It was a blustery afternoon at 221B Baker Street when Holmes and I heard the tell-tale sound of a carriage pulling up sharply in front of the building. After a moment, Holmes murmured “If I’m not mistake, that’ll be a young man come to tell us about a new exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Watson.”
I was shocked. Even for Holmes, that was a leap of deductive reasoning. Guessing it was someone coming to visit my illustrious colleague, that was easy, and ascertaining age and gender from the footfalls and speed with which he dashed up the stairs I’d experienced before with my good friend, but how the deuce could he know the topic of our upcoming conversation?
“Confound it, Holmes, how do you know it’s related to the Denver museum, a city thousands of miles away from our abode here in London?”
Holmes smiled his damndable smile and pointed to the door, as Mrs. Hudson opened it and in her shrill East London accent informed us “A visitor for you, Mr. ‘olmes. From Denver. America!”
Behind her stood the most remarkable young man, harried and dressed in quite unfashionable clothing and footwear that I’d never seen before with white laces and what appeared to be gum arabic soles.
In his deep voice he looked at Holmes and said “Yes, just as I expected you’d look. Splendid”, he rubbed his hands together, smiled and said “let me tell you two gentleman about the Case of the Remarkable Worm”, just to be interrupted by Holmes laughing and saying “Why yes, sir, I believe the game truly is afoot!”
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and had a splendid time working through the clues to ascertain what happened to the man arrested by Lestrade of Scotland Yard after a scuffle, gunshot and attempt to burn what appears to be poisoned seed pods. Most mysterious!
The exhibit is broken up into sections: Victorian London, the train station, 221 B Baker Street, the crime scene, various laboratory areas, and a Holmes memorabilia exhibit. Herewith, a photographic tour with commentary of this splendid exhibition.
To start, a montage of Victorian London pictures — it was the biggest city in the world in the 1800’s! — and a short welcome from Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle’s nephew:
Of course in this photo you just see a street lamp in the famous London fog, but that’s a TV monitor and it’s part of a video. Trust me on this!
We think of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries as being in book form, but originally they were published as continuing serials in popular English magazines of the times, notably including The Strand:
Imagine hitting the cliffhanger in a story like The Hound of the Baskervilles and having to wait another week to find out what happened and the all-important who dunnit!
As luck would have it, we went on a free day so it was busier than usual, but regardless, the Holmes exhibition is justifiably popular:
This view (above) is of the train station, with areas dedicated to wonders of the time, including photography. In the middle you can see “News”, one of the first areas you can glean clues for the upcoming case.
In this instance, a young lady uses a basic rubbing technique to copy a key portion of a newspaper article into her crime notebook:
A simple positional cipher, detectives will later cut out holes in another sheet of paper and learn which of the words from this newspaper story reveal the important clue.
There were exhibits for specific modern wonders of the era, including this attractively presented display of cosmetics:
Not sure how much progress there’s been since 1900 in this area, but that’s the subject of a different exhibit, I expect.
From there we were led into a recreation of the famous detective’s abode at 221B Baker Street, including his chemistry experimentation area:
Eagle-eyed viewers will note the Swiss Railway Ticket on the wall too, which just might be a clue worth finding. Perhaps…
And then there’s the scene of the crime, the mystery for which we are tasked to solve and possibly free an innocent man — or convict a murderer!
Close examination shows a bullet hole above the fireplace, a shattered plaster bust on the floor, blood spatters on the painting, a worm-like seedpod partially burnt on the desk and, outside the window, two parallel lines leading away from the house.
Fortunately we have a laboratory in which we can experiment and deduce the meaning of the various clues, including those confounding footprints:
And then there’s that strange seed pod. Perhaps a visit to the Conservatory could help us ascertain which it is, by process of elimination if nothing else. Here’s a possibility:
Well, it could be from a Rhododendron, but it’s not quite the right shape. Hmmm….
And that blood spatter, let’s pop over to the Slaughterhouse to see what we can ascertain:
By that point, armed with your handy detective notebook and having explored the seed pod, blood spatter, bullet trajectory, marks in the sand, broken bust and the shed in the back yard, you should be able to solve the mystery of the remarkable worm.
It’s hard, however, and I expect most people came close but only a small subset understood the nuances of the case as the facts were presented to us, one by one.
It is all explained at the end of the exhibition, however, whether or not you fully understand how it all fits together is another story!
Finally, the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes ends with a very impressive display of memorabilia from movies, television and various publications, including lots of cool props:
One presumes the chap on the bench is researching more clues on his mobile computing device…
All in all, this was one of the very best exhibits that the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has ever had and my friends and I enjoyed it immensely. I can’t wait to go back and enjoy it one more time before it leaves on Jan 31, 2016. If you’re in the area, I strongly recommend it.
Disclosure: The Museum made tickets to the exhibit available for me and my family, which was a lovely gesture.