Sunday, July 2, 2017

John Clayton's cousin Clara.

This being Peoria, home of the Sherlockian society called "The Hansoms of John Clayton," some attention must occasionally be paid to Mr. John Clayton, who drove a hansom cab in The Hound of the Baskervilles. He's a minor character to most readers, but to an old Sherlockian hand in Peoria, he's something much, much more.

John Clayton figures prominently in Peoria author Philip Jose Farmer's Tarzan Alive, an important biography of that ape-man of an earlier era, but as with so many histories written by men, it tends to focus on the men involved and leave out many a sister or girl cousin. So it's not surprising that John's cousin Clara is never mentioned in all the hooplah of tying that cabdriver who visited 221B Baker Street to Tarzan of the Apes.

In fact, when you get into the weeds of it, Clara Clayton's father may have been the actual reason that John Clayton wound up driving a fake Sherlock around London and was later interviewed by the real Sherlock. Clara's father, Daniel Clayton, was the Clayton family lepidopterist, a naturalist specializing in the study of moths and butterflies. As in any field of focus like lepidoptery, societies form, correspondence between experts in the field occurs, and connections are made.

So when Jack Stapleton, another naturalist from that period specializing in lepidoptery, just happens to hire John Clayton for an important day's work, we have to wonder if it is just coincidence at work here, or if Stapleton hadn't heard of the cabman's skills from Clayton's uncle.

The connection of Jack Stapleton to Daniel Clayton to John Clayton may cause you to wonder why I'm focusing on Clara here, if that name didn't ring a bell with you at first glance. Even though The Hound of the Baskervilles has been adapted for the big and small screens many a time, the character of John Clayton depicted therein has never had quite the fame and popularity of his cousin Clara in her cinematic portrayal. But then "Clayton" is probably not the name most remember her by.

For Clara Clayton is probably better known by her married name after she made a very unusual marital connection with the ancestor of another character from the cases of Sherlock Holmes. Remember Silas Brown, the race-horse trainer from "Silver Blaze?" Even though he was actually a contemporary to Clara, his grandson Emmett managed to find his way back to the California of 1885 to fall in love with John Clayton's girl cousin.

Of course, the romance between Emmett "Doc" Brown and Clara Clayton is pretty well known at this point, so I won't dwell further on it here. You can Google it, if you're still lost.

I doubt that John Clayton and Silas Brown were able to cross paths at the wedding of their respective cousin and grandson, but I'm sure they would have made excellent table-mates at the reception, both having a great familiarity with horses to connect on. What was it Sherlock Holmes once said?

"If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable."

And Clara Clayton, were Holmes and Watson took take that magical flight, would be a revelation they would find most fascinating.


  1. This post combines my two favorite things in popular media: Sherlock Holmes and Back to the Future! I'm all in on Clara Clayton being related to John Clayton, but have to call foul on on your Doc Brown theory.

    In BTTF3, while Doc and Marty are looking through Old West photos, Doc tells Marty that there wouldn't be a record of his family because they moved to America in 1908 from Germany, and they were then known as the Von Browns.

    1. Doc is plainly trying to cover up the family scandal, desperately using the sound-alike of "Von Brown" to rocket scientist "Wernher Von Braun." After Watson's expose of all the horse-racing improprieties Silas Brown was involved in, the family obviously had to move to America to get a fresh start, and Doc didn't want Marty looking any deeper into that particular scandal. (After all, the darker side of the Brown bloodline did show up in Emmett's dealings with terrorists. Who knows what else that family was up to!)

    2. Marty was hardly a researcher or gave too much deep thought to matters. I contest your theory that a man who sold used pinball machine parts to terrorists to build a time machine would worry too much about what a teenager thought about him. Especially after all of their adventures together. Biff Tannen is worse than John Straker.

    3. Funny you should mention Biff Tannen . . . I feel the Tannen bloodline has been the victim of a lot of propaganda due to the cult of "Doc" Brown and Marty McFly. Watson's misheard, "Got your message, sir, and brought 'em on sharp. Three bob and a tanner for tickets" should have been ".. brought 'em on sharp. Three Bobs and a Tannen for tickets." A Tannen cousin was the ticket-buying member of the original Irregulars, a very important job!

    4. Have you lost your mind? The Tannen family has been a scourge all throughout history. There were even enough Tannen bullies to create a whole cartoon series around.

    5. Well, I didn't say he lasted long as an Irregular . . .

  2. This reminds me of t.v.s spin-off's of spin-offs. Example - 'All In The Family' spins off 'Maude' spins off 'Good Times.' But in your case the spin-offs could be endless. Great for some people - terrible for others!

  3. You may want to take a look at the website. It contains an interactive map that identifies over 400 places in London associated with the great detective, explains their Sherlockian significance and identifies in which adventure(s) they were mentioned. Currently, the map has been accessed over 300,000 times by visitors from all over the world. Of particular interest in Peoria, the map shows the John Clayton's stable and blacksmith.