MAP-MAKERS will need to look to their revisions. From October 5, 1984 that hitherto nameless feature which stands where 360 12' 26" N and 960 02' 56" W intersect, in the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 17, Township 20 N, Range 12 E of the Indian Meridian in Osage County, Oklahoma, has been officially Holmes Peak.
The United States Board on Geographic Names convened on that day and declared it so, and a Holmes Peak Preservation Society is already vigilant against any neglect.
The naming marked the culmination of a dogged struggle against legislative and ecclesiastical bureacracy. A Tulsan gentleman, Dick Warner, who holds the office of Head Sherpa in an esoteric society named the Afghanistan Perceivers ("You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." -- Sherlock Holmes, upon first meeting Dr. John H. Watson), noted that while the Moon had its Sherlock Crater there was no place like Holmes on Earth.
He found a candidate a mere two kilometres southeast of Tulsa's city limits. It seemed to have everything: elevation (314 meters above sea level), a certain unspoiled grandeur, historical associations of not too dogmatic a kind, and a rich variety of flora and fauna, the latter including reported sightings of the unicorn and yeti. What it did not possess was a name.
With a certain naivet,e, Warner assumed that the U.S. government would leap at the opportunity to demonstrate its respect for the Sage of Baker Street and preeminent private consulting detective. The government did not leap. There had to be Procedures. Ownership of the land had to be established.
Elementary! The Osage Indians, whose reservation the territory had been declared in 1870.
It took two years for Warner to establish that, while there are Osages remaining and drawing oil royalties, the owner of the peakland itself had been dead since 1982, which was why he had not replied to letters. He had bequeathed his holding to the University of Tulsa, Oral Roberts University, and the Catholic diocese.
The two former made no objection to a submission to the Board on Geographic Names. The bishop of Tulsa, however, found the idea frivolous and vetoed it.
Warner wrote to the pope. In case His Holiness might have gone a trifle rusty on a particular aspect of hagiology, he was reminded that in 1890 Sherlock Holmes had obliged a predecessor of his in a matter of some missing cameos. If he did not do so, Warner might well have pointed also to the common ground of papal infallibility and Holmes' conceit of himself as "last and highest court of appeal in detection."
Instead of a note of thanks and benediction, the Vatican's reply came in the form of a bull to the bishop of Tulsa, who, not unnaturally, protested at the matter having been carried above his head. At the sme time, he conceded that the diocese's one-third interest in the land had recently been made over to the two other owners.
With their support already in his pocket, Warner was able to return to the Geographic Names Board with that complacent triumph shown by his hero as he whipped off the tureen cover to reveal the lost Naval Treaty.
So it was that, on July 27 this past year, your correspondent was able to share in the ceremonial dedication of Holmes Peak. The date coincided remarkably with the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Maiwand, in the second Afghan War, at which Dr. Watson sustained his wandering wound(s). It so happens that I am the only Sherlockian to have been an officer in the 4th Bombay Grenadiers of the Indian Army, which, somewhat before my time, played a part (ignominious) in the battle.
I also have a vague and illegitimate connection with the Royal Family, and I happened to be coming to a seminar at Hoboken, New Jersy. Sherlockians grasp such coincidences as omens. I was invited to write a foreword to Dick Warner's scholarly and quintessential Guide Book and Instructions for the Ascent of Holmes Peak and to participate in unveiling a nameplate at the site.
Nothing in a fairly active life had quite prepared me for the event. I looked for Holmes Peak from the aircraft, expecting its summit to pierce the low cloud. I saw nothing; but then, I did not even see Tulsa.
It made for all the more stirring an experience as my motorcade attained base camp (234.39 meters above sea level). Many Union Jacks fluttered in the thin air, and a long banner bore an aquiline silhouette which would have been familiar anywhere in the world.
Some 60 natives, male, female and juvenile, some dressed tropically and sporting insignia of the British Army and Royal Marines, pressed forward. Libations of a beer-like appearance and taste were proffered. I was conducted eagerly to an awning, under which assorted viands lay ready. Seating ha been rudely improvised from bales of hay.
An ensemble of brass instruments played. Bagpipes droned and drums clamored. Voices were upraised in a semblance of "God Save the Queen." It was almost unbearably moving.
Called on to speak, I gave some modest account of my scramblings on Vesuvius and Adel Crag, and disclosed my ambitions towards Mount Washington, Pittsburgh. After awed acclamation I was borne summitwards in a pick-up; had I had to climb, vertigo and altitude sickness must surely have claimed me.
As to the view from the summit there are really no words. The Japanese say there are two kinds of fool: those who have never stood on top of Fujiyama and those who have done it more than once. That is just about it, in a nutshell.
What shall I say of Holmes Peak itself? Elemental? The treelessness under that burning sun, the coarse shrub, the rubble!
Primeval? Warner has identified fossil fragments as crinoid, bryzoans and molluscs, together with such sedimentary traces as drag, gouge, and flute casts, from which he, correctly, adduces deltaic origins.
The ceremonies ended with a fireworks display and the flying of flags on the peak against a golden sunset. Camp was struck. The bunting was taken down and the haybales lifted. The marker which we had unveiled was removed, in the certainty that, if left there, it would get shot up inside 24 hours.
Fantasy? I prefer the allied word, myth: an extension of one of man's most pervasive mythologies. Through such enterprises as the naming of Holmes Peak, myth, legend and human comradeship are refreshed and nourished. For a few hours in Oklahoma it seemed that George III and Lord North had never existed.