Mystery memorabilia exhibit at library introduces children to Sherlock Holmes

Sleuthing at the stacks

December 29, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

After her sister's mysterious death and after hearing strange noises in her bedroom at night, Helen Stoner decided she had better hire a detective.

Stoner, a character in the Arthur Conan Doyle story The Adventure of the Speckled Band, paid a visit to Sherlock Holmes and told him that she thought her stepfather was trying to kill her.

To bring to life the events depicted in The Speckled Band and other Sherlock Holmes tales, members of Watson's Tin Box, a group of Holmes enthusiasts, have erected a memorabilia exhibit at the county library's central branch in Columbia.

The exhibit -- which includes 16 mini-displays of artifacts and books -- is designed to stoke interest in Holmes and promote an essay contest for students sponsored by the group.

"We want the display to make people curious enough about Holmes to read the stories, and we want to promote Sherlock Holmes as a literary figure and cultural icon," said Jacqueline Morris, who works in the purchasing department of the library system.

The essay contest, in which seventh-graders from county schools are invited to read a Holmes story and write an analytical essay, is under way, said Beth Austin, who helped set up the exhibit.

Typically about 400 entries are submitted, from which teachers send in the best ones, Austin said. Prizes for the essay are awarded in May and include a $50 gift card for first place and a $25 gift card each for second and third place.

A specific Holmes story -- The Speckled Band in this case -- is selected to be the subject of the essay contest, and a display showcasing items mentioned in the story has been set up as part of the exhibit. The display includes items such as a Turkish slipper, a leash, a whistle, a molted snakeskin, a Meerschaum pipe and a copy of the book.

"The slipper was the same kind that was worn by the evil Dr. Roylott in The Speckled Band," said Austin, 50. "The whistle is like the one Dr. Roylott used to call the speckled band that was a snake. And the lash, or leash as we would call it, was like the one Sherlock used to capture the snake."

Watson's Tin Box was founded in 1988 by Paul Churchill, Steve Clarkson and Rod McCaslin. The group includes novices and members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a prominent Sherlock Holmes society formed in 1934 in New York City. The Howard group meets monthly and hosts Holmes-related activities throughout the area, including one to mark the detective's Jan. 6 birthday.

"Our main goal is to keep Sherlock Holmes green all year around," said Austin, who joined the group about eight years ago while searching for a reading group.

To that end, Austin arranged the exhibit to include items -- all on loan from members -- that would make for interesting conversation.

The exhibit includes two dark lanterns that were used like modern-day flashlights, Austin said.

"The dark lanterns were worn on the belts of policemen," she said. "They had an oil pot and a wick. When they were lit, they shined bright like a flashlight."

Also included in the exhibit is a lock of Queen Elizabeth's hair, obtained May 28, 1837; a collection of cards that feature Holmes characters; hats; magnifying glasses and other items Holmes may have used in solving his mysteries.

The exhibit will remain on display at the central branch until next month. It will then move on to other branches.

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