holmes and Dr. Watson thru menus and mugs to early writings about the Sherlockian world to an Inverness cape and two deerstalker hats. In the background a tape made up of music from the various movies and television shows about the Great Detective, interspersed with poems and dramatic readings, played softly.

Tim, the Curator of the Collections, took me down the special elevator to tour the vault. It was very exciting for a life-long Sherlockian like me. Long rows of shelves, filled with file boxes and stacks of things like board games and other items, stretched off into the distance. Later I spent time in the Reading Room going over the letters I had exchanged with John Bennett Shaw in the 1960s and ‘70s. His personal library of over 15,000 items had been obtained by the University of Minnesota in 1993. I was interested to discover that not all the letters I had sent him in his lifetime were in the Collections’ files. Things are still being discovered.

That evening Karen and I attended a party at the home of Mike and Julie McKuras, active Norwegian Explorers, which helped to welcome the out-of-town Sherlockians attending the conference.

The conference opened at 11:00 am on Friday, August 6, at the Library. 110 people had signed up for the three day celebration of Sherlock Holmes and his time. Their ages ranged from late seventies to a Norwegian Explorer just nine years old and entering the fourth grade.

A presentation was given by Ray Betzner, BSI, on Vincent Starrett, legendary Sherlockian who had written the first widely-popular full-length book about Holmes and his world, “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”. Starrett had gone on to help found the Baker Street Irregulars which meets in New York City and the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) of Chicago.

Timothy Johnson, Neil McCaw, Catherine Cooke, BSI, ASH, and Peggy Perdue, MBt. spoke on the current activities of the various collections of which they are in charge. Tim Johnson talked about the Sherlock Holmes Collection of the U of Minn. Neil McCaw is the Academic Director of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Lancelyn Green Bequest of Portsmouth, Great Britain. He told of the traveling exhibit he placed in Japan earlier this year. Catherine Cooke is a decorated Baker Street Irregular and Curator of the Marylebone Public Library of Westminster, London, only a couple of blocks away from Baker Street. She also belongs to the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Peggy Perdue is a decorated member of the Bootmakers of Toronto and Curator of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Public Library in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The final talk of the day was given by Steven Rothman, BSI and editor of the Baker Street Journal since 2000. His paper was on Christopher Morley, the founder of the Baker Street Irregulars in 1934, and his work as editor of The Saturday Review of Literature as it related to Doyle, Holmes and the Irregulars.

Vendors had their wares for sale at tables along the walls of the conference room. They included Steven Doyle, publisher of the Baker Street Journal and author of “Sherlock Holmes for Dummies”. Christopher Roden of the Calabash Press was selling copies of the newly-reissued “Bending the Willow”, the story of Jeremy Brett and his part as Holmes in the Granada television series frequently shown on public TV. George Vanderburgh of the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box was selling copies of Karen Murdock’s new book, “Sherlock Alive”. She was thrilled at all the requests for autographed copies.

On Saturday, August 7, Gideon Hill, MD and a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and the Sons of the Copper Beeches in Pennsylvania gave the talk “Vintage and Spirited”. It was a tongue-in-cheek discussion of Dr. Watson’s supposed alcoholism.

Peggy Perdue, Catherine Cooke, Neil McCaw and Timothy Johnson spoke on the futures of their various Collections and answered questions from the audience.

Russell Merritt, BSI and a semi-retired Professor of Film Studies at the University of California-Berkeley gave an illustrated talk on Sherlock Holmes and the Silent Cinema, with stills from the original movies, many now lost.

After lunch, there was a formal debate between Jon L. Lellenberg, a decorated member of the BSI and co-editor of “Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters” and author/editor of 8 volumes of BSI Archival History and Richard J. Sveum, MD , BSI and President of the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections. Dr. Sveum held the position that Sherlockian scholarship began with “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” by Mgr. Ronald Knox, a Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1912. Mr. Lellenberg contended that there had been earlier mentions of Holmes and his methods in the press before the 1912 paper was read to groups of college students before publication. Neither man gave up a foot of ground. The members of the audience were left to make up their own minds on the subject.

Less Klinger, BSI, Master Bootmaker of the Bootmakers of Toronto, and editor of “The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes” and “The New Annotated Dracula”, gave a paper on “Sherlock Holmes and the Spirit of Detective Fiction”. He has also served as consultant on the Guy Richie/Robert Downing, Jr. movie “Sherlock Holmes”.

“Boys and Girls Together” was the title of the paper given by Evelyn Herzog, BSI and ASH. She told the history of the founding of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes after they had been shut out of the Baker Street Irregulars because of their sex. Women were not admitted to the BSI until 1991 although the ASH had invited men as members several years before.

The attendees of the conference were then invited to walk to the nearby Wilson Library to view the Allen Mackler 221B Sitting Room permanent exhibit. Paul Martin, BSI and Jon Lellenberg, BSI shared remarks about their long-time friend, Sherlockian collector Allen Mackler of the Norwegian Explorers.

Saturday night a banquet was given for the conference goers at the Holiday Inn Metrodome. Brad Keefauver, BSI, ASH addressed the celebrants and an auction of Sherlockian items for the benefit of the Sherlock Holmes Collections was held with Peter Blau, BSI, ASH as auctioneer.

At 9:30 am at the Anderson Library on Sunday, August 8, the conference continued with Tim Reich’s paper, “Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla” and the Haunting of Sherlock Holmes”. It drew parallels between Holmes’ conduct during a certain period of time in the stories and the behavior of de Maupassant’s hero in the story “Le Horla”.

S. E. Dahlinger, a decorated Baker Street Irregular, a member of ASH and a Master Bootmaker of the Bootmakers of Toronto held to the theme of the conference with her paper entitled “Haunting Libraries in Search of a Guaranteed Medium”. She spoke of her search for information and photographs from the Sherlock Holmes Collections regarding actor William Gillette’s appearance in the silent movie made from his stage success “Sherlock Holmes”.

Gayle with the notorious Giant Rat of Sumatra
The Sherlockian acting troupe The Red-Throated League of the Norwegian Explorers preformed an Edith Meiser radio script, “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” to close out the conference. Edith Meiser spent years in Hollywood writing for radio, including hundreds of Sherlock Holmes adventures for Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Her scripts are part of the Sherlock Holmes Collections. The performance was dedicated to the late Wayne Swift, BSI, who had the investiture The Giant Rat of Sumatra. A very large stuffed Rat Mr. Swift had made for himself and which was included in Mr. and Mrs. Swift’s donation to the Collections held pride of place in front of the microphones.

Most people went home that afternoon, but I stayed a few extra days. During that time I had dinner with Susan Rice, ASH, Mickey Fromkin, ASH, and Karen Murdock at a Nepali restaurant. We enjoyed yak dishes. Karen and I went to bookstores and I spent 3 more days at the Anderson Library Reading Room. I enjoyed seeing and handling many unusual items, including Vincent Starrett’s own copy of the “Beeton Christmas Annual”, the paperback magazine that published the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet”. I read original copies of the Strand Magazine, which printed the Holmes short stories, and I leafed through some of the many scrapbooks John Bennett Shaw kept about all things Sherlockian. I particularly enjoyed the ones on Sherlockian-themed restaurants and Holmesian movies.

All in all, I had a wonderful time at the “Spirits of Sherlock Holmes” conference at the Elmer L. Anderson Library at the U of Minn. in Minneapolis. Their next one is in 2013 and I am already looking forward to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment