Books: In Memoriam: Baker Street

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On the walls hung eight profiles of hawk-faced Sherlock Holmes, a curved pipe pendent from his thin lips and a deerstalker cap pushed down on his dolichocephalic skull. Five orange pips lay on one table. On another stood a porcelain Hound of the Baskervilles. The guests raised their glasses, drank to Holmesian characters and places—"To THE Woman," "To Mrs. Hudson," "To Mycroft." Along with place cards, women guests found Holmesian cryptograms—a single red rose and a mysterious note: "Dear Miss —, See you at 2216. Sincerely, John H. Watson." In one corner Author Christopher Morley, in a hunting cap, peered at a sardine through a magnifying glass (see cut) and chatted with the Hon. Buttons.

The place was Manhattan's solemn, dim-lit Murray Hill Hotel, where some 100 men & women had assembled for dinner last fortnight to honor the memory of their favorite detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The occasion was the publication of three new books about Holmes.* The publishers jointly sponsored the dinner. The guests were a Who's Who of crime fictioneers, included Frederic Dannay (coauthor, with Manfred Lee, of the "Ellery Queen" crime series), bearded Rex Stout (creator of orchidophilous Nero Wolfe), Christopher Morley (author of the theory that Sherlock Holmes was an American). Critic Clifton (Information Please) Fadiman, and General Motors Executive Edgar W. Smith, world's No. 1 nonliterary Sherlock Holmes enthusiast.

All were members or friends of the ten-year-old Baker Street Irregulars (hosts at the Murray Hill dinner), a strictly stag club with branches in Boston, Chicago and Akron. Its two officers bear strictly Holmesian titles: President Christopher Morley is Gasogene-&-Tantalus (Holmes kept his whiskey in a tantalus, his soda water in a gasogene); Secretary-Treasurer Edgar W. Smith is Buttons (pageboy in several Holmes stories). Franklin Roosevelt is an Honorary Irregular. This was the first dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars to which women have been invited.

Holmes fans do not admit that the man whom G. K. Chesterton called "the only real legend of our time" is just a character in a detective story. They insist that since his last public appearance (1927) in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Holmes has simply retired from his smoke-filled rooms at London's 2216 Baker Street to a bee farm in Sussex. At last week's dinner no whiff of Holmesian ritual was omitted. Holmesian pundits floored one another with complicated I.Q. tests based on the Master's "Sacred Writings," filled the air with erudite Sherlockeries. From a dais, the Rev. Leslie Marshall of Paterson, NJ. intoned a "prayer," especially composed for the occasion: "Grant me, O spirit of Reason . . . plenty of three-pipe problems, that I may avoid the cowardice of 7% cocaine*. . . . Grant me ... the meditative breakfast at morning; the unexpected client in the nighttime. . . . Strengthen me not to astonish the good Watson merely for theatrical pleasure. . . ."

Only dissenting voice came via telegram. Its simple message: "NUTS." The signer: Edgar Allan Poe.

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