The View from Sherlock Peoria (4)

 

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The Sherlock Peoria Walking Tour . . .

Attracting tourism seems to be primary goal of any city, regardless of size. Peoria is no different, although we seem to have a hard time focussing on just what should draw a tourist to our pleasant little burg of 115,000. The river’s quite nice, but a lot of town’s have rivers. And Abraham Lincoln just didn’t spend as much time here as in some of the other Illinois towns. Sometimes, however, big tourist draws can be built from numerous small attractions . . . and with that thought in mind, Sherlock Peoria is proud to our own little entertainment for the Sherlockian traveller.

After our extensive centennial display for The Hound of the Baskervilles at the main branch of the Peoria Public Library, one civic-minded citizen suggested that we contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau about a more permanent display. But The Hound of the Baskervilles is best claimed by southwest Britain’s tourism department. Sherlock Holmes himself is best claimed by London. The Baker Street Irregulars are part and parcel of New York City. Sherlockiana as a whole is better represented in Minneapolis and Toronto. So what does that leave Peoria with?

Well, the Sherlock Peoria Walking Tour, that’s what.

The tour starts not far from Peoria’s geographic center, near Lakeview Museum, and the tour bus unloads in front of a middle-sized white house with a one car garage on a gently curving street called Devon Lane. The address on the house reads 4106.

In March of 1976, a two line notice appeared near the end of the scion reports in The Baker Street Journal. In those days, The Baker Street Journal was the central communication source for all of American Sherlockiana, in a way that’s hard to imagine in modern times. The internet, easy desktop publishing, and regular editorial changes at the Journal itself have all weakened its position over the years, but back then it was the happening place to communicate with your fellow Sherlockians, and the two line notice in the Journal ran thus:

"Philip Jose Farmer (4106 Devon Lane, Peoria IL 61614) is interested in forming a new Scion and would like to hear from those interested."

Philip Jose Farmer was, and is, an award-winning science fiction writer best known for his Riverworld and World of Tiers serieses. It’s been a long time since he’s lived in that little white house on Devon Lane, but it was there that he first came up with the idea of having a Sherlock Holmes society in Peoria, Illinois, and it was there he set that idea into motion.

Our tour then travels down the sidewalk for two houses to 4010 Devon Lane.

Even though the advertisement for starting a Peoria Sherlockian society appeared in March of 1976, it would not be until October of 1977 that the man who lived in this particular house decided that he was tired of waiting for the ever-busy Farmer to call the first meeting to order, and did so himself.

So it was that on November 17 th, 1977, Robert C. Burr hosted the very first meeting of The Hansoms of John Clayton at this very site, 4010 Devon Lane. Burr would go on to lead the Hansoms for twenty-three years. He would publish the scion’s journal, Wheelwrightings, from this site, as well as the original Plugs & Dottles newsletter. And if the garage door is open, you can see his car with the license plate "SHURLOK" upon it.

If you look through the space between Burr’s house and his neighbor’s, you will see a two story gray house that will be the next step on our tour: the home base of the Sherlock Peoria website, The Holmes & Watson Report, and the current club secretary of the Hansoms (rumor has it that Burr would not turn over the reins of the group until someone moved into this neighborhood). We have to walk around the block to get a closer look, but it’s a very short walk. In fact the whole Sherlock Peoria walking tour is short enough for senior citizens, small children, and pregnant women.

It may be a while before we get the walking tour maps and cassette players with headsets ready for self-guided tours, but as you can see, the Sherlock Peoria Walking Tour is already an attraction worthy of any Sherlockian visitor to Peoria . . . well, at least it’s better than it’s nearest Sherlockian competition in Peoria: that one shelf of books in the antique mall that I wrote about two weeks ago.

 

Your humble correspondent,
Brad Keefauver