Tuesday, November 15, 2022

That time Sherlock Holmes invaded America as Uncle Sam

 This fall's passing of the crown over in Britain was another reminder of the differences between "the mother country" and the United States of America. We've gone our two hundred plus years without a monarch, an ongoing apolitical figurehead, or even a national mascot. Our first candidate for such a thing was Columbia or Lady Liberty, who then had to compete with a second contender, Uncle Sam, after the War of 1812 saw his rise to cultural prominence. 

And while Uncle Sam's origins and timeline are somewhat hazy, we Sherlockians know one thing: When Sherlock Holmes had to enmesh himself in American culture, he took on the look of Uncle Sam for his invasion of America in 1912, about a hundred years after Uncle Sam was born. "His Last Bow," the story of Holmes's Uncle Sam look, was published in October of 1917, which makes a study of the rise of Uncle Sam's image an interesting thing for Sherlockians.

Uncle Sam's look, according to Wikipedia of the moment, didn't really get standardized until after the Civil War, and had one of its big moments on the cover of a magazine called Leslie's Weekly in July of 1916. Where Uncle Sam was appearing in Britain, where Watson or Conan Doyle might have seen him to compare Sherlock Holmes to, is an interesting question. What is more interesting is what might have inspired Sherlock Holmes to take on that look in 1912.

Did Sherlock Holmes see Uncle Sam's rise in American culture early enough to take on that look as comforting and welcome to American's? And would his tale of wandering America in the early part of his spy days have brought him into contact with the artists who would shape Uncle Sam's image for the rest of that century?

And with a brother like Mycroft who "was" the British government, wouldn't Mycroft have loved to see his baby brother as personifying America to feel a bit bonded with the offspring nation?

Uncle Sam definitely has an interesting place in the life of Sherlock Holmes, and one I hope we see explored further one day. (If I haven't missed somewhere it was already, which I probably have.)

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