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BLOG:  REMINISCENCES OF


A NON-BSI


Memories From A Maudlin Mind

 

Eugene Stovall

Oakland, CA February, 2019

 

 

Life is measured by memories. Memories prepare us for what lies ahead by reassuring us that the future is no more frightening than visiting family or seeing friends. Some folks store their memories in collections that are like treasure troves of experiences coming alive upon demand. Though our memories make us nostalgic and sometimes maudlin, they provide us the dignity to live without regret.

 

Many memories are stored in my pin collection. However, my pin collection is no longer an interesting pastime and a pleasant hobby. Now I must sell off my pins to make ends meet. Like my great-grandmother’s people who left the reservation to peddle curios by the side of the road, I sit on an electronic road, the internet, selling pins each of which containing wispy memories, like those Professor Albus Dumbledore pulled from his mind for Harry Potter. And like Doubledore’s memories, mine can be maudlin and sentimental, as well.

 

PIN COLLECTING MEMORIES

As I was routing through my pin collection, an assortment of Sherlock Holmes pins sent memories racing through my mind like the Burma-Shave signs that once dotted the two lane California highways long before the eight lane freeways took over. Though not unpleasant, these memories reminded of my great failure to become a BSI. Actually, not becoming a BSI was not as much of a failure as not being fully accepted into academia. So many of the BSIs that I knew were also faculty members, like the witty and lovable Marylyn McGregor, a BSI and full university professor as well. My own academic career was as short-lived as my BSI career ___ even though in Ted Schulz, I had an excellent sponsor and a dear friend. Ted Shulz was a wonderfully kind person. In many ways he reminded me of Al Lepawsky, my academic patron. Al did everything he could to settle me into an academic career ___ just as  Ted did everything he could to put me on the path to becoming a BSI. But alas, I disappointed both of them.

 

Years before I knew anything about the BSI, a colleague at the California State Legislature gave me the two volume boxed set of William S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. At the time, I was a voracious reader and devoured all four novels and fifty-eight tales chronicling the exploits of the world’s most famous detective. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes taught me as much about Victorian England as Bertie Wooster and Jeeves taught me about the English gentility. Thorugh Baring-Gould, I was able to match wits with crafty detective, carefully following Holmes’ inductive method, which many falsely believe to be deduction. My familiarity with the world of Sherlock Holmes was key to my friendship with Ted Schulz and admittance to the Scowrers & Molly Maguires, the elites of the San Francisco Bay Area Sherlock Holmes community.

 

 

A JOURNEY UNPLANNED

 

Years later, my own adventures brought me to San Francisco. One day, while strolling the downtown environs of the city that Herb Caen called ‘Bagdad by the Bay,’ taking in the sights and sounds during my lunch break ___ as I sometimes did my workload permitting  ___ I embarked upon my singular adventure. As it happened, my stroll took me from my Third Street, office up Market Street and over to Union Square. Passing in front of the elegant St. Francis Hotel, I walked to the edge of San Francisco’s infamous Tenderloin District where the venerable Orpheum Theater glared across the street at the upstart ACT playhouse. Deciding to return to my office by a different route, I had crossed over to O’Farrell Street and descended back down into the financial district towards the bay, when I spotted a sign in front of the Union Square Holiday Inn. It read S. Holmes, Esq. Intrigued, I entered the hotel, took the elevator to the 32nd floor where I entered the world of Victorian England in the year of 1885.

 

To the right of the elevators and at the end of a hallway, lined with prints and lithographs by Sidney Paget and Frederick Dorr Steele, was a complete re-creation of 221b Baker Street ___ the flat where Mrs. Hudson tended her illustrious boarder, Sherlock Holmes and his biographer and confidant, John H. Watson. Back down the hall, to the left of the elevators, were double doors of etched glass that opened into an English pub. On a wall, perpendicular to the bar and next to the glass doors was a rack. On the rack, lined up together, were rows of Meerschaum pipes. Each pipe had a metal plaque upon which was engraved an individual’s name. Thus I happened to stumble upon the home of the community of northern California Sherlockians and, indeed, the meeting place of Sherlockians from across the country and from all over the world. And, indeed, it would also be the meeting place where, for the next two decades, I would join the activities celebrating the life and times of Sherlock Holmes. Here I met Sherlockians from Japan and England, from Amsterdam and Canada and from all over the United States. Each month, I spent time at S. Holmes, Esq. as well as at Fort Mason and other places where Sherlockians met to wear their deerstalkers, sing God Save The Queen, propose toasts and relive adventures that touched upon empire, rule and the privileges pertaining to the master race.

 

SCOWRERS & MOLLY MAGUIRES

 

Initially, Harraway, Ray deGroat and the, aforementioned, Ted Schulz welcomed me into the Scowrers & Molly Maguires, the official scion or club of the San Francisco Sherlockian community. Both of them did everything they could to make me feel fully accepted. From the very beginning, as far as I could tell, all of the Scowrers’ festivities were always lighthearted though tinged with the satire and double-entendres that only one versed in the canon could appreciate. My prior canonical study had so prepared my intrusion into the Scowrers midst that soon, most of the Sherlockians began to feel comfortable with my unexpected appearance in their midst ___ even though I am certain that more than one believed they had been targeted by some civil rights group. Yet. with my trusty Baring-Gould as an unfailing font of information, I participated in the discussions and regaled in the bonhomie of those devotees of Sherlockiana. After a year or two, the group invited me to their annual Christmas reading of the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle hosted by the Persian Slipper Club. With much ceremony, my name was put on a Meerschaum pipe and added to those others on display in the pub. And without much adieu, I was accepted into San Francisco’s Sherlockian inner circle.

 

I worked hard to become a respected Sherlockian. I participated in the canonical quizzes winning a number of prizes and submitted articles to the Vermissa Herald, the Scowrers’ irregular Sherlockian newsletter. Two of my articles were even submitted to the Baker Street Journal. One of my articles entitled Of Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Adventures Of A Man Called Sigerson traced Sherlock Holmes missing seven years in Tibet.  A Canadian Sherlockian publication requested permission to reprint my article from the BSI founder of the Disjecta Membra scion located in Palo Alto. I authored another article, Sherlock Holmes Was A Woman; it was a parody of Rex Stout’s Baker Street Journal article, Watson Was A Woman. Though not directly rebuked, my heresy raised eyebrows in some Sherlockian circles and, at times, double-entendres became singular gibes. But my heretical article was not the only controversy to mar my Sherlockian career. Another controversy involved one of the community’s most revered BSI member, the noted science fiction writer, Pohl Anderson.

 

The Scowrers always maintained a table available for members to display and even sell Sherlockian memorabilia, at their meetings. I had bought an excellent set of etched Sherlockian glassware from “the table.” At one meeting, I brought a number of Pohl Anderson’s novels that I found while rummaging through a second hand store. I also discovered some early editions of the Strand Magazines with articles by ‘the literary agent,’ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, himself. Though the uninitiated believe Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, true Sherlockians know that the canon is a true account penned by Dr. John Watson. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was merely Dr. Watson’s literary agent. Before the meeting, I asked Pohl Anderson to sign my copies of his books. He seemed pleased and willingly autographed the books. Then I put the books up for sale on “the table.” During the meeting, I caught Pohl’s wife and Shirley Dickensheet, ‘clucking’ together. Every so often the pair would shoot disagreeable looks in my direction. Shirley Dickensheet was the widow of Dean Dickensheet, a distinguished Sherlockian, a BSI and a frequent contributor to the Baker Street Journal. Shirley Dickensheet was an esteemed Sherlockian in her own right. In addition to being the Scowrers’ secretary, Shirley had published an important Sherlock Holmes bibliography. Prior to their admittance to the BSI, women celebrated the annual BSI dinner, separately, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. Shirley Dickensheet was a founding and charter member of ASH. As one of the society’s grand dames, Shirley Dickesheet was not someone any Sherlockian would want to displease. But, apparently, I had done just that. After awhile Shirley even approached me to express her disapproval with my inappropriate behavior. Yet, her displeasure did not prevent Shirley from buying two of Pohl’s rarer and more sought after books. After the meeting, Marilyn McGregor pulled me aside and gave me a friendly warning. I thanked Marilyn and assured her that from then on I would be more careful about minding my Ps & Qs,

 

But my faux pas seemed inevitable. Even Ted chided me at a formal Sherlockian affair. I was wearjng what appeared to be a military medal hanging from what appeared to be a campaign ribbon. Ted, a decorated Army officer and, at the time, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army reserve, angrily pulled me aside. “We do not permit anyone to wear undeserved military decorations,” he hissed a me. “Where did you get that,” he asked, pointing to the decoration on my chest, “a pawn shop?”

 

 I told Ted that the decoration was my Ad Altare Dei award that I had earned as a Boy Scout. Reluctantly, he allowed me to continue to wear it. I guess a Boy Scout award was out of place in a room where military veterans displayed their combat and military decorations. Their metals were earned, in the main, for killing non-white peoples all over the globe. Even, Dr. Watson was decorated for military action at the battle of Maiwand, near Kandahar, in the First Afghan War. I had submitted a Sherlockian paper about the battle where the British suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of the ‘fuzzy wuzzies.’ My own military service was rather humble, barely managing a honorable discharge from the US Air Force after serving four years as an enlisted serviceman. I did, however, play a minor role in the Cuban Missile Crisis’; I did not receive any service decoration. I guess to get a metal, someone must die. Nevertheless, I continued to do my best to further the interests of the society.

 

Inevitably, my most important contributions, my scion pins, were what caused my rejection by the BSI. I produced pins for the Scowrers and Molly Maguires, Tidewauters, Disjecta Membra, Persian Slipper Club, Tin Box, Blustering Gales of the Southeast, Sounds of the Baskervilles,  Denizens of the Bar of Gold and others that I cannot recall. Even today, if you ‘Google’ the Scowrers and Molly Maguires you will find my pins prominently displayed in the ‘images’ section___ along side the Dean Dickensheet scion pin. I even produced a pin for Wiggins’ local scion. Afterwards Wiggins invited me to the annual meeting’ of his local scion. However, I was economically embarrassed and unable to attend. I had fallen victim to Jerry Brown’s purge of black managers when the racist Jesuit was mayor of Oakland. But as things turned out, pins and my perceived irreverent attitude were what ultimately caused me not to become a BSI.

 

In 1989, the Scowrers hosted a Sherlock Holmes Seminar at Stanford University. Sherlockians from all over the country and from around the world attended the event. As the seminar’s planner, Ted was more excited than anyone. So I decided to do something special. The Scowrers and Molly Maguires take their name from the novel, Valley of Fear and an important clue for Sherlock Holmes in this novel is Porlock’s Cypher. I decided to create a set of pins arranged around Sherlock Holmes who is examining Porlock’s Cypher for the Sherlockian Stanford Seminar. Though this Sherlockian pin set delighted seminar attendees, Ted later confided that the pin set caused my membership in the Baker Street Irregulars, the BSI, the Sherlock Holmes Club of America, and the society officially affiliated with the International Sherlock Holmes Club, headquartered in London England, to be rejected. When he informed me, Ted was visibly distraught; it hurt him far more to inform me of the society’s decision than it hurt me. For years afterwards, Ted encouraged me to continue my participation in local Sherlockian activities ___ which I did.  Being ‘blackballed’ from the Baker Street Irregulars was not the worse thing to ever happen in my life.

 

My final break with the Sherlock Holmes community came in 2006. I had become infatuated with the black novelist, Frank Yerby. As an adjunct professor at St. Mary’s College, I had tried unsuccessfully to get Yerby’s novels into the curriculum. Undeterred, I decided to produce a Yerby Symposium at the Oakland Museum, invitjng scholars and literati from all over the United States. Owen Laster, the executive vice president for literary affairs at the William, Morris Agency, agreed to be the keynote speaker. Owen Laster had been Frank Yerby’s literary agent for many years. I made certain to invite everyone from the Sherlock Holmes community to my symposium. But, alas, not one showed up, not even Ted Shulz.  I was so disappointed and embarrassed that I never attended another Sherlockian event and never saw any of my erstwhile Sherlockian ‘friends’ again.  

 

 

****

 

Putting my Sherlock Holmes pins up for sale brought back these memories. A buyer from New York, who I assumed was a BSI, purchased several of my pins. I was very pleased that the pins went to someone who could appreciate them. God Save The Queen!