Halloween & Unhappy Birthday, Moriarty!
Today’s widespread admiration for villains and criminals noticeable in contemporary literature, film as well as in society brought into my focus one earlier Sherlockian society.
Let’s quote from Dr Watson’s notes, as he his own experience with “those injudicious champions who have endeavored to clear his [ie. Moriarty’s] memory”:
It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished…
My hand has been forced, however, by the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother, and I have no choice but to lay the facts before the public exactly as they occurred. I alone know the absolute truth of the matter, and I am satisfied that the time has come when no good purpose is to be served by its suppression…
As to the gang [of Professor Moriarty], it will be within the memory of the public how completely the evidence which Holmes had accumulated exposé their organization, and how heavily the hand of the dead man weighed upon them. Of their terrible chief few details came out during the proceedings, and if I have now been compelled to make a clear statement of his career it is due to those injudicious champions who have endeavored to clear his memory by attacks upon him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.
[Arthur Conan Doyle: The Final Problem]
John Bennett Shaw (1913–1994), renowned American Sherlockian and collector, after retirement moved with his wife Dorothy to Santa Fe, N. M. There he found that there was a town called Moriarty within an hour’s drive from his new home.
He was so excited about it that in 1971 he founded a BSI scion society named after Moriarty and was called “Big Brother”. Definitely not to celebrate this Nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, but – with his own sense of humour – on the contrary.
Let’s read the reminiscence of Peter E. Blau, to whom John introduced me in 1970s:
After John moved from Tulsa to Santa Fe he was pleased to discover the town of Moriarty, N.M., and decided there ought to be a Sherlockian society there. He called the society The Brothers Three of Moriarty, in honor of the three Moriarty brothers, all of them named James (according to Anthony Boucher, who once proposed that it would have been silly for a mother to name only two of her three sons James) . . . and adopted as its emblem a cattle brand showing three Js (the middle of them crooked, representing the evil professor), and he said that the brand was registered officially with the state (as is done where cattle are raised). Moriarty was (and perhaps still is) a small town at the end of a cattle trail from Texas. I note the society’s annual dinners were held in the back room of the Frontier Saloon, on the Thursday before Moriarty’s birthday (Halloween) . . .
John liked to explain that the reason the annual were held on Thursdays was that Kip Gallant, owner of the saloon explained that on Fridays and Saturdays the saloon was full of cowboys, and “If they discovered there are people in the back room who can read or write, they’ll shoot you.”
John thought about how to memorialize the professor in Moriarty, and said he first thought of a life-size statue of Moriarty, making an obscene gesture, but realized that the locals would just shoot the statue to pieces. John wanted a memorial that couldn't be vandalized, so every year, after the annual dinner, members and guests adjoined to an open lot next to the saloon and rededicated the Moriarty Memorial Manure Pile, on which was deposited manure from horses, mules, donkeys, cows, and (eventually) exotic animals such as geese, camels, and kangaroos, which was donated by far-flung Sherlockian societies . . .
I believe that that society was founded in 1971, and yes, I was a member (it wasn’t difficult to be a member, since John societies always were inclusive rather than exclusive).
John attitude towards Professor Moriarty must be clear to everybody after reading this account.
The society The Brother Three of Moriarty existed approximately until 1997 when was its last event as it lost its sparking plug (as Peter said) after John’s death in 1994. A lapel pin designed of three “Js” was also produced in a small quantity and one should be in the Special Collections of the University of Minnesota.
One of its youngest members was nowadays famous American writer Mitch Cullin born in Santa Fe in 1968. Mitch is the author of a homage to Sherlock Holmes “A Slight Trick of the Mind” (2005) that is going to be filmed in 2014 starring Ianem McKellen as an old detective.
Text by © Aleš Kolodrubec, 2013
"Halloween" is not a traditional Czech holiday. It is accepted by many (as fun), but rejected by many, too. There is also no canonical connection, however this article was written to show one free link.
Logo of The Brother Three of Moriarty society
© heirs, John Bennett Shaw