Wednesday, June 2, 2021

A Sherlockian History of St. Louis by Peter Eckrich

A Sherlockian History of St. Louis 

by Peter Eckrich

For over a hundred and thirty years St. Louis has had a connection to Holmes and his faithful companion Watson.  Who could forget that Jefferson Hope from A Study In Scarlet was from St. Louis?  And 1890’s The Sign of Four included the phrase “the parallel cases of St. Louis and Riga.” 

Some might wonder why St. Louis would be mentioned in the Canon. The city was started by French fur trappers who traveled up the mighty Mississippi river from the port of New Orleans and down from the vastness of the Canadian wilderness. This French influence can still be seen today as we honor Laclede and Chouteau  with street names and the ever beautiful River Des Peres. St. Louis soon expanded with the ever popular fur trading and was soon sold to the still new United States from the French government. Napoleon was broke and Jefferson obviously knew a great deal when one appeared. Jefferson soon sent Lewis and Clark to explore the west and the duo of course stopped in St. Louis for supplies as would anyone following in their footsteps.  


St. Louis soon became the stop on those heading west. Some would leave St. Louis and head to Independence, Missouri, while others would make a last stop at Kansas City, but St. Louis was the place. Its location along a major river made it lucrative for the steam industry and eventually it is that industry that would stifle its growth. See St. Louis had a chance to expand and be a major player in the railroad industry. Instead it opted to stay with the steam boats and Chicago would expand with the railroad instead. Don’t worry, all was not lost with this great city. We would go on to host the 1904 World’s Fair and have a baseball team that rivals even the Yankees in World Series wins. 

Conan Doyle and Watson both would have known the importance of St. Louis in the late 1800’s. It is no wonder that Holmes would be aware of crimes committed in the Metropolis and connect them to events in Europe. Remember that Holmes kept records and notes on criminals and crime, and being the gifted detective he was, he would certainly keep tabs on crimes committed across the pond. The Holmes connection does not end with a few simple sentences in a couple of printed books. St. Louis would keep up with the study of the detective and honor his memory for many years to come.

As a child growing up in the 1980’s (born in 1979), I attended numerous Sherlock Holmes meetings. My father, Joe Eckrich, would take my brother and me along on his adventures to the Occupants of the Empty House and also to the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn. It was an interesting time to say the least. There was so much history and knowledge packed into one room. This was the time before the internet and you didn’t know what books and information were out there unless someone shared it with you. This to me was the golden age of Sherlockiana in St. Louis. It was the time where one could attend multiple meetings in the same month. So let’s travel back in time and trace the Sherlockian Scion Societies of St. Louis. 


When Edgar Smith was in charge of the Baker Street Irregulars, he was surprised to learn that St. Louis did not have its own scion society. I mean we were the home to the famous Sherlockian Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs. Briggs had a standing letter exchange with the Chicago Bookman and literary Newspaper Man, Vincent Starrett. Chandler Briggs also traveled to London and did his own research into Holmes. Chandler Briggs was one of the earliest BSI members. Besides Chandler Briggs we also had another doctor, John Crotty, who was known for his collection of Paget illustrations. Even with these heavy hitters, it would not be until years later that a scion society would be created. 

The Watsonians of St. Louis was the first scion society in the mid 1960’s started by Country Day School teachers Robert H. Ashby and Ralph Grimes. The group did not last very long and St. Louis was once again without a local scion. That changed in 1968 when Philip Shreffler and Paul Kannapell started the Noble Bachelors of St. Louis. There were several women involved and a prominent Sherlockian suggested changing the name to The Noble Bachelors and their Concubines. The name did not stick around for long. But the group does continue to the present day and even had a woman, Mary Schroeder, leading it at one point. Talk about Sherlockian irony! 


Philip Shreffler later changed his BSI investiture to Jefferson Hope and branched off from the Noble Bachelors to form The Jefferson Hopes of Saint Louis with Karen Johnson in March of 1982. The Hopes still meet today after being resurrected in 2012. Membership is by invitation only, and limited to a maximum of 17 members, to correspond with the 17 steps, and to allow meetings to be held in members’ homes. Early members included Barry Hapner, Art and Mary Schroeder, Chuck Lavazzi, and Eric Otten. In the beginning, membership was restricted to those who already had a paper published, such as in the Baker Street Journal, or who submitted an original paper to the group’s Gasogene who would determine if the writer showed adequate skill as a serious Sherlockian. There was also a strict dress code for meetings. The rules have since been somewhat relaxed but the Hopes are still serious students of The Grand Game. The Hopes are currently run by Christopher Robertson and Michael Waxenberg.


Joseph Eckrich, another past president of the Noble Bachelors would branch off as well and start the Parallel Case of St. Louis. His idea was to have a smaller setting than the Noble Bachelor banquets in which individual stories could be discussed. The Hopes were also doing the same thing, but had a paper requirement. Everyone that knows my father, knows he does not write papers. The Parallel Case does not have much in the way of requirements. Mostly it is to show up when you can and enjoy talking about Sherlock Holmes. One of the first members of the Parallel Case was Dr. Bart Simms, who was also an early member of the Noble Bachelors as well as the Hopes. The Parallel Case is currently headed by Rob Nunn. When life allows it, I try to attend the meetings. Throw in a lunch beforehand and this will be the closest I will ever get to the Three Hour Lunch Club that Morley so famously started and enjoyed. 


Other local Sherlockian groups include The Harpooners of The Sea Unicorn in St. Charles, another Missouri city with a rich history. If you consider Southern Illinois to be close at hand, then we must acknowledge the Occupants of The Empty House started by Bill Cochran and Michael Bragg, before Bragg would go on to start the Harpooners. A prominent member of the Occupants was Gordon Speck. 


Another Illinois group was the Chester Baskerville Society. I would attend these meetings as well. This stands out in my mind for two reasons. A positive reason was that I met Eve Titus there and she signed my Basil of Baker Street books. The negative one is we were hit head on by a drunk driver coming home from a meeting. No fault to the Chester group, but it did make me nervous for many years crossing the river. 

A second golden age seems to be emerging. More people are finding Sherlock Holmes in the Greater St. Louis Area. One might wonder why so many groups are needed in one city. The answer lies in that each group offers a different way to celebrate and study the famed detective. St. Louis might not have had one of the first scion societies, but it makes up for it in interesting people and Midwest hospitality that welcomes newcomers to the study of Sherlock Holmes.  

A special thanks to Randy Getz, Christopher Robinson, Michael Waxenberg, and Joe Eckrich. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

May Meeting: The Golden Pince-Nez


A few dozen Sherlockians from St. Louis, America, and other countries met on Saturday for our discussion on The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.  We started off with an announcement that The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis will be hosting a Victorian picnic on July 10 in Tower Grove Park.  Local Sherlockians should watch their email for more details in a few weeks.

There was a brief discussion about Netflix's "The Irregulars."  Rob reported that news outlets had originally reported that the show had been renewed for a second season and that its viewership had surpassed the other hot show of the week, "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."  But news broke last week that Netflix has cancelled the show.  Arthur said that the show had failed to bring in new subscribers and that shows as expensive as "The Irregulars" probably won't be happening on Netflix again because they won't be able to generate new subscribers.

Nancy shared that Under a Raven's Wing by Steven Volk has recently come out and Madeline reported that David Stuart Davies just got the rights back to his Jeremy Brett biography, Bending the Willow, and it will be reissued for wide release.

Steve announced that the latest edition of "Sherlock's Spotlight" went out last week and The Beacon Society will be launching a new site soon connecting and sharing information about Sherlockian societies across America.

Karen talked about The Tea Brokers of Mincing Lane society  which reminded us of Stacey's blog post about tea.  Timothy mentioned The Sign of the Flour that just launched as well as Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street.  Rob wondered if all of this will lead to a new society for Sherlockians who need larger pants.

Madeline told us that a new podcast would be coming out soon focusing on Professor Moriarty.

Sandy announced that a new website is available that breaks the Canon into chapter and verse, aptly titled Chapter and Verse Holmes

And there are plenty of Zoom sessions to check out in the next few weeks:

The Sherlockians of Baltimore will celebrate their fifth anniversary Saturday, May 15.

The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn will meet on Friday, May 21.

The Crew of the Barque Lone Star will meet on June 6.


And now, on to The Golden Pince-Nez!

Watson starts the tale off by telling us about so many cases from 1894: the red leech, Crosby the banker, the Addleton tragedy, the contents of an ancient British barrow, Huret the boulevard assassin (which won Holmes a letter from the French president), and the Smith-Mortimer succession case.  Randy wondered if this story name drops the most unpublished cases.

Rob noted that the gardener in GOLD was named Mortimer and the murdered secretary was named Smith.  Was it a coincidence that the Smith-Mortimer succession case was mentioned in this story?  Everyone decided it probably was.  John deadpanned that this was probably from the hours, days, weeks, and months that Doyle spent in his research for his Sherlock Holmes stories.

Stanley Hopkins arrives at Baker Street, making his second of four appearances in the Canon, to ask for Holmes's assistance with a murder at Yoxley Old Place down in Kent.  The house is owned by a Professor Coram, who is an old invalided man.  His secretary, Willoughby Smith, was helping the professor write a book and was murdered in the study.  Smith was a good fellow with no known enemies or even know acquaintances in the area.

The household is self-contained and no one comes or goes for weeks on end.  The only other people living in the house are the elderly housekeeper and a maid.  A gardener also lives on the property, but in a cottage.

Between 11 and 12 this afternoon, the maid heard Smith go into the study.  A minute later, he cried out and there was a heavy thud.  She ran down and found Smith with a wound gushing on his neck from a sealing wax knife, and this always made Steve think of the line from Puff the Magic Dragon.

The maid poured water on Smith's face, and he can to just long enough to say, "The professor - it was she," before dying.  Sonia wondered if this neck wound would allow for Smith to say his dying words and Nancy pointed out that it would have been in the side of the neck which probably wouldn't have interfered with his speech.

The housekeeper arrived in the room and went to tell the professor, who was still in bed.  When told of Smith's dying words, the old man didn't have any insight into what it could have meant.

Hopkins arrived soon after and ordered no one to walk on the paths.  Being proud of himself, he reported to Holmes that "[i]t was a splendid chance of putting your theories into practice, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  There was really nothing wanting."  To which Holmes replied bitterly, "Except Mr. Sherlock Holmes."


Hopkins has a chart of the murder scene showing that the study had three entrances, but the murderer had to have come in from the garden path.  The two other exits either lead to the professor's bedroom, or straight into the hallway where the maid would have been.  Hopkins reported that the garden path showed no prints but there were tracks in the grass border off to the side, but he could get no information from them.


Holmes asks, "What did you do, Hopkins, after you had made certain that you had made certain of nothing?"  Rob noted Holmes's bitterness in this early exchange, but at least Watson isn't getting the brunt of it this time.

Hopkins defends himself to Holmes and unveils his big evidence: a golden pince-nez.  Willoughby Smith had excellent sight, so these must belong to the man's murderer.


Holmes looks over the glasses, even trying them on.  He writes his deductions down instead of stating them, though as he usually does.  Madeline offered that Holmes's writing sounds like it started out as a newspaper advertisement but wasn't published.  Robin thought that Holmes changed gears halfway through his writing.  Sonia said it sounded like a profile and Hopkins could use it to share with people.  

John brought up the fact that Doyle mislabeled the prescription of these glasses, even though he was trained in ophthalmology.  Rob cited The Wrong Passage from the BSI Manuscript Series that shows that the original manuscript was changed by editors leading to even further confusion on this topic.  Michael showed his pince-nez and said that they were typically used for magnification.  

Nancy noted that pince-nezes are expandable, so how would Holmes be able to describe the woman's nose?  Shana said that Holmes's description of this woman always reminded her of Mary Sutherland from A Case of Identity.  We discussed Doyle's history as an ophthalmologist.  In fact, he even used his expertise to clear George Edalji in 1907.


Since the majority of people in our meeting were wearing glasses, we took a few minutes to look at our own spectacles and see if they gave away any telltale signs about us.  Madeline talked about the different prescription strengths in her lenses and Heather thought it could reveal the size of someone's head.  Sonia pointed out the cost of the frames could give insight to their wearer and their demeanor based off of how scratched the lenses are.  Steve's nose pieces aren't symmetrical which could help someone describe his nose.  

John brought up that this story in Granada's version of this story substituted Mycroft for Watson and Nancy remembered the great scene between the brothers where Sherlock learns that Mycroft inherited their father's magnifying lens.


Hopkins sleeps over at Baker Street, and the next morning our trio is off to Kent.  On the way, they pass the Thames, and Watson gives a nice callback to The Sign of Four, which doesn't happen too much after Holmes's hiatus.  As readers, we mostly get references to unpublished cases, so it was nice to get a shoutout to one we are actually familiar with.  Bill mentioned that if you look at the chronology of the cases, this would have taken place shortly after Mary Watson would have died, making the mention of SIGN even more important to Watson.

When they arrive at Yoxley Old Place, Holmes looks over the garden path and then into the study.  There he notes that the keyhole in the bureau has scratch marks all around it.  Hopkins dismisses this, saying all keyholes have scratches around them, but Holmes states that these are new.  


GOLD takes place in 1894, and it's nice to see that Hopkins hasn't forgotten this lesson in the following year when he and Holmes are investigating Black Peter, where another lock has been tampered with.

Holmes says that these scratches show that the woman was trying to open the bureau, got caught, and killed Smith.  He also found it very instructive that coconut matting led from the study to the garden AND to the professor's bedroom.  We spent some time talking about coconut matting and how it's still used today.

Professor Coram is described as having a gaunt, aquiline face with piercing dark eyes overhung with tufted brows.  He has white hair and a beard, which is stained yellow, with a cigarette glowing amid the tangle of facial hair.  In a bit of foreshadowing, Coram sounds a lot like the Russian author Leo Tolstoy.

Coram offers his visitor cigarettes made by Ionides of Alexandria.  This led to a short discussion on where these cigarettes were actually from.  Many folks just assume that the cigarettes are from Egypt, but Rob pointed out that Ionides was a dealer in London and that Alexandria, Virginia had a large tobacco crop, while Egypt didn't grow tobacco.  Bill noted that in this case, Alexandria, Egypt could be like the goose in The Blue Carbuncle: it had no crop.


While Coram talks about his studies, Holmes is pacing and smoking around the room.  We discussed Coram's smoking habits and wondered how large his ashtray must have been.

Coram says that his Magnum Opus may never be completed now.  It was to be an analysis of the Coptic monasteries of Syria and Egypt.  It should also be noted that later on Holmes would work on a case dealing with two Coptic patriarchs. in The Retired Colourman.  Bill talked about how the library of Alexandria would have played an important role in Coram's research and Josh connected this to the Coptic gospels.  It was also noted that Doyle spent time in Egypt with both of his wives (but not at the same time).

Holmes redirects Coram to the murder and asks him about Smith's dying words and if he was trying to identify someone.  Coram says, "Susan is a country girl and you know the incredible stupidity of that class."  We discussed if this was more foreshadowing to show that Coram is a despicable person and it is glaring to modern day readers, but would it have stood out to the original audience?  Sandy said probably not because the majority of Strand readers would have been middle class and they felt higher up than the servant class.

After Coram offers up another theory that Smith committed suicide, Holmes tells him, "I promise that we won't disturb you until after lunch.  At 2:00 we will come again."  This is so subtle and brilliant of Holmes to set his trap!

Out in the garden, the housekeeper tells Holmes that despite all of his smoking and yesterday's scandal, the professor has had quite a good appetite.  Hopkins comes back from town and announces that a woman matching Holmes's description was seen in town yesterday and the maid says that Smith was also in town yesterday morning before he was killed.  But none of this information gets much of a rise from Holmes.  In fact, Watson is disturbed by this, saying "I had never known him to handle a case in such a halfhearted fashion."

2:00 arrives and it's time to visit again with the professor.  Once again he offers his visitors cigarettes and Holmes knocks them over like they are a bowl of oranges in The Reigate Squire.  Everyone is on the floor, looking everywhere for where they rolled to, but Holmes is interested in something else on the floor.


He explains to everyone that a woman came to the house to get some documents out of the bureau in the study.  She had her own key, but was interrupted by Smith and he was killed by accident.  She lost her glasses and followed the coconut matting to what she thought was the garden but ended up in Coram's bedroom.  Coram hid the woman behind a bookcase, and she comes out of hiding right on cue.

Hopkins grabs the woman's arm to arrest her but she waves him aside.  Nobody respects Stanley Hopkins in this story!


The lady's name is Anna, and she says that everything Holmes reported is true.  She is Coram's wife from Russia.  They were Nihilists and long ago, a police officer was killed due to their actions.  Coram turned in his wife and other comrades in exchange for his own freedom and a reward.  She has finally been released from her imprisonment in Siberia, but Anna wanted the papers that Coram had that would prove a friend of hers was innocent to free him as well.

Stacey wondered how much influence Russian literature would have had on Conan Doyle as he was writing this story.  Radical Russian groups were very much in the news during the time that this story was being written and the international press had really turned against the Russian monarchy.  Robert pointed out that the Russian industrial revolution would have played into all of this.  Stacey found the last part of the story very interesting that it goes along as a regular Sherlock Holmes story and suddenly become a tale of international politics.

We discussed what an amazing detective Anna would have had to have been to track down a husband in a different country under his new name while he never leaves his house.  Very impressive!  Arthur said there is a great backstory with Anna that could be turned into its own story-within-a-story like Doyle did with some of his novels.  And Andrew pointed out that after her time in Siberia, Anna proved that revenge really was a dish best served cold.

Anna finishes her story and dies from the poison she swallowed before appearing to tell her story.  Rob cited a passage from Brad Keefauver's book, Sherlock Holmes and the Ladies, where he argues that Anna faked her death and Holmes let her get away with the ruse.

Holmes explains that he used the cigarette ashes in front of one of the bookcases that didn't have any piles in front of it as he expected there to be a hiding spot behind such a bookcase.  We all wondered if Shana's room had hiding spots behind her bookcases because her room is a bibliophile's dream, but she showed us that all of her bookcase do in fact have piles of books in front of them.  So she wasn't hiding any Russian Nihilists this weekend.  

Sonia pointed out that Professor Coram was never punished for his actions as long as we know.  It was also noted that Holmes's deductions were similar to the biblically apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon, where David used a similar method to prove that a brass idol was not really a god.

Holmes and Watson deliver Anna's papers to the Russian Embassy as promised.  Stacey and Michael doubted that the new Russian Czar would care much about Anna's diary entries though.  Sonia pointed out that this story is ultimately a tragedy.

Reminder, there will not be a meeting in July as The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis will be hosting their Victorian picnic.  We will see everyone in September!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A Review of The Irregulars by Heather Hinson


I didn’t get to sit down on “opening night” as it were, like I usually do when shows I’m excited to see premiere on streaming channels, my weekend was packed and I kept putting it off for the entire weekend.  So come Monday evening, I had a night of nothing to do which meant I could finally sit down and watch The Irregulars.  It took two nights because there was no way I could stay up until almost 2am on a Monday night to finish the entire thing.  I made it through six episodes with the final two the next evening.  I’d been mildly spoiled by a friend who watched it over the weekend and was all but vibrating to discuss it with me. So here I am, a few days later with pages of notes and wisps of scenes still running through my mind.

Warning, while I will try to keep things vague, there are spoilers (which should be fine as by the time this makes the blog, the one week spoiler ban should be lifted)  You’ve been warned. 


I mean no offense to Nancy Springer and her absolutely wonderful Enola Holmes, because I loved the Netflix interpretation of her first book, but this is not Enola Holmes. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s gruesome, which, if one is featuring a series about a group of teenaged “street rats”, it absolutely should be.  Beatrice, her sister Jessie, and their found family, Billy, Spike and Leo make up the Irregulars, which as mentioned once and so quick you might miss it, are the second group to be called this. The plot mentioned on IMDB and the Wikipedia page is “a group of teens known as The Irregulars work with Doctor John Watson to solve supernatural crimes while Sherlock Holmes gets credit for their work” and that plot summary is utterly incorrect. 

Bea, the unequivocal leader of this group, is the one who is hired by Watson in the beginning but it’s to look at supernatural crimes that “they don’t have time for.', Eventually the series hinges on an overarching issue involving a rift in reality, a supernatural power Jessie has, and Sherlock Holmes himself.


But the further you delve into the series, the more you realize that it’s not just Jessie that has powers.  Sure, her powers are supernatural in nature and genetic, but each Irregular has a strength. Bea has compassion, Billy has strength and protection, Spike has the gift of the gab that can grift anyone, and Leo has clout. Beside her powers, Jessie’s strength becomes the tie that binds them all together. Ultimately, the entire theme of the story seemed to be family. Not so much those who share the same blood as you, but the family you find. The people who stand beside you when the actual world is falling down around you. It was about loss, how people deal with that loss differently, it was about love-familial, platonic, and romantic. It was about sacrifice, how much would you sacrifice for the people you love.




SPOILER ALERT!



The only thing I didn’t really like about this show was the bad guy.  I was uncomfortable that they chose an American Black man from Louisiana from the late 1890’s/ early 1900’s to portray an almost Baron Samedi-esque character. Not that I wanted Moriarty, because that would’ve been trite but perhaps someone other  than a person who could’ve grown up a slave in the South at the time of the first rift. 


Of course, there’s so many other things I can talk about regarding this series; the parallels, the mirroring of characters, the discussion of society, the wealthy vs the poor, especially in regards to drug use, the juxtaposition of characters in settings not usually seen in: Mrs. Hudson was both the landlady and the literal mob boss, The Golden Dawn cult and Mycroft Holmes being secret service, Inspector Lestrade being a papist and almost Cotton Matheresque in his hatred of the supernatural. And of course Doctor John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, whom reminded me of the quote by Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, “either you die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” While the adults are certainly not role models, there is only one true villain in this story...okay two, but one is a run of the mill baddie. 

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, give this a try. It’s not high art, but then again, neither were the original stories.



Tuesday, March 30, 2021

It’s All About the Numbers by Sherry McCowan


The following exchange occurs between two unnamed men in “A Study in Scarlet”:

“‘Tomorrow at midnight,’ said the first, who appeared to be in authority. ‘When the whip-poor-will calls three times.’

“‘It is well,’ returned the other. ‘Shall I tell Brother Drebber?’

“‘Pass it on to him, and from him to the others. Nine to seven!’

“‘Seven to five!’ repeated the other; and the two figures flitted away in different directions.”

Why were the particular numbers in the sign and countersign chosen? In his annotation of the passage, Leslie Klinger refers to Ben Vizoskie’s suggestion that nine to seven and seven to five are a shorthand for segments in the secret, unpublished Book of Mormon. However, I offer a different suggestion, namely that the symbolism in the entire passage is rich in meaning, including that of the call of the Whip-poor-will. 


There are two sets of numbers in the passage, named and unnamed. Those named are three (the number of times the Whip-poor-will calls), five, seven, and nine. The unnamed numbers are two and four.

Unpacking the the sign and countersign first, we find that nine is a multiple of three, which is the second prime number; seven is the fourth prime number; and five is the third. Nine, seven, and five added together equal twenty-one, the factors of which are three and seven. Moreover, the difference between nine and seven and between seven and five is two, which is the first prime number; and two twos equal four.

What is the significance of this? Two represents duality: lightness and darkness; male and female (we know this is not so simple, but 19th-century Mormons would have believed it to be); good and evil; and so on. Four refers, of course, to the Holy Four, the elders in the story.

Three and seven are important in various religions. In Mormonism there are, for example, the requirement for three witnesses and the three Nephite disciples (who don’t die until Christ returns), and there is the Trinity (though Mormons see that slightly differently than mainstream Christians do). 


As for seven, it is the number of days of creation; and it’s the number of times the Israelites circled the walls of the city of Jericho and the number of the day on which they did so. Seven is also the sum of three and four, an interesting account of which can be found in the article “A Study in Seven: Hebrew Numerology in the Book of Mormon (https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/a-study-in-seven-hebrew-numerology-in-the-book-of-mormon/):

Though the origins of this view are shrouded in the past, it is believed that one prime reason the number seven gained this particular symbolism of “perfection and completeness” is that it combines the number three and the number four. The number three symbolized heaven (or the masculine) and the number four represented the earth (or the feminine). As is commonly explained, “Seven symbolizes wholeness in many cultures, being the union of the divinity (three) and the material earth (four).” Seven was regarded as “a holy number yielded by adding the basic number of the masculine, 3, and the basic number of the feminine, 4.” “Because the number seven (the septenary) combines the ternary and quaternary—heaven or divinity and earth or humanity—it unifies the macrocosm and microcosm and signifies cosmic order.”

Concerning the signal, “three” in the exchange refers explicitly to the number of times the Whip-poor-will is expected to call. Implicit is the same number: “Whip-poor-will” has three syllables, and the number of major sounds in the call is three, as well. Three is paired with another significant number, four, as each of the three syllables has four letters. 


Finally, consider the W’s in Whip-poor-will. Inverted, they become M’s, the first letters of two sacred names: Mormon and Moroni. 

And so we have it. The signal and the sign and countersign are a treasure trove of meaning.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

March Meeting: The Three Students


Four countries and countless states were present at this month's meeting as we discussed The Three Students.  News items discussed this month were:

The Beacon Society sponsors it's own version of the Fortescue Scholarship, and you don't need to translate any Greek.

The Irregulars begins this month on Netflix and Heather has a blog post about the online backlash to casting a person of color as Watson.


Stacey had a blog post about the role that tea would have played in Holmes's and Watson's lives.  And a new group of Sherlockian tea lovers has formed on Facebook, called the Tea Brokers of Mincing Lane.

Heather is co-hosting an online convention this month looking at female characters in the Canon and in the BBC Sherlock series, Sherlolicon.  

221B Con will be online April 9-11.

Joe shared that our new pins are available for purchase.  $10 + $2 S/H.

A new Enola Holmes book will be released this summer.

The latest Mars Rover has taken SHERLOC and WATSON to outer space!


The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn meet on March 19.

Sherlockians of Baltimore meet on March 20.

The Priory Scholars of NYC meet on Sunday, April 25.

The Theatre-Goers, Homeward Bound host nearly weekly Sherlockian movie screenings.

And finally, due to CDC and Holmes in the Heartland has been cancelled.  


*********************************************************************************************************


And then it was time to get down to discussing The Three Students!

Rich started the story discussion off with his poem titled, Why I Don't Like the Three Students.

Shana said she wants to know all of the reasons that Holmes and Watson found themselves in a college town doing research that Watson only alludes to.

Bill announced that 3STU takes place in Oxford due to the biblical connections he has found in the text and also said that the second paragraph for this story could qualify for the Bulwer-Lytton award.  Rob, Beth, and Tamar noted just how long the footnotes were for that paragraph in the Klinger Reference Library: two full pages!

Sandy wondered how Watson had known Soames for so long.  Bill noted that Watson graduated from the University of London, so he wouldn't have known Soames from there, but Arthur wondered if Watson and Soames were childhood friends.

Linda shared the theory that 3STU was a conspiracy between Watson and Soames to keep Holmes's mind occupied.  Nancy said that Occam's Razor most likely applied instead of it being a conspiracy.  

Soames convinces Holmes to help him prevent a cheating scandal.  Someone has seen the Greek text of Thucydides to translate for the Fortescue scholarship and he must find out who it is.  Bill cited Lord Donnegall's argument that most scholars would be familiar with Thucydides and wouldn't need to copy the text.  Rich said it would be similar to seeing that the text was on the first four amendments of the Constitution; no need to copy it, just go upstairs and study.  Robert argued that much of Thucydides's writing was on political philosophy.  So maybe Gilchrist would not have been as familiar with it if the text had been on history.


John wondered if Watson had just had a bad run at the horse races and they were avoiding thugs coming to collect their money.  So Watson begged Holmes to find a case that could be written up to pay off his debts.  Bill added that the name of Watson's horse was probably Thucydides!  Steve thought the university wasn't very prestigious, so Watson was trying to hide the name of the town as to not embarrass how dumb the students were.

Sandy said using Thucydides for the Greek translation would be as easy as using Ceasar for Latrin translation: too easy.  Rob noted that Soames's translation was only one part of the Fortescue scholarship, so maybe he had an easier section that year.  Michael wondered if the translation was from different selections of his writing.

Michael also shared with us that he went to the University of Chicago, and their school cheer was:

Themistocles, Thucydides,

The Peloponnesian War,

X squared, Y squared,

H2SO4.

Who for? What for?

Who we gonna yell for?

Go, Maroons!


After a sidetrack into the walking tours of Chicago crime, we were back to our story.

Arthur wondered about how quickly Gilchrist was able to get his commission in the Rhodesian police.  Elaine and Sandy thought that he had enlisted in the police, but was going to go ahead with the Fortescue scholarship in case he would be able to win.  Edith said that the Rhodesian commission would make him a Rhodes Scholar.

We turned our attention to Bannister, and Randy and Steve led a discussion about forgetting where you left your keys.  Shana noted that this character was named after an architectural feature that blends into the wallpaper and Sandy said that a bannister is something you lean on, which Gilchrist had to do.  Andy said it was good that he wasn't named after the flying buttress.

The clues left in Soames's office were a scratch in his side table, pencil shavings, and clay.  David wondered how Gilchrist's shoe would only leave one tear in the desk instead of multiple.  Holmes decides that this was a crime of happenstance.  


Randy wondered if Bannister had done this on purpose to help Gilchrist.  Steve disagreed with that idea but Randy said Bannister was pretty jittery.  Shana said Bannister would have immediately realized how bad this all made him look.  We debated whether or not Soames or the university would have known if Bannister had worked for the Gilchrist family previously.

Elaine pointed out how snarky Holmes was towards Watson a few times in this story.  Shana cited Watson saying how out-of-place Holmes felt when he wasn't in Baker Street and wondered how miserable he was during the Great Hiatus.  Rob countered that Holmes was fine in a stone hut in Dartmoor and Monica said she can get a little testy without her creature comforts.  Steve said Holmes was in a bad mood because solving a kid stealing answers to a test would put someone of Holmes's status in a bad mood.  

Sandy wondered if it was just because his research on English charters wasn't going well.  Robin pointed out that Holmes said in HOUN that he had a knowledge of charters and many charters would have been lesser copies of the originals, and Holmes was mad that he was working with poor quality documents.


Andrew shared a theory that Holmes was in a bad mood because 3STU took place over Holmes's birthday, which he thinks is April 5.  Brad piggybacked on that theory that Holmes was in town for his birthday, visiting someone named Hilton Soames, which sounded a lot like "Sherlock Holmes" and Watson says that he's known Soames for some time.  "Hilton Soames" is a pseudonym for the third Holmes brother and the only reason Holmes took such a trifle of a case was to help his brother.  Shana said that name wasn't any worse than Sherrinford.  

Steve said he thought that many times the attitude that Holmes takes in the stories could be related to the attitude that the author was in during this time.  Right around the time that 3STU was written, Doyle had lost a cricket match.  Randy said that Doyle was always under pressure to turn in his next story.  Rob noted that stories collected in "The Return" weren't anything that Doyle wanted to write any more.

Monica shared that a brand of shampoo and conditioner is made by a company called Gilchrist-Soames.  

After a handful of people bagged on 3STU, Michael offered up that he once wrote a paper about what he DID like about the story.  3STU shows that British universities forwarded young men who already had a leg up in their social standing.  Even the foreign student, Dulat Ras, would have been from a well-to-do Indian family.  Michael argued that Holmes's bad attitude was that he disapproved of the British university system.  Srini supported Michael's statement of Ras, saying that Indian students would have had to paid to travel and live in England for their studies, and would then return to their home to administer in local politics.


In discussing the titular three students, we talked about Watson's depiction of Ras.  Srini said Watson was probably scarred by his time in India.  Arthur opened up a discussion about all of the bad characters who come from British colonies and John talked about how the colonies were used to ship people off to as punishment.  Madeline shared that the However Improbable podcast talked about the role of the colonies in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Nancy noted that the three students showed different demographics of university students of the time.  Lou shared some research he had done into who Fortescue was and why a prize was named after him.  He found that a 17th century scholar had that name and wrote legal texts in Latin.  Beth said that the exam would probably have been over the Classics, which would have also included Latin.  Nancy said she thought that it would have also included philosophy, archaeology, geometry, and literature.

Arthur asked if there had been adaptations other than the radio shows.  Michael cited the Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia and said that there was also a silent film version, starring Ellie Norwood.


Rob wondered if this story would have been better liked if this story included a good, old-fashioned murder.  Shana pointed out that Watson changed the names in this story, but supposedly left so many other people's reputations wide open for speculation in his other stories.

We debated whether or not Bannister was an honorable servant.  Shana said he was caught between two positions and navigated the situation as honorably as he could.  Nancy found his dedication to a dead master was odd, but honorable.  Robert said that honor meant a very different thing 125 years ago.  

Robert compared Bannister to Brunton in MUSG, who was fired for looking at his master's papers.  Beth said that Soames was originally upset with Bannister for the unpardonable sin of rifling through his papers.  And Steve said that the servants in HOUN weren't fired even after they had aided and abetted an escaped criminal.  Brad noted that the bar for an "honorable" servant couldn't have been that high.  Beth said that you had to trust your servants because you had no other choice!  Shana said Charles Augustus Milverton was always lurking to help out your upset servant.

Rob wrapped up the discussion with Holmes's statement, "For once you have fallen low.  Let us see in the future how high you can rise."  You can almost hear the violins swelling swelling under that line.

Our next meeting will be on May 8 to discuss The Golden Pince-Nez.  Zoom at once if convenient!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Holmes in the Heartland Cancellation

Holmes in the Heartland has been cancelled for 2021.  


CDC and St. Louis county advisories make it very unlikely that we would be able to safely put on an event that would be worth everyone's time and travel.  Anyone who has prepaid for their registration will receive a refund this week.


We want Sherlockians to be able to experience St. Louis to the fullest and enjoy their time with friends.  When we can safely put on such a gathering, we will be back!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Why I Don't Like the Three Students by Rich Krisciunas

The Canon’s stories have been rated and ranked

by Conan Doyle, Sherlockians and the rest.   

In Watson’s retelling of the adventures   

This one’s definitely not close to the best.  


A half chapter of Thucydides copied. Oh my!! (Big deal)

There’s no murder, no blackmail or ransom to pay.

No vampire, snake bite or secret society. 

No one’s kidnapped or poisoned. There’s no foul play.


No Irene’s or Violets. No ladies at all. 

No client climbs the seventeen steps at Baker Street.

No hasty rides on trains or traps or hansom cabs.

The weather’s fine. Not even a threat of fog or sleet.


No hiding in the dark or amputated thumbs.

No ladies found in coffins to heighten the suspense.

No secret papers stolen or wrongs to avenge.

There’s not a single shooting done in self-defense!


Let’s peruse the story a little more closely.  

Somebody has eyeballed the tutor Soames’ test. 

Holmes’ plan to study early English Charters

Was cut short so he could attempt what he does best.


The three suspects were living on the floors above

However, we barely heard any of them speak. 

There’s no interaction. Few details about them.  

Admit it, their character development’s weak. 


There’s the Indian; “inscrutable and quiet.”  

There’s rude Miles McLaren who won’t open his door,  

A guy named Gilchrist who doesn’t have a first name!  

Why couldn’t we have learned just a little bit more?


But the biggest flaw in Watson’s writing  

Is the question of why Holmes got involved? 

If he’d remained back at the library.

This is a case that would still have been solved.


While Holmes spied a pencil and sawdust from a shoe

The butler correctly identified the cheat, 

The thief confessed and packed his bags to Rhodesia, 

Way before Holmes’ investigation was complete.


I thank all of you for listening patiently

Hopefully you’re convinced and I think you’ll agree  

Watson’s other stories are all so much better.  

Any way you read it, this one’s all Greek to me