The View from Sherlock Peoria (103)
May 23, 2004
Even though good old Peoria doesn't appear in any of Watson's chronicles of Sherlock Holmes, you will find us at the center of a sort of "Sher-muda" triangle of Sherlockian significance. At the base of the triangle is the beginning of the Canon, A Study in Scarlet. At the peak of the triangle is the chronological end of that same body of work, "His Last Bow." While St. Louis and Chicago appear multiple times, the little town of Nauvoo just plays one very small, very historical part. While Jefferson Hope, the villain of Holmes and Watson's case came from St. Louis, his victims, Stangerson and Drebber, had their origins in Nauvoo. And that is where the good Carter and I went adventuring this weekend.
Even though Nauvoo is nearer to Sherlock Peoria than either of our other two Sherlockian neighbors, we had, oddly enough, never wandered that way before. Apparently we're not the only Sherlockians to ignore it: David Hammer wanders far and wide across Sherlock America in his travel book, To Play The Game, but somehow doesn't seem to wander into Nauvoo. (Probably too local to his own stomping ground, Dubuque, Iowa, to be very interesting.) Why might Sherlockians ignore Nauvoo? Well, it's a bit like the way we don't really celebrate Steve Dixie the bad stereotype black guy from "The Adventure of the Three Gables." Nauvoo's place in the Sherlock Holmes stories involves a bit of British anti-Mormonism from the 1880s.
Joseph Stangerson and Enoch J. Drebber, both of whom first appear in A Study in Scarlet as dead bodies, spent their childhood years in Nauvoo, living through religious persecution like we don't see (hopefully!) in modern America. As mere boys, they heard of the leader of their faith, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, being murdered in a Carthage, Illinois jail on June 27, 1844. Less than two years later, in February 1846, Brigham Young reduced the population of Nauvoo from around twenty thousand to two thousand by leading all the Mormons capable of leaving Nauvoo, including Stangerson (then twelve) and Drebber (then about ten) on a caravan westward.
About seventy miles down the Missippi River from Nauvoo is Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens), where all the details of Twain's childhood in the mid-1800s are explored and celebrated. As Samuel Clemens and Joseph Stangerson were both born in 1835, one can almost see young Joseph Stangerson and chubby Enoch J. Drebber as the Nauvoo Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. (A picture that becomes even closer to reality when one considers that both fellows were kicked out of Salt Lake City as adults -- these kids were probably at least as rambunctious as Tom and Huck.)
Nauvoo, when you arrive there, is a very unusual town. Instead of the isolated small town struggling to eke out a tourist trade with locals selling tickets to wander a few dusty old buildings, you'll find a town whose history has had the attentions of an entire religious denomination pumped into its study. Of course, there is a definite angle to things as a result. They say that history is written by the winners, and the Latter Day Saints, once fleeing the hostility of the locals, have definitely returned as winners. The buildings don't seem dusty at all . . . at least as far as I could see.
The problem was that I've been spending too much time near the evil influences of a certain fellow columnist, and "historically-interested Brad" was quickly overpowered by "book-hunting Brad." It didn't help matters any that the little town of Nauvoo had a really nice little old bookstore in the center of town, the Old House Bookstore. There, among other treasures, I picked up the one copy of A Study in Scarlet that I saw in Nauvoo, just because it seemed appropriate. It was a first volume of Collier's The Works of A. Conan Doyle series that had seen better days, but what better souvenir of Nauvoo could a Sherlockian ask for?
But that was just the start. We'd seen a note pinned to a shelf in a Fort Madison antique mall that read: "Green Hat Bookstore, Saturday 9 to 5. South on Rt. 96 to Nauvoo-Colusa High School. Left on Nauvoo-Colusa blacktop. 5 miles to Book sign on building." Even with those directions, I had to slam on the brakes to keep from missing the driveway . . . Green Hat Bookstore wasn't in anything resembling a town. If I had thought Archer City was a remote spot during my Dallas trip, that was only because I hadn't been to Green Hat, a bookstore nestled in the middle of miles and miles of just-planted farmland.
The trip was well worth it. Green Hat had plenty of Doyle pirate editions. Publisher names like Mershon Company, A.L. Burt, Lupton, Appleton, and Street & Smith appeared on spines, and uncommon titles like My Friend, The Murderer and Through the Magic Door appeared there as well. It was the kind of haul you don't see any more in this age of eBay.
We did eventually make it to the Carthage jail where the Prophet Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob -- don't think it totally turned into a book-hunt. We also stayed at a hotel in Fort Madison that I'll recommend to any Sherlockian headed Nauvoo way. The Kingsley Inn is a great recreation of a Victorian hotel, reminding me of the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, Colorado -- except newer. Put the name of the Kingsley Inn together with its companion restaurant, Alpha's on the Riverfront, and you get a great Canonical destination. The good Carter remarked that the Kingsley would be the perfect spot for a Sherlockian conference someday, and I have to agree. (Check it out at www.kingsleyinn.com.)
We had a great Sherlockian weekend there, and you know how it is, you just want to share the fun.
Your humble correspondent,