The Game Is Afoot! Elementary: For 50 years, Baltimore fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective have known that Holmes is where the heart is.


November 14, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

They gather together every other month for an evening of mystery and crime. These salespeople, lawyers, government workers, psychiatrists, bank employees and others seem an unlikely group to wallow in such debauchery.

But their wallowing takes them back to earlier times. Much earlier. Those who gather are Sherlock Holmes aficionados, and darn proud of it, thank you. Now, one such group in Baltimore is celebrating 50 years of coming together to enjoy, dissect and discuss that "great Victorian detective" Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The group is called the Six Napoleons of Baltimore, which is a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. This weekend that group, along with another "Sherlockian" group, the Carlton Club, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library celebrate the 17th annual "Saturday With Sherlock Holmes," from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the library.

Members of the Six Napoleons and the Carlton Club will talk about the interrogation techniques that Holmes used, the movie and radio versions of the mysteries and activities that club members have been up to.

"There are many, many things that interest me about Sherlock Holmes," says William Hyder, a spokesman for the group. "The nostalgic atmosphere, horse-drawn carriages, fog, the Victorian atmosphere, the mystery.

"Of course, everybody loves a good mystery. Everybody loves to see the good guys win and the bad guys get locked up."

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet," which was published in 1887. Doyle, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859, was a physician who decided to turn his skills to writing mystery fiction for magazines to supplement his income.

The character of Sherlock Holmes became so popular that it overshadowed its creator, so Doyle killed him off in a story called "The Final Problem," published in 1893. About a decade later, he relented to public pressure and resurrected the fictional detective. The author and his character became so well loved that Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII in 1904.

Doyle died in 1930.

Even now, it is often said that there is only one legend more famous than Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, and that is Santa Claus.

Hyder, a retired editor with The Sun, was first introduced to the fictional detective in 1939 as a youngster.

"When I was 10, [the movie] 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' came out, and I loved it," he says. "And then, that Christmas, my sister gave me the complete Sherlock Holmes collection, and I have been with him ever since."

Hyder has belonged to the Six Napoleons since 1962, when he was introduced to the organization by a co-worker.

In its 50 years of existence, there have been 226 people from the Baltimore area who were members of the Six Napoleons, Hyder says. Now there are 40 to 50 active members. "At any given meeting there are about 30 people," he says.

Philip Sherman, a Baltimore attorney and avid Holmes memorabilia collector, has been a member of the Six Napoleons since 1954. "The first book I ever bought with my own money was the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes," Sherman says.

The attorney will speak on just how a group dedicated to all things Sherlockian ever got the name "the Six Napoleons."

"On Sept. 11, 1946, at 6 p.m., six Sherlockians and their ladies met as a group for the first time," Sherman explains. "At this historic meeting, the name 'the Six Napoleons of Baltimore' was adopted from the Holmes chronicle entitled 'The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.' "

"Saturday With Sherlock Holmes" will be filled with tidbits, facts and discussions about Doyle, Holmes and his times. The day will include "An Inquisition of the Spectators," which is billed as "a bloodless quiz based on questions from the monologues," with a prize for the winner from the Mystery Loves Company bookstore.

You do not have to be a lawyer, psychiatrist or banker to be a member of the Sherlockian groups. And the organizations are actively seeking young people with an interest in Sherlock Holmes to keep the tradition alive.

"We would be delighted to have younger members in the group," Hyder says.

Anyone is welcome to join, although prospective members must attend three meetings and submit an original paper on Sherlock Holmes to be accepted.

The Six Napoleons holds its meetings every other month at Haussner's restaurant, Hyder says. The meetings are relaxed, social and informative.

Letters from other Sherlock Holmes groups are shared at the meetings, along with any reference to the detective that anyone has discovered.

bTC "It is amazing . . . the number of references to be found in the media about Sherlock Holmes," Hyder says.

After dinner, there are presentations by people who want to be members of the organization. "Of course, there is a certain amount of drinking that goes on," Hyder jokes.

But at least the fans don't go to the extremes of Sherlock Holmes, who had a cocaine habit.


What: "A Saturday With Sherlock Holmes"

When: Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Where: Wheeler Auditorium in the Enoch Pratt Free Library central branch, Cathedral Street

Tickets: Free

Call: (410) 997-9114

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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