by Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books
E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections
This past October one of our Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections attended the premiere of “The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes” at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland. I was very pleased she could attend, especially as I was unable to travel west due to a previous engagement at the annual conference of the Minnesota Library Association. In February I had the opportunity to attend the second opening of the exhibit in Columbus, Ohio. It was a chance to see a dream realized. For the past three years I have worked with the team from Exhibits Development Group and Geoffrey Curley and Associates as a collections consultant to the project. My trip to the opening in Columbus was the first opportunity for me to see the final results of our work, and to follow Mr. Holmes across country in a tale Conan Doyle might have entitled “The Adventure of the International Exhibition.”
Even before the formal opening at OMSI, the show generated some “buzz” on social media. On the “GeekDad” blog senior editor Jonathan Liu wrote: “Today is the opening of the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, a fantastic exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, Oregon. If you’re a fan of the good detective in any of his incarnations, this is an exhibit worth seeing. I got a sneak peek at the show yesterday, but I’ll definitely want to come back again with my family…” His post featured an image of one of our Hound manuscript leaves, one of the gems in the show. BBC American noted: “If you’re anywhere near Oregon over the next month, and you’re one of the growing army of fans of any of the various interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories–who collectively should go by the name deductionists, by rights–there’s a treat coming your way.”
Excitement over the BBC/PBS Season Three television premiere of “Sherlock” fueled further interest in the Portland exhibition. Entertainment Weekly featured actor Benedict Cumberbatch on its cover along with an article by Clark Collis, “Mad About Sherlock.” The exhibition enjoyed a very successful opening run through early January. After its closing, staff prepared to move the exhibition to its second manifestation at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio. I followed this transit with interest, trailing trucks and crates with my arrival in the Buckeye state in early February. I was there to participate in a media preview and VIP reception before the second opening of this extraordinary exhibit.
I arrived in Columbus on the heels of an eleven-inch snow storm. City workers dug through drifts and plowed streets as I settled into my hotel room across from the state capitol. On Thursday morning I walked the short distance to COSI, where I met Jaclyn Reynolds, Public Relations and Social Media Manager for COSI. Prior to my trip, Jaclyn and I discussed my participation in the media preview. An on-camera interview was set up with the local Fox television affiliate for their morning show, “Good Day Columbus.” On my arrival, Jaclyn introduced me to reporter Dana Turtle, who clued me in to what segments of the exhibition we’d be talking about on camera. These included displays related to the two television shows, “Sherlock” and “Elementary;” the Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law movies; items from the Collections (original artwork, books, and ephemera); and, finally, a crime scene recreated by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Unfortunately, there were some technical problems during broadcast (we were near the end of the exhibition and the long length of cable needed to support the camera and audio were not quite up to the task). Our segment did go out on the airwaves, but was not used later on the web.
Following my interview I wandered through the exhibit, soaking in as much as I could during my first view of the completed show. It really is quite spectacular! Along the way I caught up with exhibit designer Geoffrey Curley and we reflected on the last three years of work together; it has been a great partnership. From there we moved next door where an English morning tea was set for those attending the media preview. Jaclyn commented that this was the largest group of attendees for such an event. Before the festivities began I had the chance to visit with local members of the Baker Street Irregulars who were present for the preview. The formal part of the event began with remarks from COSI chief executive officer Dr. David Chesebrough, who acknowledged me to the audience and thanked me for being a part of the opening. Chesebrough remarked that “COSI is excited to be the second host of this one-of-a-kind exhibition building on the compelling deductive reasoning of the favorite character, Sherlock Holmes. Guests will be able to immerse themselves into the world of Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street and solve an apparent crime using the deductive thinking Holmes is known for.” His remarks were followed by others from Josh Kessler, COSI Project Manager for the Holmes exhibit; Geoffrey Curley; and Christine Mackin from Time Warner Cable, a major local sponsor. Kessler noted: “The great thing about this exhibition is the mixture of authentic Conan Doyle artifacts, pop culture pieces, and an interactive mystery you can solve in the manner of Sherlock Holmes. The exhibition immerses you in Victorian London and lets you to use the kinds of hands-on forensic science that Holmes himself would have used to solve the case.” Among the media representatives in attendance was a reporter for the New York Times. The show was gaining a national audience.
With the conclusion of formal remarks, attendees were invited to stroll through the exhibition. At the entrance to the show they were greeted by Mr. Holmes, portrayed by local actor John Kuhn. I stationed myself near the 221B sitting room where I had a chance to chat with reporters and have a few photographs taken with Geoffrey and members of the COSI staff. Taking advantage of my tablet and social media, I tweeted comments and photographs on Twitter. Many of these were “re-tweeted” by COSI. Later in the morning I did an on-camera interview with Jaclyn and Doug Buchanan, COSI’s Education Programs Marketing Manager. Reporters stayed late into the morning and the preview wound down around noon. Later that day, Ken Gordon from the Columbus Dispatch issued the first print report. “Visitors to the Sherlock Holmes exhibition opening Saturday at COSI Columbus will be invited to help solve a mystery by the great detective himself.” Edward Rothstein from the New York Times published his report on Valentine’s Day.
A second event at COSI occurred Friday evening. This was billed as a VIP/Donor preview and, like the media event, the crowd was larger than many similar events at the museum. Mr. Holmes was once again in attendance, welcoming visitors to the evening’s festivities. Also in attendance were a number of forensic teams from the Columbus Police Department. They contacted the museum the moment they heard that the Holmes exhibition was coming to Columbus and wanted to be a part of the opening. Visitors had the chance to learn about modern forensic procedures and view tools of the trade. After welcoming remarks, attendees were free to explore the exhibition. Over the course of the evening I got caught up in the mystery that threads its way through the various rooms and, with notebook in hand, made my way through the various stations, gathering clues along the way.
My congratulations to everyone associated with the exhibition, notably Amy Noble Seitz and her staff at Exhibits Development Group; Geoffrey M. Curley and Cynthia Brown from GMC+A; and all the staff it was my privilege to meet at COSI, especially Jaclyn Reynolds and Josh Kessler. What began in creative sparks of conversation and a working title of Sherlock Holmes: The Science of Deduction has morphed into an engaging, educational, and entertaining production in The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes. I look forward to attending many more openings as the show makes its way across country and, perhaps, beyond our shores.