Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Happy Birthday, Mr. Holmes

About a year ago, I was lucky enough to make the pilgrimage some Sherlock Holmes fans are lucky enough to make. With the aid of my friend in Amsterdam, we traveled to see Holmes' famous stomping grounds, in the city of London.

London, even in the beginning of January, was thrumming with life. One thing photographs cannot capture is how foggy the city can get, how dark and atmospheric it can feel. So it fit my favorite fictional character, Sherlock Holmes. The city lived up to every myth and legend. I could imagine thousands of different lives being lived out, all in one city.

Of course Sherlock Holmes was never a real person. Nor was the address 221 B Baker Street. (Until the Sherlock Holmes society resurrected a fictionalized museum-home for the great detective in the early nineties.) Despite Holmes never having been in London, his presence is felt more than ever. The Baker Street tube stop bears his image; there are signs, books, and statues in his honor. 

In the 221 B Baker Street museum, you can find an entryway with coats hanging on hooks; one for Watson, one for Holmes. In the main guest parlor, a brass oil lamp burns. On a desk are correspondences addressed to Holmes. A foot stool holds his violin, which rests atop a messy array of sheet music.

The museum was gorgeous, if not a touch eerie. It felt like you walked into someone's home when they were gone. It felt almost personal to poke around at the objects, or to put on Holmes' deerstalker. 

It felt like he'd be walking through the door any moment, bandit at his heels. 

Despite the surreal experience of knowing what I was seeing wasn't a real person's home, it did make me think about the character of Holmes, himself. In the line waiting to see the museum, I was surrounded by people from all over the world: China, France, all stretches of Europe. Holmes' character has reached far beyond London, and has taken on a worldly incarnations. 

I always wonder what draws people to the character of Sherlock Holmes. All I can say is I remember what drew me in. It was a few lines from the original stories.

Watson is hurt, and Holmes addresses him, asking, "You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!"

Watson is shocked that Holmes is concerned about him, as it goes against his usual, cold manner. 

In a revelation to his character, he discovers that Holmes was more human, more suspect to the emotions we all feel than he let on. Watson thinks, "It was worth a wound -- it was worth many wounds -- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask."

In going to London, I got a glimpse behind that mask. Special thanks to my friend for taking the journey with me, knowing tube stops like the back of her hand, and making it possible to see Holmes' world. And of course: Happy Birthday, Mr. Holmes.

You don't look a day over 162. 


Photography by me, MD. All museum photographs were taken with permission from 221 B Sherlock Holmes museum.