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"The adventure was a most grave one" [EMPT] 

Sherlock Holmes owed much to Edgar Allan Poe's detective, the Chevalier Auguste Dupin, though he didn't like to admit it. "You remind me of Dupin," Watson tells him in A Study in Scarlet, only to receive the arrogant reply that "In my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow."

Arthur Conan Doyle, creating the bumptious young Holmes as he wrote A Study in Scarlet in 1886, obviously had read Poe's detective tales (the first of them being "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," 1841) and been influenced by them. His most famous acknowledgement of that debt came in 1912 in the snappish verse "To an Undiscerning Critic," where he admitted Holmes's disdain for Dupin but maintained his own admiration for Poe:
He, the created, would scoff and would sneer,
Where I, the Creator, would bow and revere.

Conan Doyle had more to say about his debt to Poe in other contexts, particularly his 1907 book Through the Magic Door, where he labels Poe "the supreme original short story writer of all time" and his tales of Dupin the source of all the detective stories that have followed. Through the Magic Door was based on a series of articles about writers that Doyle produced in 1894, under the title "Before My Bookcase," but it is interesting to note that his comments on Poe are entirely new. The 1894 series made no mention of his supposed master at all.

Those articles were published in May and June of 1894, and a few weeks later Doyle was on his way to America, where he carried out an intensive lecture tour. My book about that tour, and the places and people Doyle encountered, appeared in 1987 under the title Welcome to America, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and contains a mass of information — much of it, I believe, reasonably accurate.

I had no reason to think the chapter about the events of November 6, 1894, was any less accurate than the rest of the book, until I received an email message from a Baltimore historian, Fred Shoken, who delicately asked what evidence I had for that part of my narrative, since he hadn't been able to find any in the newspapers where it might have been expected.

According to my chapter, November 6 — which was also Election Day — was the day Arthur Conan Doyle visited Baltimore, presumably to deliver the same lecture ("Readings and Reminiscences") that he had been giving in cities up and down the eastern United States, including Washington the night before. In addition, I wrote at some length, Doyle paid a visit to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe at the Westminster Burying Ground on West Fayette Street.

Such events would surely have been mentioned in the papers, as Doyle's doings were publicized wherever he went during that tour. But the Sun (still Baltimore's chief newspaper) and the American (whose successor ceased publication in 1986) made no reference to the distinguished British visitor, as Shoken pointed out to me. Naturally I hoped I had based my chapter on a report in some other newspaper that Shoken had simply overlooked.

No such luck. I consulted my files from the 1980s, made up mostly of correspondence with newspapers and local historians, and slick, faded prints from microfilm. (You're not familiar with microfilm? Oh, you're from a younger generation of researchers than I am.) For the past decade or more, it would have been hard for me to consult these records, because many of my files have been in a storage unit, but in preparation for the 300-mile move to my new home, I got everything out and organized, so the relevant file was easy to find. And what do you know: no newspaper references at all to a Baltimore visit by Conan Doyle.

I reread the chapter I had written, and began to realize that it was phrased very vaguely. Clearly I assumed that there had been a Baltimore visit and a Baltimore lecture, but I avoided saying so explicitly because I had no confirmation and certainly no details. As for the pilgrimage to Poe's grave — well, where did I get that idea exactly?

I still don't know, and there seems to be no evidence of it. It just feels like one of those things I've always known. In fact I turned confidently to Conan Doyle's autobiography, Memories and Adventures, sure that I would find a description of such a visit. Nothing. Our American Adventure, reporting on a later (1922) lecture tour, talks about the Poe cottage in Fordham, New York, but says nothing about Baltimore and the grave. I am beginning to think that Conan Doyle never did visit that crowded, run-down little cemetery where the inventor of the detective story found his last resting place.

Fred Shoken, who pointed out to me that a good deal of what I wrote in those pages of Welcome to America just isn't true, gets the final word:
"Doyle may have visited Poe's grave by proxy, 36 years after his alleged visit in 1894. According to (an) article in the Baltimore Sun of January 15, 1930, William Gillette, who had been appearing at Baltimore's Ford's Theater in a revival of his play "Sherlock Holmes," visited Poe's grave on January 14, 1930. The article states that Gillette placed a wreath on the tomb that had ribbons with his name and also that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The article states Doyle had cabled Gillette and requested that he pay this tribute to Poe. Doyle passed away less than six months later."