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"travelled from town to town through the United States" [STUD]

Mrs. Hudson had her secrets

On October 23, the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes opened at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  The exhibit is an exceptional recreation of life in Victorian England which includes a recreation of 221B Baker Street, a mystery which you have to solve, a recreation of a crime scene, plus an interesting study of the forensics of the late 19th century.

We had an opportunity to ask Jodi Schoemer, director of exhibits and digital media, about the display. She said:
"The techniques the Sherlock Holmes character uses are exactly what scientists use: observation, knowledge of different science disciplines (chemistry, forensics, medicine, etc.), deductive and inductive reasoning, rigorous experimentation, and drawing conclusions based on observation, objects, and data. This exhibition not only celebrates those techniques, but gives our guests the chance to practice all those skills themselves while in the exhibition. Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest popularizer of science techniques of all times, and as a science and nature museum, we think that is a great fit."

One begins the exhibit in The World of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  When you enter this first room, you are greeted by a video message from Richard Doyle, the grand nephew of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, welcoming you to the exhibit and explaining  the exhibit features.  In this room, you learn about the influences on Doyle's life that led to the creation of Sherlock Holmes.  Artifacts in this room include an original Beecher's Christmas Annual which contains the first publication of a Sherlock Holmes story in A Study in Scarlet.  It is interesting to note that only 11 copies of this magazine exist in the world.  There are also original pages from Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles manuscript including handwritten notes from the author in the margins.  You also get to know Dr. Joseph Bell, the model for Holmes's deductive reasoning skills, Edgar Allan Poe and his detective Dupin, and some of the crime literature of the time period such as The Mystery of a Hansom Cab which Doyle derisively called, "a swindle."

The second room of the exhibition is where the science of Sherlock Holmes becomes front and center. This room is a recreation of a Victorian train station and contains various "shops" where you can learn about the ballistics, entomology, photography, optics, and cosmetics of the time period.  Here is where each museum guest receives their detective's notebook, and one uses that notebook for the remainder of the exhibit to help solve a mystery. In this room, one gets to track the trajectory of a bullet, discover that perfume in the time period often contained highly toxic substances, and discover the strict requirements to become a constable at Scotland Yard.

Once you leave the train station you enter the gem of the show, a recreation of 221B Baker Street. This is a wonderful recreation of Holmes's sitting room, and I probably would have spent hours just going through every piece of the display if I wasn't moving along with the flow of the crowd to the remainder of the exhibit.  In my brief time in the room, I noticed the wax bust of Holmes with the bullet hole in the forehead, the bearskin rug upon the floor, the whaling harpoon, the riding crop, the photograph of "the woman," and even an open container of syringes.  Any Holmes fan must see this room!

At the very end of the 221B room is the beginning of the mystery.  Holmes requires your assistance, you learn via a Victrola recording. There has been a disturbance at the home of  American newspaperman Izzy Persano. When the police arrived at Persano's home, they found a scene of chaos. A bullet hole was in the wall, a destroyed bust of Napoleon on the floor, drag marks in the sand outside the home as if a body (or bodies) were dragged away. Persano's wife and daughter were nowhere to be found, and Persano himself was found with a head wound, raving incoherently about a worm. There was a seedpod discovered that was in the shape of a worm, but Persano could not indicate if he was referring to the seedpod or something else. It is up to you to go through the crime scene and solve this baffling case. Of course, readers of Sherlock Holmes will note that this is one of the untold tales from the canon, the case of Isadora Persano "the well-known journalist and duellist, who was found stark staring mad with a matchbox in front of him which contained a remarkable worm, said to be unknown to science," as mentioned in the "The Problem of Thor Bridge."

Next up is the actual crime scene.  Here, one gets to study the the Persano home, check the bullet's trajectory, check the worm-shaped seed pod, and note the pattern of the blood splatter upon the painting on the wall. This then leads to one of the most enjoyable parts of the exhibit, the solving of the mystery by going to another set of shops and stations. In the butcher shop, for example, you study various types of blood splatters to discover what led to the pattern of blood discovered on the wall.  In "The Bank of the Thames" evidence checking station, you use a wheel device with different types of shoes to discover how the tracks were made in the sand.  There is also a penny arcade and a conservatory where one tests evidence. Visitors collect data in their notebooks, draw conclusions, then test their theories at the room's exit.

After exiting, one comes to the shed where an actor in Victorian costume tells you his theory of what happened at Persano's home. This actor was playing a medicine salesman and his answer had to do with poison. I won't give away the actual reveal, but I will say that it is tough to figure out — near impossible actually — and I found the answer one of the few letdowns of the exhibit. I suppose if Watson's voice were explaining the revelation, it probably would have been much more satisfying. On an interesting note, the mystery was created with the collaboration of Sherlockian scholar Daniel Stahower, BSI ("Thurston").

The very last part of the exhibit makes up for the reveal.  This is the Sherlock Pop Culture room, with artifacts from advertisements, films, games, shows, and other types of pop culture all featuring Sherlock Holmes.  There are some wonderful artifacts from Sherlock, the two recent Sherlock Holmes films, and the show Elementary.  I enjoyed seeing the Woodstock (from Peanuts) Sherlock Holmes stuffed animal as well as some of the funny advertisements from the 1960s and 70s.

Overall, this exhibit is a dream come true for any fan of Sherlock Holmes, science, and Victorian culture. Don't miss it!

The exhibit runs in Denver from October, 23rd, 2015 - January, 31, 2016.  For more information visit the Denver Museum of Nature and Science website.