Sad news today, as a small note came along from Bill Cochran with the October issue of The Camden House Journal. After forty-three years of monthly dinner meetings, the Occupants of the Empty House will be considering its dissolution at the end of this year. The Occupants were hard hit with the loss of one of their dual sparking plugs not so long ago, and as the last paragraph of their meeting notes for September read, "Unfortunately, the passion is gone, and we appear to just be going through a routine."
Forty-three years in a part of Southern Illinois that you can only get to on two-lane highways. No major metropolis to fuel it, but like a big city scion, the Occupants even had a society or two spin off from the enthusiasm it produced in its members. I'm not trying to write an "in memoriam" here. The point I want to make is that even the strongest among us eventually must face the rigors of age, be it a person or a society. And if this year, is indeed, their swan song, the Occupants held to their traditions for a lot long than most. Peoria's Hansoms of John Clayton did what it did for a little over twenty-five years before the passion went out of it and the membership faded away. Peoria got new Sherlock Holmes group a few years ago, doing things differently, but not holding to those same traditions, not calling itself that name.
Sherlock Holmes goes on, but those who celebrate him and how they celebrate him inevitably shifts. As proud as some of our big-city brethren might be of their longevity, while a club name might remain the same, the group behind it eventually becomes something new, something not quite what it was before. People change, and while a tradition or two might make it as a through-line, nothing from the 1950s was exactly the same as it is in the 2010s. Even Sherlock Holmes himself.
Watson's words remain the same, but the readers forming their own impressions from those words get a different Sherlock Holmes in their heads. Even if a person avoids all movies and television, the cultural lens through which they read those words changes. Sherlock Holmes becomes like a family home passed through generations -- the same place, yet changed.
Change is gonna come.
One of the best endings to a weekly TV show in the 1960s was Carol Burnett's little song, "I'm so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh and sing a song. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, 'so long.'" It was a bittersweet little tune, but it always led with those words, "I'm so glad we had this time together." And no matter what happens with the Occupants, I'm glad for the time they gave me. That's time that's in the Sherlockian record, printed on the pages of their newsletter and in books, and there's no shame in letting it go for a time.
Just up the road from the Occupants of the Empty House was a Sherlock Holmes society called "the Pondicherry Lodge of Springfield" that disappeared back in the 1940s. We don't know why. But eventually, someone in Springfield read of its existence and began that group again. Other folks came and found joy in what some earlier residents had created, despite never meeting those original members face-to-face or knowing their ways. Because Sherlock Holmes endures, and with him, Sherlockian society.
So if Southern Illinois's "Empty House is," indeed, unoccupied for a time, I doubt it will stay that way forever. Good houses eventually get new occupants, and the Occupants of the Empty House has been a very good house. And as we know well, with Sherlock Holmes, there is always the hope of an "Empty House" after a hiatus. Always.