Okay, yeah, it should be elementary. But the exhibit was at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). In truth, the exhibit was anything but elementary. The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes is the rather unwieldy name of the current exhibit, and it is all things Sherlock. Sharon and I had an afternoon to kill on her recent visit south, and as it was a blustery day, this seemed the perfect solution.
The exhibit starts with a short video by the great grand-nephew of Arthur Conan Doyle; the exhibit was created in collaboration with the Conan Doyle Estate, so this little bit of connection confers a bit of a blessing of the family on the whole thing. From there you walk through a very interesting and thorough exploration of the man behind the novels, including the instructor who inspired the character.
I recalled, vaguely, the Conan Doyle had studied medicine. I did not realize (or perhaps think it through) that he had been a practicing doctor. Apparently he struggled to build a practice and the writing became a much more lucrative source of income. The exhibit includes a cheeky little poem the medical student wrote about being a medical student.
There was an interesting sidebar about Jack the Ripper. I had never thought about the timing of the novels in relation to that chapter of London’s history. This included articles and letters from the London Times. It was charming, and somewhat depressing, to see the difference in reporting. Vast swaths of column inches were given away to stories. The prose is flowery at times, florid at others. The letters to the editor are likewise verbose, and somewhat akin to reading the letters currently sent to the Economist.
A lovely exhibit of period photos transitions the exhibit to an interactive ‘underground station’ with various activities that illuminate the modern marvels and the forensics of the day. The both on cosmetics is enough to make you wince, especially an advert about how arsenic ‘brightens and improves the complexion’ that has a note for money conscious fashionistas can simply use flypaper or rat poison. Yikes.
Another quick transition leads to the home of one Sherlock Holmes were the visitor is challenged to find a list of items. Some are a bit vague, most are difficult to find. Sharon and I were well immersed at this point and debated various points (which bowler hat would it be? Could that be the set of initials?). What was charming to me was the number of other adults, many with kids in tow, who were equally immersed. None of us were leaving until we had each of our items found and circled. Excellent.
That done, it was time to head down to the ‘crime scene’ we were to help solve. This was a bit stickier. It is really well done, the forensics that are used are that of the day. A visit to the ‘slaughter house’ is used to determine blood spatter types. A conservatory visit helps with figuring out if a poisonous seed was involved, and very amusing pair of machines are employed to determine shoe prints.
There were a few problems with some muddy explanations, an inability to clearly see some of the items in the ‘crime scene’ and punches (used to help you track your conclusions and reveal if you had correctly deduced the crime at the end) that were hard to use. But these were minor inconveniences, and I got the feeling that this stop – the first on the tour as OMSI is one of the collaborators on the project – is helping to shake out some of those issues.
The exhibit ends with a small area devoted to all the various movies, plays, and TV shows that have been created around the iconic character of Sherlock Holmes (though interestingly, the BBC’s excellent “Sherlock” was not among them, I suspect it had something to do with copyright issues, sadly).
I am pleased to say that Sharon and I made an excellent team of detectives. We are expecting our own reality series on basic cable to take form any day now… Seriously though, I think we were both surprised and pleased that we got the answers right. We celebrated our successful sleuthing by heading to the SE Wine Collective to toast our ingenuity. But that is a post for another day.