No character in the Sherlock Holmes canon is too minor to escape the attention and praise of the Sherlock Holmes Society's local chapter.
For 30 years, members of Boss McGinty's Bird Watchers, as the local chapter of the Holmes Society calls itself, have lauded all of Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's characters. On Friday, the toasts rang out again:
"To Mrs. Hudson, that long-suffering landlady who had the worst tenant in London."
"To Mycroft," Holmes' older brother and – if you can believe it – intellectual superior.
"To the canines of the canon, especially Toby," Holmes' lop-eared half-spaniel, half-lurcher.
The Holmes fan club – a very tongue-in-cheek affair – has grown considerably since founders Fred Sauls, professor of chemistry at King's College, and Frank Vacante, a now-retired accounting professor from the same school, first imagined the club over dinner at Hottle's in Wilkes-Barre 30 years ago.
Close to 40 turned out for Friday's anniversary celebration, including many of the original 18 members.
"You get together, you have a good meal, you have a good time, and you talk a little about Sherlock Holmes and Victorian times and all that," Sauls said, adding, "none of it is taken seriously."
The group takes its peculiar name from Conan Doyle's final Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear, a story inspired by local history.
In the novel, Holmes' investigation of a murder in Southeastern England leads him to the tale of a secret society called the Scowrers in the fictional coal and iron ore mining region of Vermissa Valley in America. Conan Doyle wrote the novel after learning the real-life story of the Molly Maguires and their clashes with mine owners and authorities in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Boss McGinty, the leader or "bodymaster" of the Scowrers, is arrested along with other group ringleaders while waiting to ambush Birdie Edwards, a Pinkerton detective sent to investigate the group.
"It's Boss McGinty's Bird Watchers because we're watching out for Birdie Edwards," said Larry Williams of New Cumberland, Cumberland County. "You'll find that Sherlockians really like puns."
Williams relates the story dressed as Boss McGinty himself. A towering bearded figure in a black Victorian three-piece suit and stovepipe hat, he looks the part of the menacing gang leader.
So what keeps Williams and the others coming back? What mystery lies behind the pipe and deerstalker cap that can captivate a fan for a lifetime?
For Sauls, the group's founder, it's the scientific and logical rigor with which Doyle orchestrated his plots.
"Holmes was the first one that showed you could attack crime logically, and it was not long after Holmes came along that they did start to attack crime logically and apply science to solving crimes," Sauls said. "So in a lot of ways you could say Holmes anticipated forensic science and many of the shows that you see on TV today."
But Sauls also finds the forensic science dramas of today to be poor imitations. He can't watch them without yelling at the television.
"They just do things that are not technically possible," he said.
For Rob Gaiteri, an original member who claims to have read each Sherlock Holmes story at least five times, Sherlock Holmes is a "comfort food;" a familiar place filled with familiar characters where he can always return.
"I guess it's the same reason why a child likes to be read to," Gaiteri said. "You know the ending and you know it's going to be good, and Sherlock always triumphs in the end."
There is something in Conan Doyle's formula that has held enduring appeal, here and elsewhere. The Holmes stories and their protagonist have been adapted and re-imagined countless times over the last century, including in the recent film series starring Robert Downey Jr. and in the new CBS drama "Elementary," which recently premiered.
"I think it proves that the appeal of this mystery appeals to any age," said Alethea Bowman, a retired English teacher and original group member. "It speaks to the intricacy of the stories and the construction of the characters … It proves it's timeless in its enchantment."
1. Holmes resides at which London address?
A: 50 Wimpole Street
B: 10 Downing Street
C: 221B Baker Street
D: 6 Mason's Yard
2. Where does Sherlock Holmes' final, fatal encounter with arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty take place?
A: Reichenbach Falls
B: Notre Dame Cathedral
D: Gobbler's Knob
3. Which Scotland Yard detective frequently calls on Holmes to assist on cases?
A: John H. Watson
B: G. Lestrade
C: Henry Baskerville
D: Langdale Pike
4. How did Sherlock Holmes describe his profession?
A: Private Investigator
B: Forensic Scientist
C: Consulting Detective
D: Sleuth for Hire
5. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most frequently-appearing characters in film and television history. Which of the following actors never portrayed the sleuth on film?
A: Robert Downey Jr.
B: Basil Rathbone
C: Charlton Heston
D: Bela Lugosi
6. Which musical instrument did Holmes play?
C: Acoustic Guitar
D: French Horn
The answers can be deduced by searching for clues below ….
Sherlock Holmes Quiz Answers: 1:C, 2:A, 3:B, 4:C, 5:D, 6:A