The Dastardly Past: Sidney Paget.
Today (October 4th) marks the anniversary of the birth of illustrator Sidney Paget in 1860. If his name is not immediately associated with that of Sherlock Holmes, his images surely are. In the course of his successful career, he created 356 Holmes illustrations–mostly for The Strand magazine. They have been a source of inspiration for actors throughout the past century, giving life to the postures, mannerisms, and expressions of Holmes, Watson, LeStrade, et al.
Sadly, Paget passed away at the age of 47 from a mediastinal tumor–a tumor located between his lungs, sternum, and spinal column. The area also touches on the heart, esophagus, and aorta, and is therefore a tricky place to operate. Such tumors are rare and, in the early twentieth century, they represented a death sentence. In his short life, however, he created work that seems destined to remain immortal.
The Dastardly Past: Fort Knox
On June 28, 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the building of a fortified vault at Fort Knox in Kentucky, which would become the United States Bullion Depository. Construction on the granite building finished in December 1936, and by January 1937 the first shipments of gold began arriving. During the second World War it also housed the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Since it was built, Fort Knox has occupied the popular imagination as the place of riches beyond the dreams of King Midas, or even Auric Goldfinger. It’s also pretty cool for aficionados of Deco architecture.
The Dastardly Past: Sir Thomas Lipton
What better to accompany a good crime thriller or mystery novel than a cozy room and a cup of tea? Today (May 10) we celebrate the 1850 birth of grocer and tea magnate Thomas Johnston Lipton, who popularized tea drinking in the United States and among the working classes of Great Britain. Deciding that the cost of tea was far too high, Lipton purchased his own plantation in Ceylon in 1890. He kept growing and shipping costs at a minimum, and sold his tea in packages of full, half and quarter, making it much more affordable for the masses to enjoy.
The Dastardly Past: the Death of Sherlock Holmes.
Forget Star Wars. The true importance of May the 4th is that it’s the day Sherlock Holmes died. In Arthur Conan-Doyle’s story “The Final Problem,” set in 1891, Holmes and Moriarty meet at the Riechenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. They glare at one another. They charge. They fight. They plunge into the torrent, locked in battle, and fall to their deaths. Finis.
The reading public, however, rejected this (or any) end to their analytical hero. Conan Doyle, who had wanted to pursue other projects, held out from 1893, when the story was published, to 1901, when he relented and produced The Hound of the Baskervilles, set prior to 1891. Aficionados refer to this period as The Great Hiatus. A year later Holmes came back for good in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” Set in 1894, it details his remarkable escape from the clutches of Moriarty and his henchmen. Holmes stories appeared regularly after that and no more thought was given to a permanent end to the immortal detective.
J. W. Turner’s view of the Reichenbach Falls.
The Dastardly Past: Bram Stoker.
April 20, 1912 marked the passing of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. The authors of the Stoker article in the Dictionary of Literary Biography said this of him, “Without Dracula, Bram Stoker would be forgotten. As it is, he is one of the least-known authors of one of the best-known books.” Born in Ireland, Abraham Stoker, Jr., was by turns a civil servant, drama critic, actor and theater manager, as well as a writer. His social circle was wide and cultivated (as was Stoker himself). Scholars have attributed his interest in vampires to Hungarian Arminius Vambery, a colorful figure who told wild tales of the vampires of Eastern Europe. Intrigued, Stoker began researching the topic. Four years later he completed his world-famous novel. It has been adapted for stage, screen, radio, and every other conceivable medium. Although somewhat prudish, the circumstances of his marriage led Stoker to seek companionship outside of his home. He died of advanced syphilis at the age of 65.
The Dastardly Past: Robert F. Kennedy & Sirhan Sirhan
Such a lovely spot for such a dastardly act. The Ambassador Hotel. Author’s collection.
On April 17 in 1969, a jury convicted Jordanian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan for the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, whose support of Israel he had become obsessed with. Kennedy was gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just finished a speech and was shaking hands with one of the kitchen staff when the assassin began firing. Kennedy took three shots; in the melee other people were hit but not seriously injured. The busboy, who Kennedy had paused to greet, put his own rosary into Kennedy’s hands, and Kennedy was transported to a hospital where he died the following day. Sirhan Sirhan continues to serve a life sentence in California.
The Dastardly Past: Kodak.
Like Laurel with Hardy, like peanut butter with jelly, like Waffle House with people of the land, so too do cameras and detection belong together. In 1888-89, Kodak introduced the first cameras that allowed people to simply point and shoot. With the press of a button, photography shifted from a specialist’s pursuit to something almost anyone could do. And they did—in droves—making Kodak the leader of popular photographic equipment, film, and film processing in the world.