Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christ on Silver Blaze

C7771. -- A2714. Christ, Jay Finley. "Silver Blaze: An Identification (as of 1893 A.D.)," BSJ [OS], 4, No. 1 (January 1949), 12-15. "It is upon the horse Common that our nomination falls for prototype of Silver Blaze."

Perhaps Jay Finley Christ is better known for his four letter system of identifying each story in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes—the original 60 narratives of Dr. Watson—than as a top notch scholar in his own right. The “Christ Codes” for “A Scandal in Bohemia” become SCAN; The Hound of the Baskervilles becomes HOUN, and so on through the Canon. One should note that this article was published in 1949, and was most likely typed on a typewriter. For our younger readers, one might refer to a typewriter as a cast iron keyboard without correct type. Thus, it required one to roll the paper upward, and then physically erase a typo, or misspelled word, etc., with a rubber eraser with a stiff bristled bush attached to whisk away the residue before it dropped into the keys. Then one had to roll the typing paper down until, if one was lucky, it matched the keys on the typewriter. The typewriters of the time usually had one font, courier. In short, having to retype the entire title of any of the 60 stories repeatedly sans errors was very difficult.
    Professor Christ was in fact a professor of law at the University of Chicago and a Sherlockian scholar of the first order. In 1949, he was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars as “The Final Problem.” However, today, we are going to look at his reflections on “Silver Blaze,” The article consisted of three pages in The Baker Street Journal, but it illustrates why Christ is held in such high esteem as a Sherlockian scholar. His purpose was to find if there was a real horse, a real race, and whether said horse was from Isonomy—as Holmes states in Watson’s narrative.
    His research began with data from the story—the name of a horse. He discovered that for “his own part, Isonomy himself was brilliant enough, famous enough, and, indeed, real enough, to satisfy the story and the student.”(BSJ, p12).  With this fact established, his next step was to find a progeny of Isonomy that would fit the bill of Silver Blaze. If such a horse existed, he was well on the way to proving the horse was real, the race was real, thus Sherlock Holmes is real.
    However, the year is 1948. His search could not begin on the internet. The internet had not been invented. Today, all one must do is Google Isonomy and the answer is at your fingertips. He had to ferret out each fact at the library. He perused several Whitaker’s Almanacs. “In those pages, the first appearance of Common is in the volume for 1892, the very year of Watson’s writing of Silver Blaze.” This discovery seems commonplace to the modern researcher, but the discovery of the horse was just the tip of the iceberg. Other sources had to be examined in order to establish that this was “Silver Blaze.” This would mean those particular volumes were a part of a series of hard copy Almanac’s the author gleaned until he found “Common.”
    He also turned to other sources to discover more about this horse born in 1888. This would mean Common was four year old in 1892. He found much information in the “the Illustrated London News for 1891. There, on page 480, he might have found a reproduction of a drawing of Common, together with a picture of the man who had just bought him: one John Blundell Maple, M.P. for Camberwell”[BSJ p. 14]. Everything was falling into place. However, again it must be noted that this research was done in a library. Notes were hand inscribed, not copied and pasted to a page in a computer. One could not enter the subject and find a list of articles in a neat little list on the internet. One needed to search a hard copy guide known as a periodical index.
    The Illustrated London News also yielded the final piece of the puzzle. It listed so many facts about the horse. Each win, with complete details. On page 479, he discovered the final detail—“there is a column-long account of the horse. the man, and the latter’s stables. With all this information, one might have asked: were the Mapleton stables (the refuge of Silver Blaze) in reality the Falmouth House Stables of Mr. Maple; and was the horse bought and retired so young to cover up the scandal?” The excitement grew as each fact fell into place. Was it mere coincidence that since Mr. Maple was the owner of Common that Watson might have assumed his stables were named “Mapleton?” Most probable.
    However, the punctilious Professor was not finished. As a law professor he needed to confirm these facts. Everything appeared to indicate this was the horse, but appearances will not hold up in a court of law. There were variances between Watson’s account and those in the Illustrated London News. “There are some discrepancies between the two records, to be sure; but even in 1892—we could have charged them to Dr. Watson’s already established carelessness in such matters. Common was ‘not in his fifth year, but in his fourth, as a three-year-old in ‘91; but he was in his fifth as Watson wrote in ‘92. The odds at Doncaster were 5 to 4, as Watson said, but the odds were ON Common—not against him.” The juxtaposition of the dates was important to continuity as even the most recent devotion to the Canon would recognize that in May1891, Holmes was presumed dead, The fact that Holmes was dead appeared in “The Final Problem.” Perhaps that is why in 1949, Jay F. Christ became "The Final Problem," BSI.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Silver Blaze #2: Myth Buster

C7773. -- A2716. Hammond, Roland. "The Attempted Mayhem of `Silver Blaze,'" BSJ [OS], 1, No. 2 (April 1946), 157-161. An investigation by Dr. Hammond, including an actual experiment duplicating the operation performed on Silver Blaze to render him lame, demonstrates that it requires more than the mere jab of a knife, as Holmes claimed, to injure the tendons of a horse's ham sufficiently to cripple him.
    The previous article by S. Tupper Bigelow was concerned with chronology. The article today was from the second issue (Volume 1, number 2 Old Series) of Edgar W. Smith’s journal. In his article,

“The Attempted Mayhem of “‘Silver Blaze,’” Dr. Roland Hammond, M.D. examines the method used to cripple the sheep in the night time. You see, it was the sheep, not the dog that did nothing in the night time, that provided the essential data which allowed Holmes to solve the murder of the trainer. Holmes was correct in his assessment of the dog—he did nothing at all—regarding the solution to the problem. 

    However, the lame sheep were quite another matter. The good Dr. Hammond explains:         On the return journey to London, following the race, Holmes reconstructed for the benefit of Colonel Ross, the train of events which led up to the death of Straker. “You must know,” said Holmes, “that it is possible to make a slight nick upon the tendons of a horse’s ham, and to do it subcutaneously, so as to leave absolutely no trace. A horse so treated would develop a slight lameness, which would be put down to a strain in exercise or a touch of rheumatism, but never to foul play.” ’

That is the key element. If one is to perfect his craft at so delicate an operation, one must practice. Why were the sheep lame?

    Dr. Hammond then describes the practiced procedure and the drawbacks. “A tenotomy, or severance of this tendon, just above the heel, for various reasons, is a common procedure” for a trained surgeon. However, Straker is only a horse trainer. Whereas he may have known of the procedure, it does not mean he could perform one. I have personally seen bypass surgery on the hospital monitor, but I have no plans to attempt to preform one.

    He clarifies his point by explaining that the human counterpart of the tendons of a horse is the Achilles. It is near the surface of the skin on a human, bu on a horse, they “have their origin near the stifle or knee joint, and run downward to separate attachments at the hoof.” He concludes by pointing out “because of their larger size and strength, any attempt to inflict damage to the tendons of a horse would be correspondingly more difficult than the carefully planned procedure in man.” Observe that on a man, the procedure is simplified. The narration of Watson leads one to believe that John Straker, trainer at the King’s Pyland stables, managed to learn the procedure by practicing on a few sheep in the night.

    When one reads a quality writings upon the writings, one can learn a great deal about the subject. In this article he describes in detail his knowledge of the anatomy of the leg of a horse. “The horse in reality walks upon the tips of his toes, with the feet turned downward like a ballet dancer. The joint in the middle of the leg which resembles the human knee, is actually the ankle, and is called the hock joint. The ham is defined as that part of the hind leg situated behind the hock joint. The prominence behind corresponds to the tip of the human heel. From this region downwards the metatarsal or foot bones are much longer and larger than in man, until they end at the fetlock joint. This site marks the division between the foot and toe bones.” TMI? I think not. These details reveal his intimate knowledge of the anatomy of a horse and how it differs from man. Again one must ponder John Straker’s knowledge of the anatomy of Silver Blaze.”. 

    Dr. Hammond proceeds to do what one should expect from a great scholar. “A little learning is a dangerous thing, and Straker was misled into overconfidence following his favorable achievement on the sheep. He failed to take into account the three requisites of an operating room: 1) a quiet patient, 2) as little’ movement of the air as possible, and, 3) adequate illumination. His chances of success were practically wiped out by the sinister combination of a high-spirited animal, a rainy night and only a Vesta match for illumination of the operative field.” Under these conditions, even the most experienced surgeon would have had difficulty incapacitating the animal. Remember, according to the narrative, the horse was to look healthy, but be unable to run at full capacity. If the horse has to be withdrawn from the race, or if the injury is navigable, they will not be able to win a fortune by fixing the race.

    At this point the good doctor decides to follow in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes. His only option was to attempt the delicate procedure after careful study and consultation with experts. His conclusion was that “The incident has great dramatic value, but the thrilling scene depicted in that memoir does not stand up to the cold light of reason and experience, Nevertheless the adventure has given the opportunity for some interesting research and the acquisition of useful knowledge.” That dear reader defines why one plays the game for the game’s own sake. The doctor was not taking up all of this time to gain a reputation in some great medical journal. His purpose, as a skilled surgeon, was to discover if the incident described in Watson’s narrative was probable. This article written so long ago predates the “myth busters” by decades, but this is precisely what he has done.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bigelow on SIlver Blaze

    For the first subject concerning the many writings concerning the 60 original adventures of Sherlock Holmes, we begin with Canadian scholar Judge S. Tupper Bigelow. As he begins his article on Silver Blaze  explaining the many facets of Sherlockian/Holmesian scholarship.

        In The Writings upon the Writings over the years, there have appeared countless scholarly and erudite articles by the same or roughly the same number of authors—equally scholarly and erudite—vilifying the Master for his activities in Silver Blaze, some going to the length of accusing Sherlock Holmes of criminal activities, while others have stated with some assumed certainty, that he should have been warned off the turf, or whatever language they happened to use to mean that for his nefarious activities, he should never have been permitted to go upon a race track again.

He continues by reviewing all the points raised by the giants of chronology, and there are several. It is rare when any two agree. They seldom trust Watson’s dates for the case, and base their findings on obscure clues provided in the narrative of Watson. It could be the weather, or a reference to an historical event, etc.

    40 years ago January 2017, a little scion society was formed in Southern Illinois. We decided at the first meeting to scrutinize and study one of the narratives each month. Someone would volunteer to lead the discussion. We never believed it would last 40 years. We have followed the chronology of William S. Baring-Gould because he introduced two novice Sherlockians to the idea that there were Sherlockian societies. Thus, we have added over 500 entries to what Bigelow refers to as “The Writings upon the Writings.” But I digress . . .

    We did not know at the time that several scholars would attack Baring-Gould’s chronology, and his annotations, etc. This is a ready vehicle for “Ssherlockian experts.” The fun part is, sometimes your vilified hero, Baring-Gould in this case, finds support from one noted scholar or another, Such is the case with S. Tupper Bigelow who discover

        I have reread the comments of chronologists Baring-Gould, Bell, Blakeney, Brend, Christ, Smith and Zeisler, all Sherlockian scholars of the highest rank, as to the year of Silver Blaze, and indeed the day and month of the events related in that excellent story, and I am convinced that of them all, Baring-Gould makes out the best case, stating that the events of the story ran from Thursday, September 25 to Tuesday, September 30, 1890[my italics].

This does not mean that Judge Bigelow confirms all of Baring-Gould’s chronology, but it is a start.

    He continues by giving examples of how these same critics condemned Watson for his careless documentation of the exact date for each narrative. In my early sojourns into scholarship I sidestepped the issue of chronology, because I did not believe chronology was important. However, I learned that placing these narratives in the proper order could reveal a chain of clues leading to important revelations about Sherlock Holmes. And then Bigelow won my undying devotion when he said “In any event, Baring-Gould has satisfied me, with his almost diabolically ingenious reasoning, that he is the chronologist whose theories we must accept as fact. Therefore, the race was run in 1890.” Observe his usage of the plural noun “theories.” Does he mean all of Baring-Gould’s chronologies are correct? Probably not, since even Baring-Gould changed his mind from time to time. In short, whenever one studies Sherlock Holmes there are few definitive answers. And there dear reader is the fun of the “grand game.”

    I greatly admire Judge Bigelow for his exceptional views on Canonical legal problems. However, I personally enjoyed his comments on an icon who is responsible for introducing countless thousands to the world of Sherlock Holmes and scion societies.

        In any event, Baring-Gould has satisfied me, with his almost diabolically ingenious reasoning, that he is the chronologist whose theories we must accept as fact. Therefore, the race was run in 1890. Baring-Gould’s chronology? Possibly not. Baring-Gould had written many chronologies by the time The Annotated Sherlock Holmes was published in 1967, a few months after he passed beyond the Reichenbach.

In case you have only read and did not observe, we are able to know about Judge Bigelow’s thoughts because It was recorder and published in a readily available periodical [The Baker Street Journal, 15, No. 2 (June 1965), 79-82]. It can also be found in Baker Street Briefs from the Silicone Dispatch Box online. An inter=library search can assist you in acquiring a copy to read. All one need do is possess a valid library card and ask the librarian. Good hunting.

A New DIrection: They Believe in SHerlock Holmes

    They Believe in Sherlock Holmes:  A Study in the Writings About the Writings

Edgar Smith, the creator and first editor of The Baker Street Journal was well aware of the importance of keeping green the memory of Sherlock Holmes. He once wrote “While yet the memory of Sherlock Holmes is green—and that will be as long as the spirit of adventurous emprise is still astir in human hearts—there will be those who will be moved to write in loving tribute to the master and his works.” With all his heart, Edgar Smith believed in Sherlock Holmes. The key observation to be made here is the emphasis on “those who will be moved to write in loving tribute to the master and his works.” There are only 60 narratives about the original detective and his biographer Watson. However, there are, at this writing, 22 De51 articles about these original adventures. A list of these articles can be found in Ronald BurtWaal’s Universal Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes, which is available on the University of Minnesota website under special collections/Sherlock Holmes.

I mention these facts because the new shift is away from the original writings and toward the pastiches, the television interpretation of the original Holmes and Watson, the games, etc. Will these adaptations inspire the same devotion as did the original 60 adventures? Will someone save the discussions detected on social media? Will any of these discussions be preserved from the other forms of social media today and into the future? And what of those countless unanswered  questions about the loss of data due to websites removed from, or crashed hard drives? Perhaps the modern Sherlockian is no longer concerned with the past—living life’s special moments only in the present. The plan for this blog. is to examine each month, these original writings in an effort to display the wonderful world of Sherlock Holmes.

Some might question why one should we examine these wonderful writings from a bygone era. To be honest, some were superb, others very good, and as with all things, some were not quite as well done. However, each article was written by their authors out of love for what they do. Which brings us full circle to the thoughts Edgar W. Smith expressed so long ago—these thoughts are a “loving tribute to the master and his works.”

Each Month, these pages will examine several articles in the chronology of the original Annotated Sherlock Holmes, assembled by William S. Baring-Gould. The Occupants of the Empty House have followed his chronology for more than 40 years. We have written several articles questioning his chronology. We have also questioned the verity of many of the chronologists. That is the playfulness one discovers when they begin to play the “The Grand Game.” Although Mr. Baring-Gould is our guiding spirit, he was guilty of a few improbables himself,” as have all who play the game. Some suggest he may have twisted facts to suit his preconceived theories, but it does not matter. Doesn’t everybody resort to this when precise data is not forthcoming? Nevertheless, few if any of his critics believe he ever wrote what he wrote without following the main directive from Edgar Smith. Each was a “loving tribute to the master and his works.” Thus, we begin with Holmesian scholar S. Tupper Bigelow, tomorrow: Episode One: “Silver Blaze in The Writings About The Writings.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Breaking with Tradition--The December Meeting

For 39 years and 11 months The Occupants of the Empty House have met the first Friday of the month--where holidays allow--at 7:30 PM. We have held 479 meetings without missing one single month. For this, our 480th meeting we are breaking with tradition. The meeting will still be held the first Friday, and we will still meet at Alongi's Restaurant, but we will be having a 3 Hour Lunch.

Some wonder why so sudden a change? To be honest, we finally looked around the meeting and came face to face with reality. After forty years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to drive home late at night. Between 12:30PM and the end of the meeting, even though it may last 3 hours, when we walk outside it is still day light. True, this will eliminate anyone who is not retired, or young people in school, and any number of people who may wish to come who cannot come in the day time.

We also noted that reading and writing has become a bane to young people, and reading and writing is what we do. If you must file us with the dinosaurs--relics that have outlived their time--imagine that if the dinosaurs traveled by day they might have avoided the tar pits. Therefore, so that we can stave off extinction, we have decided to make this change. Did we vote on it. Assuredly not. We never vote. But all in attendance nodded their approval. The vote will come 2nd December 2016. The percentage of attendees will be the deciding factor. It is logical.

Keeping the Holmes fire burning,

     William R. Cochran
The Master of the Empty House

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Gordon R. Speck, "The Waxen Image" (Vice-President) Rest in peace, My Dear Watson.

  On 10th October I was at work. During my lunch hour I checked my email and read: “I just learned that Gordon passed away this morning.” The message sent a shiver through my world, so I can only imagine what it has done to yours. I had a job to do, so I gathered myself and tried to concentrate on the work at hand. My thoughts were consumed with the thought of life without Gordon. Gordon, as a man of tradition, would require me to follow the Sherlockian custom that we “Stand here upon the terrace, for it will be the last quiet talk that we shall ever have.”
    Oh, my dear old friend. It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Gordon was distinguished. In an incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion—for one cannot find sufficient words to express my gratitude for this man who came into my life, and departed for this minuscule period of time in the scope of the history of mankind.
    Gordon possessed a tenacious unwillingness to yield. It was as if he had been plucked from the Edwardian age. He scorned computers and cell phones and many other modern trappings of the 21st Century. The typewriter was his main instrument for writing. Because of his aversion to cell phones, on long trips to Sherlockian events, I would often call Galea to reassure her we were fine. To be fair, Gordon was born a long time ago, on 2/2 2/1935. Note that date, 2-22. How ironic that he missed the address of Sherlock Holmes by one day. Well, every schoolboy knows that Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street, and Sherlock Holmes was to become an important person in his life.
    It was because of Sherlock Holmes that I traveled many miles with Gordon over the past 39 years. He appeared at one of the spring meetings of “The Occupants of the Empty House” in 1978. You could probably count the meetings he did not attend on one hand between then and now. In 1979, Michael Bragg moved away, and Newt Williams, the secretary, insisted I become the president. Guess who became the vice-President? Yep, the guy who threatened to lock me in his trunk and drive me to a symposium in Dubuque, Iowa—if I did not agree to go with him. The second such threat occurred shortly after that when we were invited to attend a meeting of The Baker Street Irregulars of New York. I hesitated, and he discouraged the hesitancy. It seems like a century ago, but the shared memories are as vivid as yesterday.
    New York was quite a change from our southern Illinois roots. Gordon grew up in Cairo, Illinois, and I, in Carbondale. To New Yorkers, we must have appeared as hayseeds from some remote corner of the world who walked everywhere and did not tire even when running up the steep stairs of a Greenwich Village apartment building. Our New York friends took us to dinner at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame—the Annie Oakley room. We sat on hay bales at the table, and the moon slowly drifted across a slightly clouded sky. The drone of the crickets and tree frogs could be heard in the distance. I guess they did not understand that even in the midwest we live in houses with indoor plumbing.
    Then there was the time we went on the great metal desk quest to Redmond, California. I suggested that it might be more practical to buy a new desk than to rent a truck and drive to California and back. However, Gordon explained he was also taking some of his mother’s furniture to his sister along the way; thus, there was a reason—it was not completely the old tenacious unwillingness at work here. The trip was, as were they all, an adventure.
    Gordon was invested into the prestigious Baker Street Irregulars in 1986 as Colonel James Barclay. Gordon did not share any traits with Colonel Barclay, but he did not care— he was now a BSI. I was very proud of him. Gordon’s writings about the 60 original stories had caught the attention of those who select the deserving recipients. His published papers drew attention to our little band of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts. He was, in short, our ambassador.
    When I became the editor of The Baker Street Journal in 1993, I took Gordon with me as the associate editor. This was an unprecedented move for the Irregulars, but they understood. I would not go without Gordon—any more than he would go without me. Did I mention the cartoon by Jeff Decker concerning Bill and Gordon on a trip to the Zoo. I think it is the only time Gordon did not get top billing.
    Did I mention that we traveled a great deal together? In our journeys we talked about life, Sherlock Holmes, what to expect when we arrived, etc. In short, we became very close. He was my brother. I loved him like a brother. And as fate would have it, after his emergency heart surgery, Galea told the hospital I was his brother, so I could get into the ICU to see him. The doctor look puzzled because of my height and Gordon’s limited stature. After careful scrutiny, the suspicious doctor finally announced that we really did look a lot alike. I think Galea may have strained something trying to not laugh out loud. Gordon looked a bit pale as well, from holding it in.
    Gordon was always a bit uncomfortable when anyone thanked him profusely for his generous acts. He would always take gifts for our hosts, carefully stowed away in the trunk as we would begin a journey. It may be the contents of a particular bottle of scotch that our host enjoyed, but Gordon always seemed to know the right gift. In New York each year, we held court in our suite following the BSI meeting. So many ideas were hatched at these meetings, and the refreshments were free to all. When the Shaw collection went to Minnesota, Gordon expressed a concern that the collection may overwhelm the library staff, and so the annual Shaw fund collection was made to assist the library. Our entire scion, and some distant friends, take part every year. We had hoped that other scions would follow suit, yet to little avail. However, watch closely each year. Our annual donation will be made “in loving memory of Gordon R. Speck.” It was his most popular cause.
    Countless Sherlockians throughout the world have been benefactors of Gordon’s generous gifts: books, periodicals, spirits, etc. He even took the time to xerox an entire book for Newt Williams when Newt said he could not find a copy of Ellery Queen’s Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t think Gordon ever knew I knew about that one, preferring everyone believe Newt did it himself.
    Gordon was a voracious reader and introduced me to many new ideas and authors. He was a punctilious proof reader, and a ubiquitous presence wherever we would travel. I mention Gordon’s writing style because one of our distant friends  referred to Gordon as “Mr. Funk and Wagnals” for his use of superior verbiage. Therefore, true to form, Gordon’s constant use of more antediluvian words created a flurry of page turning as he read each new paper. He was one of a kind.
    In all, the journey with Gordon was always exciting, never dull, and made special by his presence. He was generous to a fault, outgoing, and always attracted a crowd at a gathering, be it Sherlockian or his beloved class reunion. I could talk for hours about my dear departed friend. But I rest assured that in my heart, Gordon still lives, somewhat like Holmes and Watson. They were described as “two men of note who can never die.” The poem reads “only those things the heart believes are true.” So it is between Gordon and The Occupants of the Empty House. Though our hearts are broken he cannot escape. For one brief moment each month he would journey to DuQuoin, where it is always 1895. Therefore, in our hearts, he will always sit before the hearth of Camden House enjoying the program, and encouraging us to continue our task. For his greatest trait was that he discouraged hesitancy in every one of us. Go ahead, he would say. Do it! And, as for me, I did it. He never did put me in the trunk of his car, and because of Gordon, my life was changed forever.
    Last but not least, Gordon was a writer of the first water—the highest degree of quality or purity in whatever he chose to write. Gordon possessed the ability to say more with only few words than many can say in volumes. Rest in peace, My Dear Watson.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

February Meeting Notice 5th February 2016

        David Bensley  will lead the discussion on The Sign of Four  as we continue our 40th year of monthly meetings Occupants and new guests are reminded that anyone else may also present a paper for this journey through the 60 narratives.  Why should we have one main speaker and allow others to submit papers?  Because it allows for infinite variety.
    To join us at Alongi’s Restaurant in DuQuoin, Illinois, look for  the red brick building on the north side of Main street, just west of the train tracks.  Enter and find yourself once again transported into a world of Hansom cabs, gaslights, and swirling yellow fog — it is 1895.  Our genial hosts will be pleased to help you find Camden House and the Occupants.  All you need ask is “Where is Sherlock Holmes?” If you are not a fixed point in a changing age, you may wish to go to the phrase “Come at once if convenient” to receive driving directions. No matter how you find us, we hope you will join us as we explore the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson   -NMW-


For directions click the link below

"Come at once if convenient, if not, come all the same."