First of all, apologies things have been quiet on the blog front recently, I have been in America for almost 4 weeks for a conference and research – I started in Santa Cruz, moved on to San Francisco and ended in Minneapolis, where I spent a week exploring the Sherlock/Doyle collection at the University of Minnesota.
Being in Minneapolis I couldn’t resist attempting to contact the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, a scion of the Baker Street Irregulars based in Minneapolis. Founded in 1947 by five faculty members of the U of M, the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota have been a strong presence in the Sherlockian world. It was one of their members, Dr. Hench who pioneered the plaque at the Reichenbach Falls; many their members have also published and edited books and articles on Holmes (and other related topics); and of course, appealing to my own interest, the society was an interest of Richard Lancelyn Green, who had visited on occasions and had maintained contact with some of the members up until his untimely death.
My personal experience of this society has been dominated by the kindness and the generosity of its members. I sent a cheeky email weeks before my visit to Gary Thaden, current president, asking if I could attend one of their meetings. Not only was my request accepted, but I was immediately put in contact with people who could help me in my research and who were personal friends of Richard L Green. When I arrived at the University, I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Dick and Julie, who spent time with me advising what I should be looking at in the collection that would be relevant – with only a week I knew I was barely going to scratch the surface – and with their direction, along with Cheryll and Tim’s, I was able to set about my research with a clear focus in mind.
On Tuesday 19th Aug I arrived at Gary’s home to attend the society’s board meeting, where I met many of the board members and observed how the society has lasted so long – with the efficiency and the care of its board members. I, of course, also took notice of Gary’s own amazing collection of Holmesian things. We then all traveled to the University for the members meeting where Julie gave a fantastic talk on Dr. Hench and his achievements in both medicine and in erecting the plaque in Merigen through correspondence with other Sherlockians across the world. (Before the time of email remember – this was a time-consuming process!) I then stepped up to the plate and talked about me, Portsmouth, and my research for 30 minutes. It was a success and it was great to see a room of people so enthusiastic about what I am doing. I also got to listen to stories of Richard, which were fascinating! I was told he had a flair for making people feel comfortable in his presence, ignoring his prestige as a Sherlockian that was naturally intimidating and I have to say this is a skill emulated by the Explorers themselves. I was showered with gifts of information – both physically and metaphorically. I was handed books, and documents; I was sent links and stories; and of course people told me all sorts of interesting things in person too.
This exchange of knowledge continued on Wednesday when Julie kindly invited me and a few others to her home for dinner. Conversation covered all kinds of topics, and I wisely stayed away from strong cocktails being offered to me, concerned I may let slip just how much of a novice I felt compared to these fantastically-forged, Holmesian minds. After dinner Julie showed me a scrapbook of a society trip she attended, which contained photos of Richard. She also showed me her personal collection of Sherlockania, where Dick and she pointed out even more books I need to get my hands on and read. Like Gary’s the day before, it was a fabulous collection made up of memories, as well as books for reference or thematic objects, and as a stereotypical Brit, I appreciated the Holmesian teapots a lot! So with my stomach full of good food, and my brain full of Holmes, I returned to my accommodation also full of appreciation for everyone who had taken the time to speak to me and take me so heartily under their wing. I realised that if there’s one thing Sherlockians love to do, it’s to exchange knowledge. Their genuine interest in my research has meant I have come away with a hundred different ideas for the direction of my thesis, and I will be sure to continue to call upon their knowledge in the future.
All that’s left to say is: to The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota – thank you!