The View from Sherlock Peoria (24)


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Philip Jose Farmer and the Pre-historic Hansoms of John Clayton. . .

Even beginnings have beginnings.

When Peoria’s Sherlock Holmes society held its first meeting under the banner of “The Hansoms of John Clayton,” the idea of a Peoria club by that name was already well established. How well established? Well, its actual genesis might be said to go back to the days when a young Peoria boy named Phil Farmer was reading everything he could on his favorite heroes of the pulps and classic literature.

Among Phil’s heroes were the likes of Tarzan, Doc Savage, and Sherlock Holmes, and even though he would create a legion of characters of his own as he grew to be a best-selling author, he would return again and again to his heroes in his works. His biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage have yet to be matched, and the Wold Newton genealogy that he constructed tying together the bloodlines of so many of the world’s great heroes and villains is still lovingly tinkered with by fans worldwide. And in the 1970s, when so many jumped on the Sherlock Holmes bandwagon after Nicholas Meyer’s success with The Seven Per Cent Solution in 1974, Phil was already there with The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, which came out the same year as the Meyer book.

In The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson met Tarzan of the apes, a crossover that should have surprised nobody who was familiar with Farmer’s work. Two years before in his biography of Tarzan, Tarzan Alive, Phil had already established that the jungle lord’s family had wandered through the cases of Sherlock Holmes more than once. In fact, building on a theory by H.W. Starr, Farmer had even become firm in the belief that a cabdriver from The Hound of the Baskervilles name John Clayton was Tarzan’s grandfather.

Sherlock Holmes was never far from Phil Farmer’s mind in the mid-1970s — but then, it seemed a time when the public at large couldn’t get enough of the great detective. A sequel to Peerless Peer, The Trail of the Irish Bull, was even announced in a publication called Vector, but never came to pass. The one sequel to Farmer’s Holmes-Tarzan crossovers that did come to pass, however, began with notes in two publications:

From The North Peoria Observer, January 7, 1976: “Farmer is starting a chapter of the Holmes fan club in Peoria .”

From The Baker Street Journal, March 1976: “Philip José Farmer (4106 Devon Lane, Peoria, IL 61614) is interested in forming a new Scion and would like to hear from those interested.”

It should be noted that four lines preceding the above statement in the Journal was a notice that a college student named George Scheetz was the “Acting Murray” of the newly formed college-based scion, the Double-Barrelled Tiger Cubs, in Urbana, Illinois. George was, quite naturally, reading that page with interest, saw Phil’s notice and contacted him.

The notice in The North Peoria Observer did not go without at least one very important reader as well. Phil’s neighbor from 4010 Devon Lane, just two houses down, saw the mention of a new Holmes club in that publication. And while Phil was building a very big pile of Sherlockian tinder in Peoria, it was going to take that neighbor, Bob Burr, to strike the spark that set it all on fire . . . a fire that was still well over a year and a half away.

Phil wrote of the people who contacted him in his introduction to The Adventures of Herlock Sholmes by Peter Todd later in 1976:

“Recently, I decided to found a scion chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars in my home town, Peoria, Illinois. This is ‘The Hansoms of John Clayton’ — a title happily combining my passion for Sherlock Holmes and Lord Greystoke, born as John Clayton, better known as Tarzan. . . . A local newspaper published an interview of me, incidentally noting that I was forming the scion. The response was startling. Apparently, Holmes plays well in Peoria.”

One has to wonder whether it was the number of people responding that was startling, or just the appearance of characters like George Scheetz and Bob Burr. The Hansoms had a name, but the club still didn’t have members or meetings.

George Scheetz moved to Peoria in February of 1977 and talked further with Farmer about getting the club started, but still nothing happened. Notable Sherlockians John Bennett Shaw and Ted Schultz stopped in Peoria in August of 1977 and had dinner with Farmer and Scheetz, and still nothing happened. (Though in his 1987 chronology of the Hansoms, Scheetz calls that dinner “the first scion-related event.”) On October 27 of that year, Bob Burr called Farmer and Scheetz to set up a meeting at his own home for a few weeks later. Then something happened. (And knowing Bob, I’m surprised he waited that long!)

On November 17, 1977,it finally happened.

The Hansoms of John Clayton become a group, had a meeting, and fulfilled the destiny started with a young Peoria Sherlock Holmes fan named Phil Farmer years before.

Your humble correspondent,
Brad Keefauver