A History of Holmesian Activity in Dayton, Ohio


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The first time a person's name appears in the narrative, it will be in boldface type. A dagger symbol in black (†) or red () preceding someone’s name indicates that person is deceased. Please see the “Stand With Me” page for more information on persons marked with the red dagger. This page was last substantially revised on 17 February 2015. The last minor revisions were on 10 April 2017.

     

Prehistory, by MARTIN ARBAGI


       †Edgar Smith, one of the original Baker Street Irregulars, was Vice-President of

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

Dayton native and inventor of the electric self-starter. When GM bought Delco out, it did so for stock, and the Kettering family became among the largest individual stockholders in GM. Dayton was not only the home of Delco, but also the headquarters of the Frigidaire Company, yet another wholly-owned GM subsidiary that manufactured household appliances such as washing machines, dryers, and stoves, as well as its namesake refrigerators.

     Consequently, it is almost certain that Edgar Smith frequently visited Dayton on GM matters, and reasonable to infer that he may, outside business hours, have found time to discuss Holmesian affairs with the locals. Verification must await study of his papers, now in the Houghton Library of Harvard University.

     The rst known Holmesian club in the Dayton area was S.H.E.R.L.O.C. K., the Sherlock Holmes 

Enthusiastic Readers’ League oCriminal Knowledge, founded at Wright State University 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.

    By early 1977, we’d decided that S.H.E.R.L.O.C.K. was uncanonical. There were several suggestions for a new, more canonical name, including “The Indicative Eggspoons” (by Ritchie Thomas—recall Watson’s pointing with his eggspoon at a magazine he was reading over breakfast in chapter 2 of STUD) and “The Darlington Substitutes,” after the Darlington Substitution Scandal, an unpublished case mentioned in SCAN. After a hotly-contested election, The Darlington Substitutes was selected by a narrow vote.

      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

      It was Al’s idea to hold the very first Doyle/Holmes Symposium, “Homing in on Holmes,” in November 1981. Sponsored jointly by Wright State and nearby Central State Universities and open to the public, the Symposium brought us to the attention of the community at large, and paved the way for a Dayton-area club that anyone could join. That club was (and remains) THE AGRA TREASURERS. A rst-person account of 
the TREASURERSfoundation is appended below.

Birth of THE AGRA TREASURERSby 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 didnt think it would be dignied 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 rst meeting. Don served primarily as program leader. I might add that Dons leadership was due, in part, to his having unwisely gotten up to put another log on the re, 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 rst 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 ve or six years, until

we had made our way through all the stories in the Canon

for the rst 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: HOLMES, DOYLE, & FRIENDS

      Meanwhile, the Holmes/Doyle Symposium continued. After Al Rodin’s retirement and death a few years later, the event carried on under the able leadership of Cathy Gill, assisted by Greg Sullivan. 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.

      Cathy bowed out of running the Symposium for health reasons in 2012. (Greg Sullivan had moved to Boston several years before.) 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 Cathys husband, Stuart, and has become a xture 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, & FRIENDSrevived, 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 towna decision made easier by the fact that the original host hotel, in Daytons southern suburbs, had gone out of business.