A History of Holmesian Activity in Dayton, Ohio
Prehistory, by MARTIN ARBAGI
General Motors. (Who are the Baker Street Irregulars, otherwise known simply as
“BSI?” Please see the “Contact Us” page.) Although the General Motors Corporation
is usually linked to Detroit, the city of Dayton was also until recently intimately con-
nected to that company. For example, Delco was for decades a wholly-owned subsidiary
supplying electrical components to GM automobiles and trucks. Delco stands for
“The Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company,” and was founded in 1909 by †Charles Kettering, a
The ﬁrst known Holmesian club in the Dayton area was S.H.E.R.L.O.C. K., the Sherlock Holmes
Enthusiastic Readers’ League on Criminal Knowledge, founded at Wright State University (hereafter, WSU) in 1973 by Professors Martin Arbagi (now retired from WSU) and John Zamonski (now retired from nearby Central State University), and James Newton, an undergraduate who later went on to become Professor of Economics at Capitol University and The Ohio State University, both in Columbus. James Hughes of WSU’s English Department, Rebecca Ann Harold, now a lawyer practicing in Nevada; †Robert Gardier, a Professor of (you guessed it!) Toxicology at WSU’s then newly-established Medical School; and †Ritchie Thomas, newly-appointed University Librarian, soon joined.
The Substitutes had one big, though perfectly understandable, disadvantage. By WSU regulations, membership in all University clubs was restricted to students, faculty, staff, and alumnæ or alumni. Although by this time, the University of Dayton, the local Catholic institution, had also developed its own club, “The Retired Colourmen,” it too was under similar restrictions. Thus, there was no Holmesian club available for the general public in the Dayton Metropolitan Area.
Enter †Alvin Rodin, M.D. Like Bob Gardier, Al was on the faculty of our ﬂedgling Medical School—but Al stayed on. (Bob commuted from Columbus, but the 70+ mile daily drive each way in all sorts of weather conditions eventually got on his nerves, and he accepted an appointment elsewhere.) Al’s primary interest was in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not Sherlock Holmes, and stemmed from a more general fascination with medical doctors who were also writers (e.g., Anton Chekhov, Somerset Maugham, Walker Percy, or, of course, John H. Watson, M.D.).
Birth of the Holmes/Doyle Symposium
Birth of THE AGRA TREASURERS, by CHRIS ROBERTSON
Comments by Martin Arbagi are in square brackets and sans-serif type [like this].
†Don [Robertson] and I decided in the fall of 1992 that we wanted to meet more people in Dayton who shared our interest in Holmes, having been active in The Noble Bachelors and The Jefferson Hopes in St. Louis. On the advice of Philip Shreffler, we contacted Al and Jean Rodin and Gary and Mary Frost-Pierson (Mary was then owner of Mysteries from the Yard, a bookstore in nearby Yellow Springs) and asked them to our home to discuss formation of a new group. We met on an evening in October 1992 and founded the group at that time. Don suggested the name “THE AGRA TREASURERS,” as he didn’t think it would be digniﬁed to be known as “Carbuncles” (an allusion to the “Gem City” nickname of Dayton). [In British English, a “carbuncle,” although it can mean, as in the Holmes case, a precious stone or gem, is usually a pimple or pus-filled boil. You can see why Don thought “The Dayton Carbuncles” an inappropriate name!] That was our ﬁrst meeting. Don served primarily as program leader. I might add that Don’s leadership was due, in part, to his having unwisely gotten up to put another log on the ﬁre, thus leaving himself vulnerable to election in absentia. I took charge of preparing and sending meeting announcements, making arrangements with restaurants, providing Marcy Mahle (one of our ﬁrst new members) items for inclusion in our “chronicle.” Marcy has, by the way, done an excellent job of maintaining that important scrapbook over the last twenty years or so, and in my opinion, her dedicated and excellent work richly deserves mention.
Don and I next applied to Tom Stix, then Wiggins
[Chairman or President] of the BSI, for acceptance as
a scion society. A copy of his acceptance letter dated Jan. 31,
1993 is attached. We then set about to make our existence
known in order to attract new members; Mary was particularly
helpful in this, as she made flyers available in her bookshop.
Don and I co-led the group for about ﬁve or six years, until
we had made our way through all the stories in the Canon
for the ﬁrst time. Then Mary volunteered to take over for
several years. She was succeeded by †Tom McElfresh, then
by John Zamonski and †Cathy Gill (as co-leaders), and
Marcy, before Lorraine [Reibert -- Lorraine and husband
Gary were also early members of the TREASURERS] volunteered for the post.
Crisis & Recovery: The birth of HOLMES, DOYLE, & FRIENDS (authorship reverts to Professor ARBAGI)
Meanwhile, the Holmes/Doyle Symposium continued. After Al Rodin’s retirement and death in March 1999, the event carried on under the able leadership of Greg Sullivan (though at times his strong Republican leanings irritated those who believed that the Conference should be apolitical), assisted by Cathy Gill. Contrary to popular belief, The TREASURERS did not sponsor the Symposium. It was an independent entity, especially as ties to Wright State University were cut after Al’s retirement.
Greg moved to Boston several years later. Cathy bowed out of running the Symposium for health reasons after the 2012 Symposium, and died in August 2017. This precipitated a crisis. Who was to carry on the event? It was at this point that the TREASURERS rose to the occasion. Heretofore, the club had merely taken a benevolent interest in the Symposium, sponsoring the traditional Welcome Reception on Friday evenings with sherry and hors d’œuvres. (Incidentally, the Reception was initially proposed by Cathy’s husband, †Stuart, and has become a ﬁxture at successor events.) After a hiatus in 2013, the former Holmes/Doyle Symposium, now rebranded on the advice of retired advertising executive †Tom McElfresh as HOLMES, DOYLE, & FRIENDS, revived, making more intensive use of the Internet and the World-Wide Web for publicity and communications, and changing its location to a hotel more convenient to the Dayton Airport north of town—a decision made easier by the fact that the original host hotel, in Dayton’s southern suburbs, had gone out of business.