The largest crowd ever assembled for a Mendicant meeting – comprising 78 stalwart Sherlockians – gathered on January 31, 2015 at the British Commonwealth Club in the frozen suburb of Warren, Michigan for their annual celebration of the Master’s birthday. For those keeping score at home, Mr. Holmes had turned 161 a few weeks before, according to the generally-accepted theory advanced by several prominent scholars of The Canon.
To commemorate the Master’s longevity, a special birthday cake was unveiled. Created by the Chocolate Bar Café of Grosse Pointe Woods, the cake was shaped like a book, opened to the first sentence of the evening’s story, “The Adventure of the Empty House,” complete with a munchable meerschaum and magnifying glass (with lens).
To get the festivities underway, the Society’s honored Gasogene, John Kramb, gaveled the session to order at 7:09 p.m., welcoming the attendees and introducing the board members and meeting planners. An even Baker’s (Street) Dozen guests were also in attendance and introduced.
Besides the Master’s birthday, one reason for the post-holiday festivities was to celebrate the publication of “From the Lower Vault: Treasures from the Archives of The Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit,” compiled and edited by our own Commissionaire Chris Music, BSI. This engaging tome captures the creation of the Society in 1946 and follows it into the 1960s – a Golden Age in the history of both Detroit and the organization.
As part of the book’s release, members and guests at the meeting were able to purchase these tales from the lower vault for only $20, which was $5 off the regular newsstand price. The book’s publisher, George Vanderburgh, was also on hand to offer several other titles he had printed.
Phil Jones then informed the multitude about a new interactive game facility called the Great Escape Room in Royal Oak. Once inside, participants in teams try to deduce clues and solve puzzles that pit the Great Detective against The Professor in an attempt to escape from a locked room within 60 minutes – all in good fun, of course.
Then, with a fine repast of chicken Marsala, roast beef, pasta Alfredo and accompaniments underway, the obligatory toasts began, just as first offered by the Society in its inaugural year of 1946. After briefly considering Lola Montez, Lillie Langtry, bordello operator Polly Adler, Chris Music saluted the correct Ms. Adler (Irene) as The Woman; Fritzi Roth toasted Mycroft Holmes; Jim O’Keefe honored Watson’s Second Wife and Patience Nauta toasted the person who provided Holmes and Watson with a comfortable home, dear old Mrs. Hudson.
In keeping with another long-standing tradition, Jerry “Red” Alvin rose to recall one improbable myth about the movie “On The Waterfront,” which almost was made in color with carrot-topped Danny Kaye as “the contenda.” But in fact it wasn’t which brought us around to raising our glasses to salute the founder of the Red-Headed League, that much-maligned millionaire from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, one Ezekiah Hopkins.
Next, your Tantalus took the podium to inform the crowd that the National Football League, in need of some pre-Super Bowl hype, had asked the Mendicants to schedule their own Major Award on the night before the big game. With that, the envelope was delivered (courtesy of Price Waterhouse) and the 2014 engraved Beggar’s Cup for the best presentation of 2014 was awarded to Al Calderini, who enlightened the throng at the October meeting about the “Memorable Moriartys of the Media,” complete with video clips and background on those who had played the great nemesis.
With the special Sherlockian birthday cake a memory, Michael Ellis then offered the talking points and a brief overview on the evening’s story, which captured the surprising return of the man who wasn’t dead -- Sherlock Holmes -- after his three-year globe-spanning hiatus to confront the deadly air-gun-wielding Col. Sebastian Moran back in London, in spite of the questionable physics of shooting the shadow of a wax bust through a shaded window.
With the Colonel safely in the hands of Scotland Yard, it was time for the evening’s presentation, “My Life As Sherlock Holmes,” by actor John Sherwood, who has performed his Holmes for almost 30 years in 10 states, Washington, D.C. and London but primarily during mystery weekends at the Victorian Villa Inn in Union City, Michigan, about 20 miles southwest of Marshall.
Much research on Holmes, the stories and the Victorian period was needed as Sherwood developed his portrayal of Holmes which became so realistic that one of the inn’s guests actually phoned 9-1-1 to report a dastardly crime supposedly taking place. Sherwood also opined that “Sherlock Holmes is like Santa Claus for adults – they both have famous addresses (221-B and the North Pole), they both call on small assistants for help (the Baker Street Irregulars and the elves), they both dispense justice and rewards and both have long-suffering ladies at home (Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Claus).”
In response to questions, he said his favorite story in The Canon was “The Hound of the Baskervilles” while his favorite portrayals of Holmes were by Jeremy Brett and Douglas Wilmer, though he felt that Daniel Day-Lewis would have also been perfect in the part.
At the end of Sherwood’s talk, the Gasogene announced that the next meeting would likely be in May, with the date announced later.
The evening’s drawings were also held with Eddie Stein winning the “Baker Street Irregular” book by Jon Lellenberg, Nancy Pilot winning the “Elementary Puzzles” and Bobbi Gorevitz and Roy Pilot receiving refunds of their $5 annual membership dues.
Then, Anne Musial and Jim Conway led the congregation in the traditional singing of “God Save the Queen, Chris Music intoned the traditional closing poem, “221B” and the meeting was adjourned at 10:05 p.m.