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The University of Minnesota hosts the best Sherlock Holmes conferences. The only complaint I can find out their events is that they only occur every three years. This year’s conference, The Spirits of Sherlock Holmes, was no different. The tri-annual conference began on Thursday evening with a welcoming party hosted by Julie McKuras and her husband Mike. Every detail planned and executed with the precision of a movie-set S.W.A.T. team, down to the drivers provided to shuttle hotel guests out to suburbia-land, where Julie and Mike live. Tom Gottwalt drew the short straw and was my assigned driver for the evening. Many thanks go out to him for his troubles.
Nearly sixty Sherlockian gathered for the evening. The McKuras’ own Baskerville Hall teemed with good liquid refreshments, gooder (sic) food, and goodest (sic) Sherlockian conversation. Pods formed and unformed before reforming as everyone caught up with each other. It was live Facebook without the dial-up. This event always sets the stage for the rest of the weekend and if Thursday night was a true indicator, everyone was in for marvelous time. As the evening grew on, people began drifting upstairs to the library. We were all looking for the same thing, the four (1887) Beeton’s Christmas Annuals that Julie reportedly owns, reportedly, because that is what was written in an article that appeared in Thursday’s Star Tribune. The nicely written article gave flattering review of the Sherlock Holmes group, The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, quoting several members including P. J. Doyle, Gary Thaden, and Julie. Then about three-quarters down, the second page it states Julie owns four Beeton's Christmas Annuals.
Friday morning at 11 o’clock registration opened. The vendor tables ringed the room at the Elmer L. Anderson Library on the campus of The University of Minnesota. The adjacent room held a remarkable exhibition of Sherlockiana where attendees could gather and be thoroughly entertained while drooling over each display case and other Sherlockians. Promptly, at 1:15, the conference kicked off with opening remarks and introductions but before the fun started, it became known that the Apple Valley S.W.A.T. team had raided the McKuras’ home looking for the missing Beeton’s Christmas Annuals.
Ray Betzner, BSI, followed as the day’s initial speaker with “221B: A Study in Starrett.” During the next hour, he dissected line-by-line Vincent Starrett’s immortal poem 221-B, including readings of the poem by Starrett and Basil Rathbone. By the paper’s end, everyone in the audience knew why it is always 1895. The following topic, “The Current State of Affairs” was a panel discussion. Neil McGraw, the Richard Lancelyn Green Archives; Catherine Cooke, BSI, ASH, the Marylebone’s Library Sherlock Holmes Collection; Peggy Perdue, BSI, the Toronto Public Library’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection; and Tim Johnson, Sherlock Holmes Collection at the University of Minnesota, each gave an update on their collections. The last speaker was Steven Rothman, BSI. He gave a rousing and enthusiastic history lesson title “Stranded on the Shelves: A Leaf through The Saturday Review.”
Many attendees stayed for the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections Meeting and those that did saw Tim Johnson receive a very special award. He became the first endowed, E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections and Curator of Special Collections and Rare Book. The evening’s finale was a lovely Garden Party hosted by Richard J. Sveum. It was a special treat, indeed, getting to visit Dick’s marvelous library and have a wonderful dinner.
Saturday’s speakers began promptly at 9:00 o’clock with Gideon Hill, MD, BSI. His talked “Vintage and Spirited” brought everyone out of his or her seats with laughter. He forewarned the group and then proceeded to show that Dr. Watson was an alcoholic that could produce medical miracles through his heart (you just had to be there). Following next, the same panel of librarians from the day before discussed “Future Direction”. Each panelist gave a synopsis of where the future of his or her perspective libraries planned to be the coming years. Russell Merritt, BSI slated to speak on “The Curious Case of Holmes in Silent Film” was unable to attended, having recently broken his leg while he was hiking in the Alps. In keeping true to his profession, knowing the show must go on, Russell sent his slides and paper to Julie McKuras, who filled as perfect as any understudy could.
After lunch, things heated up with a good natured debate between Richard J. Sveum, MD, BSI and Jon L. Lellenberg, BSI on “The Great Game: A Debate Covering the Founding of Sherlockian Scholarship.” Dick giving his convincing evidence for Ronald A. Knox as starting the game and Jon is disregarding him as a minor influence. Most of those in attendance sided with Dick and Knox but they made have just been afraid of Jon. They both made valid points for and against their perspective viewpoints. The bell saved the day as time ran out just before issuing the single sticks to the combatants so they could settle it once and for all. Les Klinger, BSI followed and barely mentioned Dracula. “Sherlock Holmes and the Spirit of Detective Fiction” was, as Les referenced, Canonical for a change. Talking about the origins of ASH, Evelyn Herzog reminded everyone of how things once were. “Boy and Girls Together”, her talks title, shed light of the historical struggle for equality among the Sherlockians.
The day’s final event was at the Wilson Library across campus with a visit to the late Alan Mackler’s 221B’s Sitting Room and some of his treasures such as Sidney Paget and Fredrick Dorr Steele illustrations. This was after some heart felt remarks about Alan from Paul Martin, MD, BSI and Jon L. Lellenberg, BSI. The banquet dinner was held back at the hotel and after a round of toasts SherlockPeoria’s own Brad Keefauver presented the after dinner talks. The room was stunned into silence before breaking into a round of nervous laughter following Brad bombshell delivered in his talk. Those not in attendances will need to ask Brad about his research’s final problem.
I have failed to report that throughout the conference, continued updates were give regarding the McKuras’ problem with the Apple Valley, Minnesota S.W.A.T. squad. Much to everyone’s pleasure, the Police downgraded Julie and Mike from suspects to simply persons of interest. We wish them all the best.
Sunday started with Tim Reich’s talk on Le Horla’s haunting of Sherlock Holmes as the reason behind his dwindling caseload report by Watson just prior to the Great Hiatus. S. E. Dahlinger was on semi-best behavior in explaining her haunting of various libraries researching the Gillette Sherlock Holmes play. The conference ended after the performance by The Red-Throated League of the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota. Holding with tradition, the last event is a radio play by the group and this year they staged “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” was dedicated the late Wayne Swift, BSI, as his investiture into the BSI was The Giant Rat of Sumatra. Then, just like that, it was over. The large crowd mulled around, saying good-byes for another half hour, not wanting to let go because the entire weekend was such massive fun and nobody wanted it to end.
Plan ahead because the game will be afoot in another three years. The Minnesota conference is always the best of the best. This year’s event was no difference nor I expect will be the next one in 2013. I have already circled by calendar.
Past 2009 Columns