“Elementary, my dear Watson,” became a popular catch phrase after the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes uttered the words in a film adaptation of one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s perennially admired tales. There is a point in nearly every narrative when Dr. John Watson, the detective’s sidekick, expresses his bewilderment and frequent exasperation over Holmes’s summary pronouncement that he has solved a difficult case. Watson is perplexed by the puzzle of the crime, but Holmes, with his superior deductive powers, finds the solution all too easy.
Now is your chance to match your wits against those of the great detective. The South Carolina State Museum is hosting the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, which takes visitors through an elaborate display of Victorian Era artifacts, covering such topics as optics, ballistics, botany and cosmetics — all of which are part of Holmes’ presumed knowledge base and all of which figure into solving a crime laid out for the public, crime scene and all.
Each visitor is given a notebook with which to jot down observations. What is the significance of a seed pod burned by the suspect and a single bullet hole above the fireplace? What does the blood spatter tell us? What is the meaning of the markings that lead away from the scene?
Visitors, both young and old, will enjoy trying to figure out how American newspaper reporter Izzy Persano came to be shot in his London study and why his wife and daughter are nowhere to be found. The police believe Persano killed his spouse and child and then tried to take his own life; they conclude that his crime has driven him insane — all he can do is mutter the word “worm.”
Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, has his own thoughts based on a close observation of the crime scene and his knowledge of forensic science. With the help of ingenious footprint machines and blood spatter guns that visitors can operate by hand, the public can engage in their own Holmes-like experiments to interpret the evidence. Fans of the Showtime series Dexter will particularly enjoy examining three classic blood spatter designs.
Even if you choose not to play the detective game, there is much to see in this very elaborate, large-scale exhibition. There is information on both Doyle’s literary precursors in early crime fiction and on the probable model for Holmes himself, Dr. Joseph Bell, whose lectures Doyle attended at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Further displays are devoted to how Holmes was translated from the page to the stage and screen, including costumes from the television series Elementary, which ran on CBS from 2012 to 2019 and starred Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson.
Fans of the books and films will also enjoy the meticulous recreation of Holmes’ sitting room at 221B Baker Street, including the acid-stained table where the detective conducted his chemical experiments, the case which held the violin that he played as a meditative exercise, and the Persian slipper where he stashed his pipe tobacco handy for his requisite morning smoke.
Working with the Conan Doyle Estate, which is now administered by the author’s grandnephew Richard Doyle, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the Museum of London, the exhibit builders have created a very impressive slice of the great detective’s Victorian milieu. As you make your way through the elaborate exhibits, you can almost hear Holmes himself shout, “The game’s afoot!”
International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes
Through April 19. South Carolina State Museum, 301 Gervais St. scmuseum.org.
The State Museum is closed until further notice due to COVID-19.