Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Peoria failure among the great Sherlockian weekends past

Wandering through my ancient crypt of an old office file cabinet, I stumbled across a file from the study of my old friend Bob Burr that contained flyers for about fifteen Sherlockian weekend workshops conducted by John Bennett Shaw in the 1980s.

The run of flyers actually goes from June of 1978 to August of 1987, from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland to Stanford University in California. Most were university weekends, at some you stayed in the school's dorms. My introduction to the larger Sherlockian world came at the one held in Lisle, Illinois, at Illinois Benedictine College in 1983.

I will always remember stepping up to the registration desk to sign in for the workshop, and how John Bennett Shaw nudged my friend Bob at the time and pointed to the accommodations chart. It seems that myself and a young lady with a last name different from mine were sharing rooms, which in 1983, rated a questioning glance. Bob reassured John that, despite the different last names, we were married and no mistake had been made in the room assignments. (Not thinking Shaw a prude, just that he was concerned for the potentially single lady forced to room with a bearded scalawag such as myself.)

Lisle, however, was not the place I was supposed to meet the larger Sherlockian world for the first time. No, that was supposed to have occurred in July of 1979, at the Shaw workshop held at Bradley University, right here in Peoria, Illinois. But Peoria's Sherlockian society was brand new, the university had little idea what they were doing, and even though we are less than three hours from both St. Louis and Chicago Sherlockians, those involved could not get enough people to sign up and cancelled the event at the last minute. So last minute, in fact, that no one bothered to tell a very angry Jack Tracy, at the peak of his Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana prominence. (So angry that he refused to even dine with local Sherlockians since he was in town anyway.)

I hadn't even met the local Sherlockian society at that time, so I didn't know what I was missing, and the flyer for the workshop, almost hysterically vague and weirdly academic, was no help on that account. "There will be a limited number of assigned readings connected with the workshop." "If possible, participants are asked to procure one of the editions of the complete Holmes stories." "Several noted Sherlockians will be guest lecturers during the conference." (With no names outside of Shaws listed in the flyer.)

The weekend would have run from 7:30 PM Friday through 4:00 PM Sunday, and in that time there were to be six lectures, nine films, and "remarks," "discussions," and "definitions of terms." It seemed to be aimed at non-Sherlockians, but would a non-Sherlockian pay $55 for a Holmes weekend in 1979? I don't know.

In any case, this city of mine didn't get on the Sherlockian map that year, which will always be a great "what might have been" for me. As Lisle in 1983 inspired me to start working on some wonderful Sherlockian projects, I can't help but wonder what might have occurred with a four year head start.

But an interesting time, the late 1970s and 1980s. We had disco Sherlockians. And Shaw.

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