Thursday, October 2, 2014
If you are new to the world of Sherlock Holmes, you may not know about the Baker Street Irregulars. In the original 56 short stories and the four novellas penned by Dr. Watson, they only appear in A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, and in “The Crooked Man.” In Watson’s narratives, these “street-Arabs” performed an invaluable service to Sherlock Holmes. “They can go everywhere, see everything, overhear every one.” While it is true they were paid a shilling for their services, suffice it to say, they enjoyed the adventure that awaited them whenever Holmes would summon them. The same may be said for their modern counterparts, “The Baker Street Irregulars of New York.” Neither of the “Irregular” groups do/did what they do for personal gain — they participated because they enjoyed it.
In late 1976, two old friends were discussing starting a Sherlock Holmes society. Several of the “writings about the writings” made reference to the society, but these references were in the present tense in the older tomes. Did they still exist, we contemplated? Christopher Morley formed the Irregulars with several friends of like mind, to gather socially and discuss Sherlock Holmes in 1934. The purpose of these modern day irregulars who meet annually, by invitation only, is to keep green the memory of Sherlock Holmes. The most asked question about any group of people who gather to discuss Sherlock Holmes is why? The answer is elementary. They gather to discuss Holmes and Watson because they enjoy it. That is the secret! The way in which the Irregulars and their scions participate may well have as many facets as the Countess of Morcar’s diamond. The parent society allows a group to be a scion so long as they do not disgrace the memory of Sherlock Holmes.
“The Occupants of the Empty House” was officially formed on 22nd January 1977. The scion has met monthly to discuss a different narrative of Dr. Watson. Most scions meet annually, some meet every other month, etc., etc. In order to succeed, the scion must first meet the needs of the membership. We discovered our need – in 1977 – was to read all of the 60 narratives of Dr. Watson reading one each month, and having someone lead the discussion on the selected tale. Since there are 60 titles, and there are only 12 months in the year, it takes 5 years to cover them all. This is our focus to this day. However, some groups form as a social club, others may hold Victorian costume contests, or murder mysteries, while others may study the films and television Holmes. There are no set rules, except to enjoy the prime detective. People tend to shy away from something when they do not enjoy what they are doing; thus, the cardinal rule is to discover what the group enjoy, and to be flexible.
The evolution of “The Occupants of the Empty House” was quite by accident. As I mentioned above, I had read about the Baker Street Irregulars of New York in William S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. It was all that was available to us then. In February of 1977, a gentleman named Newt Williams came to our second meeting, and we learned that “Irregulars” did exist. In fact, he knew some “Irregulars,” and he had corresponded with them through what is known today as “snail mail.” Have you ever heard about a cache of correspondence between two people being recovered by someone, and the wealth of history that was gathered from those letters changing our perception of someone or some event? It may have been slow, but there was a permanence to those letters, written or typed onto paper and passed through many hands before they reach it's destination. It was and is a very personal way of correspondence. Thus, to this date we have mailed the Camden House Journal to our subscribers each month, allowing them to be a part of our meetings. We will continue the practice as long as we can, but due to popular demand we have added a blog in an effort to draw new readers to Camden House, so that they can learn what we have discovered. Holmes is where the heart is.
What does a scion society do? To be honest, whatever they want so long as their goal is to keep green the memory of Holmes and Watson. It is important that each scion develop it's own style. Trying to force a scion in a direction that the members do not enjoy will destroy the society. “The Occupants of the Empty House” do what we do because we love doing it. Everything that the members do is voluntary. Each member plays his/her own significant role. With our membership, this significance is relative to what we have accomplished. Someone who listens to the presentation and adds to the discussion is just as important as the main presenter. Although we do have officers, any visitor would be hard pressed to guess who they are. It would be fitting to describe our scion as a democracy in its purest form. That is not to say other forms will not work for us, but it is what evolved through time. In the same manner, our form may not work in any other society. Therefore, a successful scion just needs to enjoy what develops as it evolves. Again, the most important element -- the prime directive -- is “to enjoy the prime detective.”
William Cochran, BSI