"a substantial, workmanlike hammer" [VALL]
David L. Hammer, BSI ("Major-General Stoner") passed away in Newton, Iowa on December 27, 2018 at the age of 89. He was a prominent attorney and a major contributor to Sherlockian scholarship. David received his investiture in the Baker Street Irregulars in 1986.
His legal career spanned five decades, and according to all who knew him, he was a tireless worker and researcher. His work ethic spilled over into his interest in Sherlock Holmes as well. He chronicled his career in a memoir titled For the Record: My Name is Hammer.
One particular anecdote from the chapter "Biting Truth" illustrates David's approach. In court, his client indicated that David had coached him on what to say. Hammer recalled:
"I saw my new law license slipping away. The judge leaned forward with a very interested look on his face. The witness said, 'He said above all to tell the truth, recognizing that if the truth bit the other lawyer on his rear he wouldn't recognize it.' [The jury] laughed uproariously, and I knew the case was won."Similarly, David captured his adventures as a Sherlockian publisher in The Game is Underfoot! The Memoir of a Sherlockian Publisher. Hammer founded Gasogene Press in the early 1980s and had friendships with authors, collectors and editors like Jack Tracy, John Bennett Shaw, and Julian Wolff.
Gasogene Press published dozens of books, including Hammer's own series of Sherlockian travel guides such as The Game Is Afoot, For the Sake of the Game, The Worth of the Game (all travel guides to England), To Play the Game (North America), A Dangerous Game (Europe), and A Deep Game, (London). In addition to David's many works, Gasogene Press published highly sought after works such as Susan Rice's A Compound of Excelsior and William Goodrich's The New Good Old Index.
Eventually, David sold Gasogene Press to Wessex Press, where it became Gasogene Books, an imprint of Wessex Press.
We simply don't have the space to publish (or the the time to curate) all of David's works. Fortunately, there are others who have done so: in particular, Prabook has a comprehensive listing of David's legal and Sherlockian writings. George Vanderburg's Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has many of David's books available, and Wessex Press has some of the more seminal works.
Hammer was widely read, having come from a household that included a mother who was on the board of the local library and a member of the Book of the Month Club. As a result, David disdained the prescribed course readings in college and instead read whatever college texts he was interested in.
In an interview by Gael Stahl for the Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem, Hammer recalled his high hopes for some stimulating intellectual discourse in the legal profession that were quickly dashed:
"Most lawyers belong to a rather dull group. It's the unusual one who has an interest outside of the law. And if the interest is intensive, as matters that are literary or philosophical usually are, you don't find lawyers there. I remember I came back home at Christmas after my first six months in the practice of law, and my father asked me if I had any disappointments. And I said, 'Yes, Dad, I do, just two. One is the bench and the other is the bar.' I think I would still say that 40 years later."By now we hope you're catching on to David's dry sense of humor. In Part 2 of his interview with Stahl, he continues to show it, recounting his very first BSI Dinner:
At Hammer's table were Banesh Hoffmann on his right, Al Rosenblatt across from him, and a man with mutton-chop sideburns on his left. Hammer asked him what he did.
"I'm an author."
"So am I," said Hammer, proud of having just had his first book published about Holmes.
"How many books have you written?
"264 as of Tuesday, 267 by next week.
"Should I know your name?" (General laughter ensued.)
"You should, if you are a living American," said Isaac Asimov, one of the most distinguished of the Irregulars.
To get a true sense of the spirit and accomplishments of David Hammer, and his talent as a raconteur, we recommend that you read through both parts of that interview above.
David and his first wife Audrey married in 1953 and traveled to every continent together. She predeceased him in 2011. Following that, he reconnected with Carol Soderblom, whom he had known since grade school, and soon the two were married. Sadly, Carol passed away on December 29, just two days after David.
The Sherlockian world has lost a giant. All who knew him were the richer for it.
|David Hammer by Paul Churchill, BSI ("Corot")|