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The curious incident of Conan Doyle's 150th

Swiss village where Sherlock Holmes's archenemy meets his end readies for flood of fans May 22.

By Lyn ShepardContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / May 19, 2009


The Scottish physician and mystery writer Arthur Conan Doyle had grown bored with his sleuth hero and resolved to "kill him off" in 1893 here in the Swiss Alps.

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But Sherlock Holmes fans the world over would have none of it. Their outcry became so vocal that Conan Doyle eventually had to yield, giving the Scotland Yard consultant a new lease on life in later works. His change of heart put this alpine town on the literary map.

Meiringen and its nearby Reichenbach Falls serve as what local Swiss-Germans call the "Tatort" – the scene of the crime. So, as Conan Doyle's 150th birthday beckons on May 22, admirers of his detective creation will be making pilgrimages here to pay the author homage.

One beneficiary of Holmes's remarkable feat, Ferdinand Salverda, loves the "fatal attraction" Meiringen poses for such tourists. A transplanted Dutchman, he's gearing up for the tourist surge. Mr. Salverda directs both the local Sherlock Holmes Museum and the adjacent Park Hotel du Sauvage, a favorite gathering place for Sherlock Holmes Society visitors. More than 200 such societies have sprung up around the world.

The spirit of Conan Doyle's master detective, says Salverda, remains "alive and well" in the town where Holmes sought to escape his pursuing archenemy Prof. James Moriarty – the "Napoleon of crime."

"We receive more than 800 'Sherlock' guests a year," Salverda says. "And they're not just the British and French. They come from every continent. The Japanese, for instance, are huge 'Sherlock' fans. So are the Australians."

An American Sherlockian, John Bergquist lends support to Salverda's impression of Holmes's Japanese following. He says the Japan Sherlock Holmes Club with more than 1,000 members remains the largest worldwide.

Americans – with nearly 1,500 society members – make up the largest contingent of Sherlockians, far more than the 195 currently registered in Britain or the 217 in France.

Those who retrace their hero's steps to Meiringen will surely pay respect to both Sherlock and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the local museum, which re-creates the study at 221B Baker Street. It was there that the detective and his physician sidekick, Dr. John Watson, shared living quarters.