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GIVEN THAT we’re bracketing the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, what better time to celebrate presidential linkages with the world’s greatest consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.
To the best of my research, Dr. John H. Watson never cited Holmes meeting any U.S. president in his chronicles. On the other hand, the Sacred Canon is rich in references to North America. Sherlockian David L. Hammer detailed the Holmesian American connection in To Play the Game: Being a Travel Guide to the North America of Sherlock Holmes.
A Study in Scarlet has an extensive recounting of the travails of Jefferson Hope and the Mormons in Utah. The valley in Holmes’ Valley of Fear adventure is the fictional Vermissa Valley/real Shenandoah Valley in eastern Pennsylvania, home of the 1870s’ Molly Maguire activists (and, incidentally, of my parents; not that they were descended from Mollys, mind).
In “His Last Bow,” Holmes admits of his Altamont masquerade, “… I started my pilgrimage at Chicago and graduated in an Irish secret society in Buffalo…” And, perhaps it’s no coincidence that Irene Adler, to Holmes “The Woman,” was “born in New Jersey in the year 1858.”
There are two original-source U.S. presidential references in Sherlock Holmes by Gas-Lamp: Highlights from the First Four Decades of The Baker Street Journal, edited by Philip A. Shreffler. And, indeed, these are as original as sources can get: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the author of one of them; President Harry S Truman is the other.
Details of President Truman’s honoris causa membership in the Baker Street Irregulars have already been shared here at SimanaitisSays. In “Harry S Truman, Sherlockian,” Milton F. Perry wrote, “Truman had a capacity to absorb and remember with great clarity what he had read, and he read constantly.”
Truman wrote BSI members that he was “looking forward to reading the Journal” and claimed that if it weren’t for the “heavy pressure these days in preparation for the assembly of the new Congress next week,” he would, “send you the message which you suggest….”
Truman’s predecessor to the U.S. presidency (and to BSI honoris causa membership), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, wrote more than several letters to his fellow Sherlockians. In one, he claimed, “On further study I am inclined to revise my former estimate that Holmes was a foundling. Actually he was born an American, and was brought up by his father or a foster father in the underground world, thus learning all the tricks of the trade in the highly developed American art of crime.”
“At an early age,” FDR continued, “he felt the urge to do something for mankind. He was too well known in top circles in this country and, therefore, chose to operate in England. His attributes were primarily American, not English.”
In fine Sherlockian fashion, FDR concluded, “I feel that further study of this postulate will bring good results to history.”
FDR named his presidential retreat “Shangri-La.” It’s now known as Camp David. The cabins reserved for his Secret Service men were known as Baker Street.
Like HST, FDR was an inveterate reader. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017