Sherlock Peoria: Occupying an Empty House for 45 Years
There was a remarkable quality to Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street troops: ” These youngsters, however, go everywhere and hear everything.” And even though fans of the detectives have always used those “little beggars” as our spirit animals, there are certain qualities of them that, as individuals, we just can’t emulate, like going everywhere. And this morning, that lack is especially biting.
The Occupants of the Empty House, one of Earth’s most remarkable Sherlockian societies, is celebrating its 45th anniversary today, a rare Saturday meeting at that (they have a Friday tradition), and as mad a Sherlockian as I am, there are still limits. Going everywhere is something one person can’t accomplish as well as a half a dozen street kids.
Alongi’s Italian Restaurant, where the Occupants have met for maybe the last half of their forty-five years, is about a four hour drive from Peoria (five hours back in the days of 55 MPH speed limits), so it’s always been a good time commitment for me, but the thing is, visiting the Occupants has always been worth it. Why?
Without a major city to base their operations in, the Occupants have always come together from all over Southern Illinois to gather. Everybody had to drive a ways to get to their meetings. Nobody was there just because it was an easy local event. These were some enthusiastic Sherlockians, from Newt and Lillian Williams, whose detail work reading the Canon together provided Sherlockiana with edition data we would never have otherwise had, to Gordon Speck, who served as a genial party host no matter where he was or if there was actually a party or just one or two Sherlockians hanging out.
I can’t think of the name of a member of the Occupants of the Empty House without thinking of some Sherlockian act that left an impression on me. Stan and Debbie Tinsley, Father Holly, Jack Crelling, David and Janet Bensley, Michael McClure and his clan, Glen Milner, Randy Risley . . . the list goes on and on. At least four of them started their own scion society at one point or another. And there was always someone from St. Louis societies showing up — Joe Eckrich enough that he was pretty much an Occupant, had he not established himself so prominently in St. Louis.
It’s killing me this morning that I’m not attending their latest anniversary, and even as I type these words I am tempted to just jump in the car and gun it down the interstate. But between the needs of that job I never write about and prep for 221B Con (Coming NEXT WEEKEND! OMG!), the sand is nearly drained from the hourglass, and eight hours of driving just doesn’t fit in that picture.
I could also easily spend the next eight hours just writing about the Occupants of the Empty House and singing their praises from our shared history of at least forty years. I haven’t even mentioned Bill Cochran yet, a cornerstone of the group for all forty-five years of the club’s existence, and the man who can recite Vincent Starrett’s poem “221B” with as much heart as anyone else in this hobby. But time is short, and unlike those Baker Street kids, none of us can be everywhere and hear everything, even in this era of Zoom.
Still, a hearty congratulations to a forty-five-year Sherlock Holmes society existing in a place no one would ever expect such a hearty group to have been born. Occupants, you are one hell of a group!