In the bustling neighborhood that was home to the World's Greatest Detective, who pondered the mystery of the dog that didn't bark, London today finally resolved the riddle of the statue that wasn't there.
Just around the corner from their hero's famous flat--at 221B Baker Street--a boisterous cluster of fans from around the world doffed their deerstalkers and waved their magnifying glasses in the air at the unveiling of London's first statue honoring Sherlock Holmes.
It has been 112 years since the studious Holmes entered the roster of literary detectives with the publication of "A Study in Scarlet." It was in that novel that the detective met his sidekick, Dr. Watson, and demonstrated his dazzling deductive talents with the first words he ever spoke to Watson: "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." ("How on earth did you know that?" Watson wondered.)
That story was so popular that Holmes's creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, added 59 more Sherlock mysteries over the next 40 years. Conan Doyle actually got fed up with the whole thing and killed off Holmes in 1893 ("The Final Problem"). But public pressure was so strong that he resurrected the hero 10 years later ("The Empty House").
Perhaps his most famous solution ("Silver Blaze") came when Holmes wondered why a guard dog had failed to bark on the night of a murder--and deduced that the intruder must have been the dog's master.
These tales of Victorian London have spawned a global industry of books, plays, movies and computer games. The London-based Sherlock Holmes Society lists dozens of affiliated fan clubs around the world, including the American Baker Street Irregulars and Japan's Sha-roku Ho-muzu Kyokai.
Sherlockians have erected plaques and statutes honoring Holmes all over the world. But until today, there has never been a Sherlock Holmes statue here in his hometown.
Why? The solution seems to reflect Holmes's shifting popularity in his home country.
The detective actually was more popular overseas than in Britain for much of this century. But in the 1950s, as a struggling, post-colonial Britain began looking back with nostalgia on the salad days of the Victorian era, there was a boom in Sherlockiana. The current Holmes Society was founded in 1951, and almost immediately began clamoring for a statue in London.
"We had a beast of time with this project," said Anthony Howlett, the society's president. "We spent, heavens, a decade or two debating whether we should put a statue smack in the middle of Baker Street, and the traffic be damned. But that simply wasn't acceptable."
Finally, Holmes fans agreed on a spot in front of the Baker Street subway station. This is actually on Marylebone Street, but it is just two blocks from where the fictional Baker Street flat would have been.
The next quandary was where to raise the money.
That's elementary: You get money from a bank. Cleverly, the society cashed in on an unusual marriage between literature and finance.
In 1932, the Abbey National Bank--now Britain's fifth-largest--built a striking art deco headquarters. The location was the 200 block of Baker Street. Fairly quickly, bankers started noticing a steady stream of letters coming in, addressed to the detective at 221B. Abbey appointed a staffer to serve as "the Secretary to Sherlock Holmes," and has maintained the position ever since.
Accordingly, Abbey National was happy to comply when the Holmes Society asked it to fund, at long last, a London statue of Sherlock Holmes. And today Abbey National's chairman, Lord Tugendhat, unveiled the nine-foot bronze statue.
The bank chairman is a collector of Sherlock Holmes first editions, but even he seemed unprepared for the fervor of the Sherlockians who had traveled from all over to be present for the great moment.
When Tugendhat announced that his bank was "proud to be associated with the world's greatest fictional detective," the assembled fans booed. The banker looked stunned, but afterward a Baker Street Irregular from Los Angeles, June Kinnee, explained what he had done wrong.
"We didn't like that business about 'fictional,' " she smiled. "To some of us, Sherlock's not fictional."