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25th Anniversary
MHS Press
Meeting Notices
The Mycroft Holmes Society (1971 1986)

[Taken from a speech given by Randall Brune at a joint meeting of the MHS and the Syracuse chapter of the Victorian Society in the United States in 1986. Ed]

Millions of admirers of Sherlock Holmes believe that he was a real person. Born in 1854, he practiced with Dr. Watson at 221B Baker Street from 1890 to 1903 when he retired to the Sussex Downs and the keeping of bees. True devotees of the world's greatest detective, in fact, believe that he is still alive on the Downs and to this day is occasionally consulted by Scotland Yard detectives when they find themselves in deep waters. Such faith is not only a matter of individual or even collective eccentricity. On Baker Street today, in the block where 221B once stood, is the headquarters of Great Britain's largest real estate institution, The Abbey National Bank and Loan Society. This firm employs a full time secretary/receptionist to answer the thousands of letters sent to Holmes and Watson each year, and to greet the hundreds of pilgrims who annually pay homage to this immortal pair.

Because true believers recognize that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are real persons, they are also convinced that it is Watson, as he himself points out on numerous occasions, who is the author of the 56 stories and 4 novels chronicling some of Sherlock Holmes cases. Strictly speaking, since Sherlock and his brother Mycroft are the narrators of three of the stories, it's assumed they also wrote them, but if so it's clear they wrote them in Watson's singular style. Where does that leave Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you may well ask, the sometime eye doctor, author of several wooden historical novels and the more successful Dr. Challenger stories, and believer in spiritualism? Sherlockians recognize that Doyle was indeed Watson's literary agent, and that either through the publisher's mistake or chicanery of the worst kind, he is widely thought to be the author of the 60 adventures.

Four years after Doyle's death in 1930, when it become apparent that the myth of Doyle's authorship was likely to be perpetuated, two international organizations were founded to set the record straight and, more generally, to study the Watson Canon, to keep the memory of the Baker Street years ever green, and to share the convivial company of kindred spirits at such annual events as the Master's birthday each January 6th. Some indication of their collective productivity and that of countless affiliated students of the Canon can be had from the mere size of the 1974 World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson by Ronald DeWaal. It has more than 6000 annotated entries, yet acknowledges it is incomplete; and in the years since its appearance there have been thousands more publications, movies, TV films, audio and video tapes.

[The more recent The Universal Sherlock Holmes by the same author and published in 1994 contains in excess of 1.28 million words and 1324 pages in four volumes. Ed.]

The older of the two organizations is the Baker Street Irregulars, founded in 1933 by Christopher Morley, Elmer Davis, Rex Stout, and other frequenters of the Algonquin Hotel in NYC. The BSI has more than 120 chapters, or scion societies, in 40 of the United States, in Canada, and in Hong Kong... [Over 400 by today's count. Ed.]

In 1971 Mr. Gerald Clark had a letter published in the Syracuse Post Standard and the Syracuse Herald-Journal inviting others to join him in founding a local Sherlock Holmes club as a chapter of the BSI.

Of the five* founding members four are still active in the MHS; the fifth, the late Lawrence Siegfried of Syracuse University's old School of Journalism, is still sorely missed by Mycroftians. Larry was old enough to have read as a boy the first Sherlock Holmes stories published in America, in Collier's Magazine and to have pestered the mailman about the delivery dates of issues with Sherlock Holmes installments, to have visited Baker Street when number 221 was still standing, and to have seen William Gillette in his play about Sherlock Holmes which toured the country for the first 20 years of this century. (The only other than genial remarks Larry ever made about things Sherlockian were his criticisms of Basil Rathbone's portrayal of the great detective, and his impatience with the rest of us for whom Rathbone's film image was Sherlock Holmes.)

Membership in the Mycroft Holmes Society over the years has been as high as 60, but more recently seems to have stabilized at about 25, always including teenagers and octogenarians as well as all those between. Among our local members have been three "investiture" members of national organizations that is, three who in recognition of their Holmesian accomplishments have been invited to join the Baker Street Irregulars, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (the last when she was 16).

[The number of founding members, like the location of Watson's wound, varies in the telling of this history because of a controversial move by Gerry Clark to exclude women from participation in the first meetings. This policy did not last into the public meetings, as we will see. Alas only one of the founding members is still with us as of this writing. Ed.]

The activities of the Mycroft Holmes Society seem to have fallen into two broad patterns: in the 1970s Mycroftians were more often than not an inward looking group, reading and discussing, and sometimes publishing papers, listening to records, and watching films, we did, however, in our first year make an official excavation at the site of the Old Wieting Opera House on Clinton Square where, with the help of an architect member, we located the basement dressing rooms of the old theater.

In 1899, William Gillette opened the pre Broadway run of his Sherlock Holmes play at the Opera House and it seemed appropriate to the Mycroft Holmes Society to remove a brick from one of the arches of that historic building. This brick is one of two "sacred stones" belonging to the Mycroft Holmes Society.

[Now called the "Blesse'd Brick". Ed.]

The more typical activity in the 70's however, was the exchange of papers on the Canon and on allied topics. The best of which were presented as Hilton Cubitt Memorial Lectures named in honor of one of two clients Holmes lost during his career. Among those in this distinguished series have been papers on:

"A Walking Tour of Holmes' London"
"The Sociological Holmes"
"The Feminist Holmes"
"The Hungarian Connection"
"The Cortland Connection"
“Was Watson jack the Ripper?”

In the 80's the Mycroft Holmes Society continued to produce papers and watch videotapes and movies, but we also seem to have turned more outward, making many pilgrimages to places near and distant of Sherlockian significance, and even holding a public symposium in 1983 on the charge in Science Magazine that Conan Doyle (the Literary Agent) was responsible for the Piltdown hoax. In respect to the last, it's worthy of note that the Mycroft Holmes Society was so aggressive in its defense of Doyle that the opposition was reduced to total silence!, and this despite the fact that Mycroftians, like Sherlockians everywhere, believe that Doyle was indeed a scoundrel for claiming to have written the Sherlock Holmes stories. Responsibility for one hoax of global significance in a lifetime is enough for any man, and if Piltdown Man really was a moden ape with doctored teeth, we are convinced Sir Arthur was innocent even if he was at the scene of the crime, and even if he had a motive, and even if he had chemicals, implements, and expertise.

Two Mycroftians made a pilgrimage to Switzerland in 1983 to visit the scene of what for many years was thought to be the death of Sherlock Holmes at the hands of Professor Moriarty: Reichenbach Falls. It was Moriarty who perished at Reichenbach, however, and tourists can see a plaque commemorating the event, placed there by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. For the Mycroft Holmes Society, our members brought back through customs a memento, our other "sacred stone" a very lethal looking rock taken at great risk from the plunge basin of the falls in the late autumn when there is almost no flow of water.

[A second "sacred stone" resides in the Arthur Conan Doyle Room of the Toronto Metropolitian Library. A gift of the MHS. Ed.]

Among other pilgrimages in recent years have been:

  • Two to The Arthur Conan Doyle Room at the Toronto Reference Library as well as to the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant in Toronto.

  • Several High Teas in Cazenovia, Syracuse, and Camillus.

  • Gillette's Castle in Connecticut.

  • Professor Moriarty's Restaurant in Saratoga, NY.

  • A weekend at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks, the site of Chester Gillette's murder of Grace Brown, and where the Mycroft Holmes Society after exercising its best Sherlockian Skills did, indeed, discover fresh evidence.

    The Mycroft Holmes Society will be returning to Toronto for the third time this June, [1986] to participate in a four day symposium of international Sherlockians sponsored by the Bootmakers, and we will of course visit the Municipal Library's duplication of the 221B sitting room, eat at the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant, and drink more than one toast to "the Woman."

To contact the Mycroft Holmes Society, Email Joseph Coppola.