William Sherlock Forshaw, 87, librarian in Enoch Pratt's humanities department

January 27, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

William Sherlock Forshaw, a retired Enoch Pratt librarian who dazzled patrons with his knowledge of literature, theater, film and popular culture, died Monday of heart failure at HeartHomes, a Lutherville nursing home. He was 87 and had lived in Charles Village since 1959.

For more than 30 years, he served patrons at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library's humanities department. He also accumulated so extensive a private library that he had to rent an apartment next door to his to accommodate 30,000 volumes.

"He was a great raconteur who had a huge knowledge of trivia on various subjects," said Bob Burke, Pratt humanities head. "He was quite an old-fashioned gentleman, too."

Mr. Forshaw was a veteran city bus passenger and read the New Yorker while riding. He said that operating a motor vehicle "crunches your liver."

A 1982 News American profile described him as "a certified Charles Village character ... a genius of the arcane, a man with the labyrinthine mind of a Jesuit."

Born in New York City, he attributed a lifelong devotion to the theater to his mother, who was attending a musical revue, The Passing Show of 1914, when she went into labor. He was a 1934 graduate of Columbia University and earned a master's degree in library science from the same institution.

As a young man, he was an office boy at Time magazine's headquarters and later managed stores for the Doubleday book chain, including its Grand Central Terminal branch.

During World War II, he was a lieutenant commander in the Navy. He worked in code and intelligence work in Washington. He later used his love of words -- as in anagrams and word puzzles -- to manufacture and sell a word game called EUCE.

In 1958, he moved to Baltimore and joined the Pratt's staff. He retired in 1979 and volunteered several days a week at his old department for another decade.

Mr. Forshaw, who spoke in a stentorian voice and peered through half-glasses in black frames, criticized some of the changes made at the Pratt over the years. "They stuck Will Shakespeare on the third floor. Business and science got the first," he said in the 1982 interview.

Pratt colleagues recalled Mr. Forshaw's passion for popular culture -- television, radio, theater and film. When he refused to allow the Pratt's bound volumes of the Baltimore-Washington edition of TV Guide to be thrown away for a generic microfilmed edition, he provided -- unintentionally -- alibis for persons charged with crimes who claimed they were at home watching TV.

"We were always getting calls from attorneys who were trying to verify that their clients were in fact watching a certain show at a certain time," said Faye Houston, retired Pratt humanities department head.

"His mind was encyclopedic," she said. "In the days before computers, he was the Internet Movie Database."

In his spare time, he ran the Sherlock Book Service -- a one-man company that used his middle name -- and kept a home library of nearly 30,000 volumes at the apartment he rented adjacent to his own St. Paul Street flat.

His wife, Louise Halley Sanders, a novelist and librarian, died in 1990.

In the 1982 News American interview, he described Baltimore as a city "where everybody's lived," a reference to literary figures who resided in Baltimore for a while.

"But I'm determined to die here," he said.

Mr. Forshaw leaves no immediate survivors, and no funeral is planned.

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