Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spring Meeting Report

The spring 2014 meeting of the Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit brought 59 stalwart Sherlockians to the British Commonwealth Club in Warren, Mich., on May 17 for an evening of fellowship and food.

The meeting was called to order at 7:08 p.m. by the Gasogene of the Society, John Kramb, who introduced the board members and several honored guests. They included Mike Whelan, who serves as “Wiggins” to the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI), the national and founding Sherlockian organization. Also attending was his wife, Mary Ann Bradley, BSI, who was on hand to proffer several tomes of related Holmesian studies.

In addition, the Mendicants were honored to welcome several members from another state scion, the Greek Interpreters of East Lansing.

And attending with member Lynn Erickson were two far-flung guests, Sandra Elliott, of England and Annette Poxon, late of Tasmania, who would get the award for longest commute to the meeting if such a thing were available.

Throughout the evening, member Micheal Smith was also at table, offering a vast assortment of Sherlockiana, from the estate of the late Jerry Bixby.

As the multitude tucked into a delicious buffet of roast beef, chicken Marsala and pasta Alfredo, garnished by mashed potatoes and vegetables, the evening’s festivities got underway with the usual ceremonial toasts.

Bobbi Gorevitz hailed The Woman (with a nod to Rachel Adams who played her in the 2009 and 2011 movies); Tom Biblewski toasted Watson’s Second Wife (never named in order to protect her, noted Biblewski); Michael Ellis hailed Mrs. Hudson (observing that, with Holmes as a tenant, she must have been well-insured) and finally Brad Schwartz called on the group to raise their glasses to Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older and some would say smarter brother.

With toasts given and comestibles consumed, the program began with Special Recognitions. For one, our own Chris Music, the Society’s Commissionaire, was honored for his January investiture into the BSI. With a nod to his last name, his official BSI handle is “Wagner Night at Covent Garden.” Presumably, that refers to the late German composer, Wilhelm Richard Wagner, and not Dick Wagner, the singer-guitarist-songwriter with Frost, the Michigan rock band of the late 1960s.

Music joins three other Mendicants in the august national group, those being former Gasogene Roy Pilot, Scott Monty (who co-produces the podcast “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere”) and Regina Stinson, a Mendicant who helms her own successful scion, the Ribston-Pippins of Royal Oak, with husband Sam.

Brad Schwartz, who wrote the screenplay for last fall’s PBS documentary on the famous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938, was also honored with the presentation of a rare 33 ½ long-playing album of that very show.

Mike Whelan and Mary Ann Bradley also received certificates of investiture into the Mendicants (complete with the attached shilling) for their long careers fostering the spread of knowledge about The Master.

Next, society Tantalus Rob Musial presented the talking points of the evening’s story, which, with a nod to our East Lansing guests, was “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.” While not judged as one of the Canon’s best stories, it nonetheless is a favorite for introducing us to Mycroft.

Reviewing the adventure, Musial quizzed the room on several singular points in the story, concluding by elaborating the extremely odd behavior of Mycroft, which had led more than one Sherlockian, including the earliest scholar Ronald Knox, to observe that Holmes frère must have been in league with the adventure’s dastardly criminals (!).

(Later, Mike Whelan complimented how the story talking points were handled and said he enjoyed his time spent with the Mendicants. “It’s nice to see a group so big and so enthusiastic,” he said.)

Finally, to the meat of the evening’s program, a PowerPoint presentation by Chris Music entitled “More Art in the Blood: Vernet, Verner, Sherlock Holmes and Detroit.”

The sanguinary reference comes from the evening’s very story in which, for the first time, Dr. Watson learns a bit about Holmes’ family, after Sherlock opines that “art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”

In his own words, Holmes reveals a familial relation to an artistic family, the Vernets of France. Music’s research detailed the three likely candidates, Claude Vernet (1714-1759), son Carle Vernet (1758-1835) and grandson Horace Vernet (1789-1863). With reproductions of their works enlivening the presentation, Music linked Holmes’ ancestors to Detroit by noting that the Detroit Institute of Arts has two Vernet paintings in its collection. (There is even a tenuous link to the Mendicants, who had their second official meeting with a Sherlock Holmes’ play in the DIA’s auditorium in 1947.)

But the local link was further strengthened as Music detailed how the Vernet name came to be changed over the years, resulting in a link to Detroit legend and ginger ale magnate James Vernor. It seems that James, whose deliciously different beverage is still enjoyed today, was a descendent of Samuel Verner (note spelling) and as we know from the Canonical tale involving the Norwood Builder, it was one Doctor Verner who, in that tale, had purchased the medical practice of Holmes’ biographer, Dr. John Watson! With such links are the sturdy chains of Sherlockian scholarship forged.

As the evening wound down, the regular drawings were held, with Roy Pilot taking home the door prize of a Sherlock Holms pub sign, Al Calderini winning the DVD of the third season of “Sherlock” and John LaFond scoring rare reviewer’s copies of volumes one and two of Les Klinger’s new annotated Sherlock Holmes. The DVD and the Klingers were graciously donated by member Phil Jones.

After the Gasogene promised that further info about the fall meeting would be forthcoming, Anne Musial was joined by Gayle and Jim Conway who led the group in the traditional singing of “God Save the Queen.”

Finally, Rob Musial was surprised to find himself tapped to read the closing traditional poem “221B.”  Fortunately, with the help of a quick search on the smartphone of the Victorian-garbed Bev Sobolewski, all was made well (oh, for Holmes to have had THAT technology at his fingertips!) and the meeting was adjourned at 9:37 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Musial
AMS Tantalus