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Creating a Sherlock Holmes Exhibit

By July 22, 2013September 16th, 2023No Comments

What I knew was that ‘the box’ held the contents for the Sherlock Holmes exhibit and that Curator Tim Johnson had a story to tell. As his intern for the summer, I was to scan, describe, and eventually select the prints that spoke to the danger that awaited Holmes. I dusted off my Alteschrift (old style German script), picked up some key French prepositions, and began a journey of discovery. (Sherlock Holmes: Through Time and Place is on display in the Elmer L. Andersen Library gallery through September 27, 2013.)

Reichenbach Falls.jpgReichenbach Falls and Meiringen, Switzerland became my new destination. Upper Chute, lower falls, town scenes, along with the artists L. Rohbock and R. Dikenmann and their publishers became recognizable to my eyes and my fingers flew their names into the record. It was Hench who was still a mystery to me. It was his collection, yet I knew very little about him. What I did know came from his barely legible script on the back of some of the prints. I found my alteschrift training handy in my attempts to decipher his classic doctor’s handwriting.

In my collection management class at UW Madison, I learned about providing a variety of perspectives, and to try to do it objectively. That’s how I selected the prints to show Tim; a selection of prints of Reichenbach Falls, a few classics, some variety, and a couple favorites all of which gave one a sense of foreboding and danger. Quickly, I realized two things. First, I didn’t know the story; I only knew pieces of it. Second, curating an exhibit is not the same as curating a collection. I needed traction on the exhibit’s story in order to be more effective.

Hench notes on Reichenbach Falls.jpg


The next morning, three file boxes were waiting for me: The Hench Files. Hmm, sounds like a BBC detective show. Two days of research bliss began. Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Philip S. Hench was quite the character! I was able to glimpse into his life and saw what a great mind can do with his free time. I was astounded at the intensity in which he pursued truth and justice for a literary character, and was struck with how he himself mirrored ‘The Master.’ Even his initials lent themselves to this, (P.) S. H. I was to flag and note the items that spoke to his passion for the stories, and his determination to ‘mark the spot’ where Holmes and Moriarty faced off; the very place Doyle chose shortly before writing The Final Problem. There were charts and sketches, manuscripts, letters, receipts, an analysis of every particular (language, huts, trails, altitudes, landscapes, and so on). He gave us the definitive map of Reichenbach Falls as it relates to the story and then he wrote about it in “Of Violence at Meiringen,” found in the last chapter of the book Exploring Sherlock Holmes (1957) by the Norwegian Explorers.

Holmes Exhibit.jpgLater that week, we moved the gallery cases, both of us mindful of the stories of Hench and of Holmes and terrain we had come to know through two hundred prints, Hench’s maps, and Dr. Watson’s faithful narrative. Arranging led to rearranging and the first attempt at a key went out the window. In its place are brief accounts of each case’s contents, serving as both a description and as a means to propel the story forward to its conclusion; a plaque commemorating Sherlock Holmes placed just where Hench determined it ought to go. The next challenge was to display prints, maps, and pictures in such a way as to be interesting; to give them dimension. Our tools were lighting, platforms, stands, and plexi-blocks. I invite you to join Dr. Hench at Meiringen for a mid- summer excursion. Begin at the base of Reichenbach Falls and see what a genius does for fun.



In one regard, I have felt a little like Dr. Hench this summer; my studies have led me to the perfect spot. I have read, researched, and now am able to share what I’ve learned in the telling of a story.

Cheryll Fong is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the School of Library and Information Studies. She is an intern in the Special Collections & Rare Books unit, and is happy to be back at the U of M where she received her B.A. in International Relations, with minors in Political Science and History.

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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