OMSI Recreates Sherlock Holmes's HQ

This month, OMSI debuts a touring exhibition exploring the science and history behind fiction's greatest detective. What goes into the show's full-scale "re-creation" of Sherlock's imaginary headquarters at 221B Baker Street?

By Zach Dundas October 1, 2013 Published in the October 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Courtesy OMSI

THE SITTING ROOM: In Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson operate from an apartment jammed with books, weapons, and dangerous chemicals. “The room is essential for any Sherlock Holmes fan,” says Geoffrey Curley, leader of the exhibit’s Minnesota-based design team. Curley’s crew collaborated with leading scholars to evoke the den of Victorian intrigue. “There’s a great history of 221B re-creations,” Curley says. “Hopefully we’ll be in the same league.

THE CHEMISTRY SET: In Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes often tinkers with test tubes. “We’re creating a chemistry table that has some history to it,” Curley says. “There are burn marks from experiments gone awry. It’s organized, but not clean.”

THE DECOR: “We tried to be true to Sherlock Holmes and Watson,” Curley says. “It has a masculine feel—but they’re renters. The apartment was originally decorated by their landlady, Mrs. Hudson, so there’s a layer of elegance. But then these two guys let things get messy.

THE BULLET HOLES: In a famous episode, a bored Holmes shoots the letters “VR” (Victoria Regina—the Queen) into the wall, much to Watson’s distress. “We have a gentleman working on the project who owns an air rifle,” Curley says. “We’re planning to have him shoot the walls.”

THE RECORD PLAYER: The exhibition departs from Conan Doyle to add some multimedia flair. “We’re not showing Sherlock Holmes himself,” Curley says. “But the character embraced new technology. We’re using an Edison cylinder recording to capture his voice.”

THE BOOKS: “We proceed from the assumption that much of 221B’s library would have been written by Holmes himself,” Curley says. “The scene is filled with notes, diagrams, and photos from criminal history—it’s a massive collection of information.”

THE KNIFE IN THE MANTELPIECE (AND OTHER SHERLOCKIANA): “There are some things you just have to have,” Curley says. Conan Doyle imbued his detective with strange domestic habits: he tacked unanswered letters above the fireplace with a knife, kept tobacco in a Persian slipper, and played violin at all hours. “We’re doing our best to create the atmosphere,” Curley says. “It should feel like Holmes and Watson just stepped out of the room.”

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