Two Sherlock Holmes museums in Switzerland? Elementary!

When one thinks of Sherlock Holmes and Switzerland, one often thinks of Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen, where the great detective met his end. But now, after an absence of 10 years, the Sherlock Holmes museum in Lucens, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's son, has reopened to the public.

This content was published on August 9, 2001

The museum was created by Adrian Conan Doyle in the castle at Lucens in the early 1960s. After his death, the contents were placed in the safekeeping of an Arthur Conan Doyle Foundation that he had created. But the castle passed into private hands and was closed to the public.

Now, thanks to the local authorities, a building, known as the Red House, has been made available, and a wealth of Conan Doyle memorabilia is once again on show. The small, charming town of Lucens sits roughly halfway between Lausanne and Lake Neuchatel.

The museum's curator, Vincent Delay explains that the principle difference between the Lucens museum and other Sherlock Holmes museums dotted around the world is that his concentrates as much on the writer as on the fictional sleuth.

"I see it as my job to see that the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is respected," he says. Today, Delay is one of the leading authorities in Switzerland on the life and works of Conan Doyle. His fascination was born when he was taken to Lucens castle by his grandparents as a young boy.

"I hadn't even read a Sherlock Holmes story. But that was when my passion began," he explains.

221B Baker Street recreated

The Lucens museum, complete with a resident cat called Watson, is divided into two rooms. The first is dedicated to Conan Doyle the writer; the second is a recreation of Holmes's drawing room at 221B Baker Street.

Many such rooms have been recreated around the world, at Meiringen and on Baker Street itself, for instance. But the one at Lucens claims to be the most authentic.

Not only was it pieced together by Conan Doyle's son, Adrian, it was also based on the earliest known recreation of that famous room, built for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The windows, fireplace and walls of the sitting room in the Lucens museum are the very same ones that were used in that exhibition, while the furniture and fittings belonged to Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

The museum boasts that "everything in the room, except the tea and butter, is the genuine article". There on the table lies Dr Watson's stethoscope. There is Holmes's array of forensic equipment and chemicals, his violin, bullets taken from a murder victim and a police gazette discussing the crimes of Jack the Ripper.

"The sitting room is exactly as Adrian Conan Doyle created it in the castle," Delay says. "You have the feeling you really are in Sherlock Holmes's room."

Equally fascinating is the other room, which contains a wealth of family heirlooms and souvenirs, which give an insight into the writer, his life and his at times troubled relationship with his most famous creation.

First editions of novels

Here, the visitor can find first editions of all but two of the Sherlock Holmes novels, as well as a number of rare books about the great detective and biographies of Conan Doyle, many rarer than the first editions of the novels themselves. The more fragile manuscripts belonging to the foundation are kept in the archives of Lausanne University.

"It was Adrian Conan Doyle's purpose to keep the spirit of the 1951 exhibition, which also concentrated on his father's work. You don't really see that in the other museums," Delay says.

Among the curiosities, one finds a small viper preserved in aspic, which reminds us of the story, The Speckled Band. There is a deerstalker hat owned by the illustrator Sidney Paget, whose definitive drawings of Holmes were based on his own brother, Walter. Alongside are several of Paget's illustrations, including Holmes wrestling with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

The room is dominated by a bust of Conan Doyle, which sits on a large wooden table that had been in the family for generations. Around the table are silver nameplates bearing the names of famous people who dined at it: Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott.

There are also letters written and received by Conan Doyle, which demonstrate his ambivalent attitude towards the character who brought him fame. In one letter, he tells his mother that he is "weary of his name", and that Holmes "takes my mind from better things".

Outrageous financial requests

The correspondence reveals how Conan Doyle made increasingly outrageous financial requests of The Strand, which serialised the Holmes stories, in the hope that it would refuse his demands. But the magazine was only too happy to comply.

The museum has a substantial potential market to tap into. There are no fewer than 250 Sherlock Holmes societies around the world, and some 80,000 members in Japan alone.

Thousands of Sherlock Holmes fans have been making the pilgrimage to Meiringen for years, to see the spectacular Reichenbach Falls, where their hero plunged to his presumed death with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

To a large extent, the town near Lake Brienz benefited from Lucens's misfortune. When the castle at Lucens closed to the public, there was clearly a gap to be filled, and so it was decided to recreate the famous sitting room at 221B Baker Street in a small English church.

"But it is not really a museum like here at Lucens," says Delay. Nevertheless, the two Swiss Holmesian shrines complement each other, and some kind of collaboration appears likely.

"We're going to contact Meiringen, to ask about the possibility of working together. We can send our visitors to them and they can tell theirs about us," says Jean-Claude Gobet, president of the museum's committee.

The museum in Lucens reopened in June and will be inaugurated in September. The event brings to an end years of disappointment for fans of the pipe-smoking sleuth in the deerstalker hat.

"People kept phoning Lucens to ask if they could visit the castle, or if the museum was still open. No-one really forgot it was there," says Delay. "No we can rejoice that it's open again."

by Roy Probert

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