Off Beat: Sherlock Holmes inspires imagined correspondence

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter


Even though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, the Sherlock Holmes bookshelf gets longer.

Some stories have been written by devotees like the Baker Street Irregulars.

Some use references in the stories as launching points for their takes on Holmes. A new exhibit about Holmes at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (which we wrote about on Oct. 20) offers an example; it’s from someone who really can be described as a man of letters.

Jon Lellenberg, who helped create the exhibit, said a featured display includes a contribution from Peter G. Ashman, a Baker Street Irregular who died this year.

In describing the sitting room at 221B Baker Street, Conan Doyle referred to unanswered pieces of correspondence that Holmes pinned to his mantel with a jackknife. When that scene was assembled, designers pinned a prop to the mantel.

But Lellenberg remembered that Ashman had written several letters to Holmes under the collective title “Pinned to the Mantel.”

“I got four other friends of Peter’s from the Baker Street Irregulars to join me in creating forgeries of these letters to take the place of the prop,” he said.

Some letters

One was a publisher’s letter rejecting Holmes’ book about his career, calling his crime-solving process “pathetically unrealistic” and an insult to the intelligence of the average reader.

Mycroft Holmes scolded his younger brother for neglecting the family while rushing “across the country to examine a blade of grass or a bicycle tyre print, all on behalf of any miscreant” who knocks on his door.

A letter penned from the perspective of the landlady’s solicitor directed Holmes to vacate 221B Baker Street. The letter cited — among other damage — window panes that have been replaced seven times in three years.

When Mrs. Hudson wanted an explanation, “my client has been thoroughly instructed in the history of glass-making and the shapes and configurations of glass shards” and whether the damage was caused “from inside or out, by airguns or blowguns.”

Finally, there was the stream of young women who arrive in tears and depart smiling. Even if Mrs. Hudson gives him the benefit of the doubt, the solicitor wrote, “surely you will appreciate how it must appear to your neighbors.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.