Baker Street Irregulars Birthday Weekend 2011 by Gayle Lange Puhl, ASH

I am a Sherlockian, a fan of the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes. I belong to several scions, including The Original Tree Worshippers of Rock County, The Criterion Bar Association, The Beacon Society, The Friends of the Great Grimpen Mire and The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. The Baker Street Irregulars is a national scion that holds a formal dinner every January in New York City. Not everyone is a BSI, but the event is an opportunity for Sherlockians from around the world to gather and celebrate Mr. Holmes’ birthday. In 2011 he is 157 years old.

It was time for the 2011 Sherlock Holmes/Baker Street Irregulars Birthday Weekend in New York City. I booked a room at the Roosevelt Hotel on 45th Street through the BSI and packed my bags. I took the Van Galder bus to O’Hare Field, flew from Chicago to La Guardia Airport and landed just before lunch on Thursday January 6. A shuttle van took me to the hotel.

The first thing on my schedule was the Distinguished Speaker Lecture at the Midtown Executive Club at 40 West 45th Street that started at 6:15 pm. The speaker was Michael Sims, an author and anthologist. He had compiled The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime and has finished the upcoming The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories.

He talked about his teenage years when he lived in a rural area of the South with no phone or electricity and how he depended upon his mailbox to bring him glimpses of the outside world. He joined a book club and related his excitement the day his copy of William Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes arrived in 1967. He became fascinated with the Victorian Era and said it led him to a career in authorship and editing with Penguin Books. I spent a very enjoyable evening listening to his talk along with other members of the audience.

On Friday, The William Gillette Memorial Luncheon started at noon at Moran’s Chelsea Seafood Restaurant at 146 Tenth Avenue at 19th Street. A private dining room at the restaurant is dedicated to the famous actor, with a painting of him on the wall near the fireplace. I sat between two Sherlockians, one of whom received his membership in the exclusive Baker Street Irregulars later that evening. The other had delivered a paper to his scion comparing Sherlock Holmes to Nero Wolfe, the portly New York detective active in the middle part of the 20th century. I told him a couple of facts about the Holmes/Wolfe connection he didn’t know, which made him very happy. We also talked about the Sherlockian dinners put on by the Culinary Institute of America (also known as the CIA) and of the William Gillette Castle, home of the “Guest of Honor” and now a state park in Connecticut. Entertainment was given by the Friends of Bogey, an acting troop who performed a skit showing Holmes and Watson adjusting Holmes’ deductive methods to modern electronic mobile technology.

The Baker Street Irregulars Dinner was held that night at the Yale Club at 50 Vanderbilt Avenue. It was invitation only for its members so many others arranged to go to The Gaslight Gala at the Manhattan Club at 201 West 52nd Street at Seventh Avenue.

I sat at a table with several members of The Bootmakers of Toronto, the nationwide scion of Canada. Several people there were decorated Bootmakers, known as Master Bootmakers. One member, Karen Campbell, M. Bt., got up and sang a funny Sherlockian song as part of the entertainment later. Music was provided by Audrey Epstein, ASH.

Several Sherlockian toasts were drunk and the festivities were well underway. The many different scions represented by the assembled guests were read out and acknowledged.

After a delicious buffet, several skits and songs were performed by various Sherlockians. After the dessert buffet, a raffle drawing and a lively auction took place. The money raised went to offset costs of the Gala. The raffle was for two hand-painted Gaslight Gala sweatshirts. Among the auction items featured were a Christmas village based on the buildings of Baker Street, a hand-painted handkerchief, a jig-saw puzzle of 221B Baker Street, a doll dressed in a deerstalker hat and Inverness cape and a one-of-a-kind Sherlock Holmes-themed house banner designed and sewn by a talented Sherlockian seamstress. A sing-along involving the entire audience finished out a successful evening.

At nine o’clock on Saturday morning the Merchants Room (Convent Garden West) was opened in the Vanderbilt Suite on the second floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. The large room was filled with tables covered with books, CDs, pictures, paperbacks, first editions, and many other Sherlockian items. I handled a first edition Hound of the Baskervilles worth $3,000. That was a little out of my budget, but I picked up some paperbacks for a dollar, including a Basil of Baker Street: The Lost Colony signed by the author Eve Titus. My big purchase was a copy of The Grand Game, an anthology of Sherlockian scholarship edited by mystery author Laurie R. King and the author of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes and The Annotated Dracula, Leslie S. Klinger. Les is the Sherlockian expert advising on the new Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law movie Sherlock Holmes 2. Both Les Klinger and Laurie R. King were present to sign their opus and I made sure they autographed mine.

After I deposited my purchases in my room, I walked out onto the New York streets to see something of the Big Apple. I walked as far as the New York City Library and saw the stone lions in front. I strolled through Times Square and shopped for souvenirs on Fifth Avenue.

At one o’clock I joined some friends and walked to the Baker Street Irregulars’ annual reception held at the New York City Bar Association at 42 West 44th Street. Mickey Fromkin looked quite sporty in her deerstalker and Inverness cape. At the reception we joined 200 other Sherlockians in a short business meeting before refreshments were served.

The program included announcements of who had been added to the Baker Street Irregulars membership rolls the night before, a specially written song that was filled with Sherlockian news and mentions of other international happenings for the year of 2010, a raffle drawing for a hand-crafted “King of Bohemia” brooch and an auction of special items for the benefit of a BSI charity. The auctioneer was my friend Peter Blau, BSI, who, along with three others, was celebrating his 50th year in the Irregulars.

The entertainment was a song from the as yet-unproduced script of a musical based on the 2009 book Dust and Shadow by newly admitted Irregular Lyndsay Faye. Her book pitted Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper. Lyndsay has hopes of getting the finished product on Broadway and everyone present wished her well.

Drinks and an elaborate spread of dainty treats were offered after the meeting and Sherlockians and other guests found plenty of opportunities to visit and make new friends. I met a pair of sisters, Joan and Mary Silaco, from Queens, New York. They were new to the Sherlockian world and we hit it off right away.

We talked for hours and ended the evening back at the Roosevelt Hotel, eating hamburgers at the bar and telling each other about our hometowns. Joan talked about her sightings of celebrities in Manhattan and I described life in Evansville. Joan and Mary couldn’t conceive of a town without public transportation and surrounded by big empty fields.

On the morning of Sunday, January 9, I got up early and after breakfast took a taxi to Rockefeller Center. I wore my deerstalker hat and carried a sign about Sherlock Holmes with “Hi, Evansville, WI” at the bottom. I stood in the crowd outside the NBC studios where “The Today Show” was broadcast and got on camera with the rest of the crowd. After she did the weather, Janice Huff autographed my sign and posed for a picture. When the show was over I visited The NBC Experience next to the studio and purchased a photo of myself and my sign taken earlier by a NBC employee. I also took the opportunity to view some of the murals in Rockefeller Center and get some souvenirs at the NBC Store.

I took a taxi back to the Roosevelt Hotel, packed my bags and caught my shuttle van back to La Guardia and flew to Chicago. I made all my travel connections and was home in Evansville by Sunday night. I enjoyed my adventure in New York City and hope to go again someday.

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