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The Unveiling: London 1999

by Sue Vizoskie, ASH

The highlight of the Return of Sherlock Holmes Statue Festival 1999 in September was the Unveiling Ceremony, which took place on Thursday morning, September 23, 1999, at 11:30 a.m. Sherlockians (American Holmesians) and Holmesians (British Sherlockians) had assembled in the special enclosure on Marylebone Road, at the Baker Street Underground station just off the corner of Baker Street.

The scene had changed from earlier in the week. Now, a temporary viewing stand was positioned between Marylebone Road and the buildings, and the enclosed viewing area was kept clear by portable white metal fences. The extremely large wooden box covering the statue had been removed, and the statue stood shrouded, waiting to be divested of its final disguise. Sherlockians are noted for their promptness, and by 11:00 a.m., many had assembled, equipped with deerstalkers, cameras, umbrellas and other accoutrements.

Unfortunately, rain gear was necessary. A few drops became a drizzle, then a downpour. We speedily, but carefully, opened umbrellas, excusing ourselves as we bumped each other with derrieres and elbows. Then the process was reversed when the downpour became a drizzle and ceased. Soon the rain began again. The process was repeated with increased difficulty as more spectators had assembled. In fact, we were so packed together that all the umbrellas were not needed. From the air, we would have seemed a horde of curiously-hatted elves hiding under collapsible mushrooms.

Did the rain dampen the enthusiasm? Not at all! Perhaps some of the Victorian dress suffered from the moisture, but never the crowd's spirits! The excitement was palpable, and the hubbub became a crescendo as 11:30 approached. Above the din we heard the Band of the Royal Engineers approaching, their music growing steadily louder. Dressed in red coats, black pants, and wonderful black fur hats, they were extremely impressive! (Of course, Adventuresses always observe millinery!) Marching around the enclosure as they played, they halted directly in front of it, effectively blocking the view of the vertically challenged.

After an opening fanfare of trumpets, the ceremony began with the introduction of Anthony Howlett, the President of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Unfortunately, the public address system was not working, and, unless you were in the very first row, you couldn't hear a single word.

The technical problems were solved by the time Lord Tugendhat (yes, that is his name), the Chairman of the Abbey National, plc, began to speak. He recalled the proud association that existed for many years between the Abbey National and Sherlock Holmes. His referring to Holmes as a fictional character did cause some relatively minor reaction from Sherlockian spectators.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Lord Tugendhat attempted to unveil the statue. He pulled a cord to remove the white, shroud‑like dustsheet that was covering the statue, but he pulled to no avail; the sheet was caught firmly on Holmes's pipe. John Doubleday, the statute's sculptor, quickly sprang onto the plinth and freed the fabric. The statue was unveiled! A magical moment -‑ quiet at first then everyone clapped, chattered with excitement, and began to photograph!

The statue drew us, and we slowly surged forward to see its front. The nine‑foot tall statue sits on a three‑foot tall plinth and faces toward the buildings, not the street. So, as it was unveiled, we could see, at most, a profile of the Mas­ter. The statue's orientation had been reversed to prevent careless tourists from being hurt by traffic -‑ i.e., large buses -‑ as they take photographs. Now, tourists backing up for a better view will bump into pedestrians and buildings, but, at least, they will live to show their photographs!

Much discussion has taken place about the statue's place­ment, and, the debate will undoubtedly continue. And there will be additional comments about the unnecessary apos­trophe and the missing comma in the inscription on one of the side panels of the plinth. However, these are but trivial distractions perpetrated by Moriarty. Let us not lose our perspective. There is now a statue of the Master standing close by Baker Street with the inscription "The Great Detective." He stands firmly, attired in deerstalker and Inverness with his pipe held in his right hand, staring ahead thoughtfully. Sherlock Holmes has returned to Baker Street!

(Editor's note: Adventuresses in London for the unveiling included Mary Ann Bradley, Maribeau Briggs, Mickey Fromkin, Evelyn Herzog, Kate Karlson, Francine Kitts, Marilyn MacGregor, Julie McKuras, Roberta Pearson, Mar­sha Pollak, Susan Rice, Priscilla Ridgway, Linda Spessotti, Marina Stajic, Dorothy Stix, Francine Swift, Adeline Tinning, Jean Upton, Delia Vargas, and Sue Vizoskie.)

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