Simanaitis Says

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THE WORLD’S FIRST consulting detective occasionally assumed different personae, some named, others not. Here, in Parts 1 and 2, today and tomorrow, is a selection of those AKA Holmes actually appearing in the chronicles of Dr. John H. Watson.

An Old Book Collector and the Norwegian Sigerson. Some of Holmes’ faux personae were only fleeting; others had longer duration. In “The Adventure of the Empty House,” April 1894, Watson begins wiith lamenting “the loss which the community had sustained by the death of Sherlock Holmes.” Thinking he might assay his late friend’s investigative techniques, Watson visits a recent crime scene and encounters “an elderly deformed man, who had been behind me, … I knocked down several books he was carrying.”

Minutes later back in his study, Watson has a visitor, none other than the old book collector, who tries to sell him some books: “With five volumes you could just fill that gap on that second shelf. It looks untidy, does it not, sir?”

Watson writes, “I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned again Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table.”

Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele for Collier’s Magazine, September 26, 1903 in The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volumes 1 and 2, edited, with introduction, notes, and bibliography by William S. Baring-Gould, Clarkson N. Potter, 1960.

Holmes then shares details of his three-year hiatus: “You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend.”

Altamont. In “His Last Bow,” August 1914, Holmes disguises himself as Altamont, an English-hating Irish-American. He dupes Von Bork, a German secret agent, who says, “I assure you that our most pan-Germanic Junker is a sucking dove in his feelings towards England as compared with a real bitter Irish-American.”

Altamont is described as “a tall, gaunt man of sixty, with clear-cut features and a small goatee beard which gave him a general resemblance to the caricatures of Uncle Sam.” Sans the faux goatee, whom does he resemble?

Holmes took his faux personae seriously: “… I started my pilgrimage at Chicago,” he tells Watson, and “graduated in an Irish secret society at Buffalo…”

Captain Basil. Long before Basil Rathbone took on his own Sherlockian persona, in “The Adventure of Black Peter,” July 1895, Watson writes, “During the first week in July my friend had been absent so often and so long from our lodgings that I knew he had something on hand. The fact that several rough-looking men called during that time and inquired for Captain Basil made me understand that Holmes was working somewhere under one of the numerous disguises and names with which he concealed his own formidable identity.”

Later, Holmes confirms this to Watson, “Have you telegraph forms? Just write a couple of messages for me: ‘Sumner Shipping Agent, Ratcliff Highway. Send three men on, to arrive ten to-morrow morning.—Basil.’ That’s my name in those parts.”

Tomorrow, in Part 2, we learn of other Holmes disguises, as well as other people in the chronicles who assume faux personae. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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