Was it the weather, the venue or the camaraderie?
No doubt all three as the Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit welcomed a record 68 interested Sherlockians to its annual fall meeting at the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club on Sunday, September 23, 2012.
After calling the meeting to order at 1:27 p.m., Gasogene John Kramb surveyed the assemblage and called it “the largest crowd ever at a Mendicants’ meeting,” a history that stretches back to the scion’s founding in 1946.
After introducing various notables and factotums in the crowd, Kramb welcomed Cindy Lane, a guest all the way from San Diego who had come with John and Ann LaFond. More than one amateur sleuth was heard to wonder if Ms. Lane had sisters named either Penny or Lois.
Kramb also noted the attendance of Elaine Roberts, one of the longest-serving Mendicants, whose AMS tenure dates back to 1975.
Amid the white linen tablecloths and the equine décor, the group tucked into their meal choices of grilled salmon, marinated flank steak or a tasty chicken cutlet and observed the usual toasts: To The Woman (by John LaFond), Watson’s Second Wife (by Phil Jones), Mycroft Holmes (by Al Calderini) and finally, to Mrs. Hudson (by Chris Music, the stalwart Commissionaire of the AMS).
Following the meal, the crowd feasted on a special dessert, a large sheet cake brightly decorated to celebrate the 111th reunion of the Priory School (1901 – 2012).
Next, Tantalus Rob Musial rose to propose a final toast – to Holmes himself, a 158-year-old man who’s more alive now than he’s ever been, seeing as how he’s currently being portrayed on-screen by three actors. They include Jonny Lee Miller on the CBS series, “Elementary,” which premiered Sept. 27; Benedict Cumberbatch in the forthcoming third season of the BBC/PBS series “Sherlock” and Robert Downey Jr., who has just signed on for his third movie as the world’s first consulting detective.
The Tantalus then outlined the discussion points (and several questions) on the day’s assigned reading, “The Adventure of the Priory School. It seems that Dr. Watson’s literary agent, one Arthur Conan Doyle, even listed this story as tenth on a list of his Top 12 favorite Canonical tales.
The well-researched discussion points revealed the origin of one of the honors earned by Duke of Holdernesse (Knight of the Garter); that the Duke’s London residence (Carlton House Terrace) actually exists though it was heavily damaged during the Blitz in World War II and whether or not someone could actually tell the direction of a bicycle by examining its tyre tracks (yes).
Musial also noted that the Duke’s payoff to Holmes for solving the case would amount to a whopping $1.9 million U.S. today, if factored for inflation.
After this, Dr. David Mohan made his presentation on the afternoon’s story, a detailed address entitled “Old Shoes but New Nails: An Examination of the Priory School Mystery.”
Those expecting a monograph from the story about using cleverly-shod cattle to approximate horses’ hoof-prints were pleasantly surprised when the good doctor instead focused on another mystery in the story.
Using clues in the tale, a close investigation of heraldic devices and a fine-toothed examination of upper-crust English history, Mohan were able to posit that the fictional sixth Duke of Holdernesse was based on the eighth Duke of Devonshire, a noted statesman during the Victorian era. (Editor’s Note: Still to be determined is the identity of the fabled but unrelated Duke of Earl.)
Devonshire’s manorial home, known as Chatsworth House, was used as the location for the 1986 BBC TV version of “The Priory School” starring Jeremy Brett. And Jane Austen actually used Chatsworth as the model for Fitzwilliam Darcy’s beloved Pemberley in her novel “Pride and Prejudice.” The modest 297-room home also stood in as Pemberley in the 2005 movie version of Austen’s beloved story.
After this, Commissionaire Music mentioned that the next meeting of the AMS would be Saturday, January 19, 2013 at the British Commonwealth Club in Warren, Michigan.
Next came a regular feature, the door prize drawing, this time for three priceless collectibles. Jan Biblewski took home the Sherlock Holmes T-shirt (graciously donated by new members Ginger and Mike Nickerson); Kathy Stankich was awarded the Sherlock Holmes action figure and Ray Mandziuk won the Sherlock Holmes movie poster, featuring Downey and Jude Law. Since he said it would clash with his décor, he graciously awarded it in turn to Natalie Katkowsky.
In conclusion and accompanied by Dr. Mohan on the piano, Anne Musial led the multitude in singing the traditional “God Save the Queen” and Gasogene Kramb closed the meeting at 4:17 p.m. with a stirring reading of “A Long Evening with Holmes.”
Postscript: Before departing, several guests also enjoyed a post-meeting riding demonstration on the Hunt Club’s paddock arranged by Dr. Mohan.