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THE 33RD PRESIDENT of the United States, Harry S Truman, was a dedicated follower of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, the Baker Street Journal, an “irregular quarterly” published by the Baker Street Irregulars since 1946, relates entertaining information in this regard. It’s in keeping with Sherlockian scholarship’s insistence on factual research, albeit with tongue in cheek.
The book Sherlock Holmes By Gas Lamp: Highlights from the First Four Decades of the Baker Street Journal, edited by Philip A. Shreffler, contains a wealth of Sherlockiana. One of its articles is by Milton F. Perry, museum curator of the Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. Perry shares conversations he had with Truman during his tenure at the library from 1958 until 1976.
“ ‘Mr. President,’ I asked, ‘What did the dog do in the night-time?’
Harry S Truman grinned and looked at his glass of bourbon and branch water. ‘Perry,’ he said, ‘you ought to know better than test an old Holmesian like me, the only honorary member of the Baker Street Irregulars. You know damned well the dog did nothing in the night-time.’ ”
With the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, Harry Truman had not only become president of the U.S., but also the only surviving member honoris causa of this exclusive assembly of Sherlockians. FDR ascended to Baker Street Irregulars membership in 1942; Truman followed in 1945.
Perry notes that Truman’s reading habits started early, despite his bad eyesight. “I had flat eyeballs as a boy,” Truman told him, “and couldn’t see well enough to play ball with the other kids, so they made me the umpire.” Instead of sports, Truman took to reading everything in the Independence Library.
Another comment by Truman led to an entertaining bit of Sherlockian scholarship implying that he had been the youngest president in U.S. history. Here’s the (contorted) logic:
In his Baker Street Irregulars acceptance speech, Truman told members, “I had read all of the Holmes novels before I was twelve years old and I would do it again if I had time.”
Sherlockian scholars took this statement to heart and analyzed it with Holmesian rigor. If indeed Truman had read all of Watson’s chronicles by age 12, he could not possibly have been born in the generally accepted year of 1884.
Many of Watson’s tales date from later than 1896, when Truman would have turned 12. In fact, Watson’s last chronicle, “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” wasn’t published in The Strand Magazine until 1927.
Thus, amazingly enough, to have read all of them before he was age 12, Truman must have been born no earlier than 1915—and thus he became president of the U.S. at the age of 30!
Said Truman later of the matter, his tongue out-of-cheek, “I guess I really upset those fellas with my acceptance. They were too embarrassed to tell me I was wrong and had made a mistake, so they went all around trying every way they knew to make me right.”
Or, as no less than Sherlock Holmes himself said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016
Wow! Nice article and what fond memories for me. Milton Perry is my deceased father. I have all his collections of Sherlock and his archives of his years with President Truman. He wrote about this conversation in his daily journaling of his 15 years with the President. We used to use our neighborhood club house in Golden Akers , for the some of the yearly Sherlock dinners. Always setting an extra place setting of my great grandmother’s Haviland Limoges Antique China in case Mr Holmes showed up, as was customary. I still have the China and thousands of documents, photos, autographs etc of the President and dignitaries including movie stars, some whom would dine with us at our home ( Ken Curtis, Jack Lord, Paul Henning and Buddy Ebson to list a few). I’m putting an exhibit together from Williamsburg, Ft Macon, WestPoint, HST, The Old Jail, J James etc and completing my father’s HST book and his JJ book and one other also. I’d love to get my hands on a signed “Lampost” copy. If you can help me PLEASE contact me at my business number 559-627-4776. If I am not available please ask for my son Grant. Thanks for the great article. This brought back memories and I was just working on dad’s archives this evening.