OMSI traces Sherlock Holmes' forensic footprint

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Some fans take their Sherlock Holmes seriously, and will be reveling in the OMSI exhibit about the sleuth, which opens Oct. 10. Members of the Noble and Most Singular Order of the Blue Carbuncle are (from left to right) Jan Cassetta, Kent Teynor, President Jim Cassetta, John Ellis and Maria Holmes-Vaughan.Sherlock Holmes loved a mystery. And now the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is helping to solve one concerning the fictional sleuth himself: Why is he still so popular?

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes makes its world premiere at OMSI on Oct. 10. It is an interactive showcase of all things “Sherlockian,” including those areas of forensic science he used to solve cases, even before law enforcement agencies began using them.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the London chemist and “consulting detective” in 1887. Today, 126 years later, Holmes is featured in a wildly popular movie franchise starring Robert Downey Jr., and two simultaneous TV series, one on CBS and the other on BBC. They follow many previous stage, movie and TV adaptations that helped coin the phase “Elementary, my dear Watson,” even though Holmes never uttered the line in any of Doyle’s four novels and 56 short stories.

Holmes has attracted such a following over the years that fan clubs exist all over the world. One of the most active ones is in Portland. The Noble and Most Singular Order of the Blue Carbuncle was formed in 1971. It was named after “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” first published in 1892.

“Holmes has never really gone out of fashion. He represents all the virtues of Victorian civilization, he helped create our scientific methods of crime detection, and he was always fighting evil,” says Jim Cassetta, the society’s Grand Gander, otherwise known as the president.

Society members are excited about the exhibit coming to OMSI and will be participating in the opening ceremony at 10 a.m. on Oct. 10.

The society was founded in 1971 at the University of Portland after a history professor assigned Sherlock Holmes to his students. It has 21 active members and hosts numerous events, including a birthday dinner for Holmes and a picnic honoring Watson. Period attire is a must.

“The conceit of our society is that Holmes and Watson were real historical figures, Doyle was their literary agent,” Cassetta says.

Members also are fascinated with Doyle, a doctor-turned-author who was an international celebrity in his day.

The enduring success of Holmes is surprising, considering the character created by Doyle is hardly a crowd-pleaser. Brilliant but arrogant, Holmes lacks most social skills and turns to drugs when not working on a case. Dr. John Watson, his roommate and biographer, is practically his only friend. Or as portrayed in “Elementary” on CBS, former doctor Joan Watson became his friend only after originally being hired to keep him sober.

“He’s not a simple man. He’s a bit of a renegade and an eccentric, and people find eccentrics interesting,” says Cassetta’s wife, Jan, another society member.

Much of the Holmes appeal clearly focuses on the remarkable deductive abilities Doyle gave him — fictional characteristics that actually encouraged the development of forensic science to help police solve crimes. As conceived by Doyle, Holmes sees clues that others miss, and uses his scientific training to find still more at crime scenes that have been contaminated by investigating officers, a problem that is now understood and routinely guarded against.

The exhibit will allow OMSI visitors to use such techniques themselves to solve mysteries. Visitors also will be transported into the London of Doyle’s day with reproductions of his study and the apartment sitting room at 221B Baker St., where Holmes and Watson started their adventures.

And, in recognition of Holmes’ influence on popular culture, the final gallery will include artifacts ranging from vintage games, comics and magazines to clips from older movies and TV shows — and costumes from the current Downey movies and “Elementary.”

The exhibition is being produced in collaboration with Conan Doyle Estates Ltd., which is owned by members of Doyle’s family and has the rights to Sherlock Holmes in the United States. Other partners include Exhibits Development Group, Geoffrey M. Curley + Associates and OMSI.

“Museum visitors will not only see what in science and literature inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes, and how Holmes investigated and solved crimes as the world’s foremost consulting detective, but will visit their two worlds as well, and in the very rooms in which all this took place,” says Jon Lellenberg, the estate’s U.S. representative.

Visitors to OMSI will have the first chance to see the exhibition until Jan. 5. Then it will travel to nine other American cities before the international tour begins.

The exhibit is premiering at OMSI because the organization was involved in its creation. The idea came out of discussions with two partners in the recent Mythbusters exhibit at OMSI, Exhibits Development Group and Geoffrey M. Curley + Associates. The first design charrette was held at OMSI, and the organization’s staff worked on many aspects of it, including the marketing.

The Blue Carbuncle Society is accepting new members. It can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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