Delighted that the Sherlock Holmes International Exhibit, the traveling museum presentation I’ve been collaborating on, has gotten such prominent press. Here we are at Times Square NY!
Delighted that the Sherlock Holmes International Exhibit, the traveling museum presentation I’ve been collaborating on, has gotten such prominent press. Here we are at Times Square NY!
Myth, Murder, and the Moon ( a version of this appeared in the spring edition of Mystery Readers International)
It’s an evening in late May. My guests are in the dining room, and I am in the kitchen, multi-tasking.
While my hands are arranging slices of beef braised in red wine on a large white platter, and adding a sauté of wild mushrooms to the orzo, my brain is frantically trying to think of a hot subject for a public presentation I must give for my job at the university natural science museum. The program needs to include both forensic and environmental sciences and be gripping enough to attract a paying audience.
And I must have the subject by tomorrow’s meeting.
I’ve already presented “Murder on the Rocks”, about the use of geology in crime solving; “Dangerous Waters”, about piracy and sea creatures, “Something Wicked”, a romp through plant and animal poisons, and my favorite ,“Autopsy of a Vampire”, about historic exhumations and the effect of tannin rich soil on buried corpses.
Now I need something new.
My ears are perked in the direction of the dining room, where my guests are eating salad and waiting for the beef to arrive.
John, my serologist pal from the county crime lab, is asking his wife, Eva, a nurse at the university hospital emergency room, how her day has gone.
“Perfectly crazy, of course” she says. “a guy came in covered with green paint that, he says, he was ordered to wear by the CIA. An old lady came in raving that one of her cats was actually a werewolf. Well, what do you expect? It’s a full moon”.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” John responds. “You nurses are always saying that. You ignore the fact that a zillion studies-serious, well done, meta- studies, have established that this full moon stuff is nonsense. It’s coincidence. You remember weird stuff when it happens at the full moon, and don’t count all the other times strange things happen.”
“ We’re not just saying it ! We know it because we see it all the time ! And it’s not only nurses !” Eva retorts, her voice rising, “the cops know it too! Paramedics know it ! Everyone who deals with the public- and who isn’t a nerd scientist in an ivory tower knows it !”
My friend Laura, who works in Child Protective Services and is sitting across from John, piles on- “Eva’s absolutely right. I don’t care what the studies show. I know what I see. There’s a reason folklore says the full moon creates werewolves. ..”
By the time I make an entrance with the beef and the orzo, battle lines are fully drawn.
George, a former NYPD detective, sides with Eva and Laura, but Laura’s husband Ken, and my husband Bill, both computer scientists, agree with John.
And I’ve found my topic. Happy, I open another bottle of wine.
The meeting next morning goes well. My new program will examine the folklore of the full moon and the moon’s effects on the natural world. It will delve into tales of werewolves, crime reports, and madness. All the usual suspects.
It will be called “Myth ,Murder, and the Moon”.
The next week I’m deep in research.
First stop is a dusty part of the medical library where I exhume a huge tome on lycanthropy. In folklore, this it is the belief that some humans can shift shape into animals, usually at the time of the full moon. When in their human form, they are believed to have eyebrows that meet in the middle, and to sport hairy palms.
But in psychiatry, lycanthropy is considered a serious illness, a syndrome involving “the delusion of being an animal ”.
Fascinated, I read a medical account of a patient who believed he had been transformed into a dog . ( Breed not specified) He also believed he was dead. In addition, the poor chap suffered “a serious sense of guilt about his previous sexual contact with a sheep”. Prognosis wasn’t good.
Continuing my research, I peruse a lengthy paper which states that the homicide rate doubled during a full moon in a certain county in Florida. I follow this up with a call to the Chief Medical Examiner down there.
“Sure, it doubled during the last full moon. The previous weeks, we had, on average, about one homicide a day. On the night of the full moon, we had two. So what does that prove? It proves any damn fool can play with statistics” he said testily.
In a popular article on marine science, I read that horseshoe crabs emerge at the shoreline during the night of the June full moon for a once a year evening of spicy erotic encounters.
Horseshoes are an ancient species. In spite of their name, they are related to spiders rather than crabs, and have remained unchanged for eons. They are useful as well. Their blood is an intriguing powder blue color rather than red, as it contains no hemoglobin. It forms a distinctive gel around bacteria, which helps locate dangerous contaminants otherwise hidden in liquids.
This helpful quality means that horseshoe habits are important to predict. If they really do react to the full moon as claimed, we know when and where to find them in large numbers, so that we can harvest some of their blood.
And in terms of my program, a gathering of the creatures may provide both informative and dramatic visual effects.
On the night of the June full moon, Bill and I, along with Laura and her husband, arrive at Stony Brook beach, armed with hope and video equipment .
Our feet crunch shells and pebbles. We hear the lap of the water. We are unhappily aware of hordes of black flies feeding eagerly on our bare feet.
We don’t see amorous horseshoes..
One or two of them lumber lugubriously up on the beach, check each other out, and crawl in opposite directions. A few more show up, but hover in a line near a rock, ignoring each other, like shy boys at a middle school dance.
We do not shoot x rated film. The full moon crab romance is obviously exaggerated.
In the next month I check out hundreds of murders reported to have occurred at the full moon. Many of these happened near the full moon night – but very few exactly on it.
It occurs to me that the moon may just provide light-if you are out to kill, carrying a weapon, it’s easier if you don’t have to carry a lantern or flashlight as well.
On the night of the program, I explain all this to a full house. I also tell werewolf tales from around the world, play audio of wolves howling, and tell in detail a few full moon murder stories, like the 20th century Monster of Florence and the Salem Murder of 1830.
At the reception after the performance, I shake hands with audience members. One tells me she is the “adoptive mother” of a “darling little wolf cub” who sings to the moon. (I’m relieved to know she’s not the biological Mom. Also that she’s left the little one at home)
The last man to leave shakes my hand, leans in a little too close and whispers huskily
“ I only change occasionally. Not every month”
I notice his eyebrows meet in the middle.
I can’t tell about his palms-he is wearing gloves.
Note: I’ve changed my guests names in the hope of continuing to have some sort social life.
E. J. Wagner is the author of Edgar®-winning The Science of Sherlock Holmes. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Lancet, Ellery Queens Mystery Magazine, and Smithsonian magazine. Her web site is at http://www.ejwagner-crimehistorian.com/ and her blog is at http://ejdissectingroom.wordpress.com/. She is working on a novel about the Salem murder and also on the traveling Museum Exhibit “Sherlock Holmes; the Science of Deduction” which will open in October, 2013, at the Oregon Museum of Science and industry.
I am, as always,as always
Watson was delighted to appear on Facebook page of “Sherlock Holmes;The Science of Deduction” museum exhibit
he was interviewed by a crack video team- and is really exhausted from his exertions,
Delighted to see this discussion in the NY Times
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Delighted to tell you we are hard at work making this exhibit worthy of the Great Detective
It’s a pleasure for me to collaborate with Dan Stashower and the team. I’ll keep you all posted.
• The exhibition premieres at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland Oregon (OMSI).
• The exhibition opens October 10, 2013 through January 5, 2014
• The Exhibition will travel until 2019 to international science, history and natural history museums worldwide
• Each venue hosts the exhibition a minimum of three to six months
• International tour is slated to begin 2017
• Geoffrey M. Curley + Associates
• Exhibits Development Group
• Conan Doyle Estate
• Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
• Museum of London
• Andersen Library, University of Minnesota
• Portsmouth City Library, Richard Green Collection
• Royal Surgeons Hall
• CosProp, Ltd. (costume shop)
• Baker Street Irregulars
• EJ Wagner
• Daniel Stashower
• Original Manuscripts
• Costumes and Props from the most recent films and television shows
• Letters of Conan Doyle
• Original Illustrations
• 1st Publications
• Original tools, specimens, maps, paintings…
• The most detailed and accurate 221b Sitting room to date
• Conan Doyle’s Study
• New! Sherlock Holmes Mystery to be solved by the visitors to the exhibition
• Hands on experiences where you are a Baker Street Irregular
• Victorian Science Exposition
• Live Demonstrations
• Fully Immersive
In our constant search for truth, facts and knowledge, the exhibition celebrates curiosity and deduction through observation, creativity, and exploration that inspires us to question and bring reason to the world around us.
Overall Experiential Objective
Guests will experience the primary principles of the scientific method first-hand, while focusing on five STEAM based sciences and five historical European and literature topics. Within this exhibition, guests will explore the scientific and exploratory nature of Sherlock Holmes by engaging in hands-on, observant and inductive interactive experiences. Observation will be used throughout each experience.
Disciplines and studies of science included in the exhibition:
• Biology/Anatomy: human capabilities, post-mortem
• Chemistry/Toxicology: fingerprinting, incorporate sense of smell
• Geology/Trace Evidence: identifying rock, soil, ash, fibers
• Botany: identifying plants
Disciplines and studies of history included in the exhibition:
• Sherlock Holmes Stories: The importance of the stories since publication
• Conan Doyle: Influences as he wrote Sherlock Holmes
• Technological Advances in the 1890’s: Communications, medicine, transportation, observational tools
• Geography of 1890’s London: Immigration, expansion, suburbs
• Police work in the 1890’s: forensic standards, relationship with the public
• Social Structure in 19th-century London: Etiquette and social strata of Great Britain
• Museums may charge additionally for the experience, this helps support the institution ensuring that they continue to bring world class exhibition, content and educational programing to their communities
• If there is continued interest in learning about the financials for the project, such as cost, rental, ticket price, funders, please direct communication to Jessica Grandbois at EDG
MISSION DRIVEN CONTENT
• The exhibition content is developed to support the core missions of museums and educational centers across the globe
• Educators and experts in each field have been deeply involved in the development process of the exhibition
• Classroom activities will be offered to educators and group leaders through the exhibition website to support field trips t the exhibition, or to be used independently to support existing national curricula
• Facilitated and group experiences are developed for the exhibition by Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s leading facilitation team
FILM AND TELEVISION
• Select costumes and props form the films and television shows may be available for the guests to view
• The films and shows are used as a entry point to expend the discussion to Conan Doyle’s writing, the history and science surrounding the Sherlock Holmes cannon
Digging Up Dead Lawyers
by E. J. Wagner
Long dead lawyers won’t sue. They are unlikely to make you look foolish on a witness stand. They won’t object if you poke through their papers. And the papers of long-dead lawyers often contain intriguing details about historic crimes—clues often left out of the official records. It’s just such seductive traces that challenge me.
Which is why I am here with Bill, (who is not only my husband, but also my tech support, research colleague, and cheerleader), tramping through an ancient cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts. We are looking for the tomb of Joseph White. The victim of a notorious murder in 1830, which made legal history, he is said by some historians to lie cozily near to the graves of his assailants. Several witnesses in the case, as well as their legal advisors, are believed to rest here too—it seems very “en famille.”
It is unusually hot for May, and the bugs swarm hungrily. The cemetery is gated and locked on three sides—the one side left open leads to a steep hill covered with loose stones and weeds. As we climb, an insect slides down my bra and stings. I smack at it, lose my balance and fall hard, skinning a knee.. Bill, is, as usual, absolutely determined, and grabbing my hand pulls me up the path. “I’ll bet it’s over there,” he says, pointing at a great slab of grey stone in the distance”.
I’m a crime historian, which means that I research, write about, and present to audiences, old criminal cases. In my passion for accuracy, I plow through antique legal documents, medical books, and law treatises. I dig up dead lawyers (metaphorically, of course) and their extensive notes (literally). As that consummate attorney, Aaron Burr, wisely observed, “What is written, remains.” It’s all happy grist for my mill.
In the course of research I often find myself in very odd and sometimes disconcerting places, and I’ve learned to equip myself with the proper tools. Some helpful points.
Old cemeteries, sometimes in the dead of winter, can be icy. I advise sturdy boots with treads, warm coat and hat and scarf . Gloves, too—preferably those flexible enough to write in.
Autopsy rooms, (bring change of clothes and cologne for trip home as latex gloves and aprons do nothing to prevent odor from clinging)
Rare book rooms of libraries and historical societies, (always wear clothes with pockets for tissues. Bring antihistamine, as violently sneezing on ancient primary documents is frowned upon. Carry many sharp pencils as pens are not allowed, and be prepared to check your other things (the curators and librarians could teach the TSA a thing or two about security). Take a laptop. A magnifying glass (Shades of Sherlock!) can be very useful when you’re trying to decipher faded writing smaller than a paramecium’s navel.
Old abandoned mines—very cold, may be contaminated—bring warm sweater, scarf, surgical mask)
Courtrooms: check rules before you go. Old Bailey, in London, for instance won’t allow bags, so wear clothes with pockets for your stuff)
Books and dictionaries on criminal law and medicine, are necessary aides, if you want to write about criminal history.
Now it is only a matter finding just the right case. For me, it starts insidiously, like a summer cold. I’ll wander into a second hand book store, promising myself that this time I will do nothing but browse. Maybe buy some light reading. I pet the resident cat, note the atmospheric dust coating the stock. I saunter past poetry . . . art appreciation . . . self improvement . . .
And then I find I’ve arrived in the section on criminal law. The shelves here groan with moldering trial transcripts and collections of crime reports from long discontinued newspapers. There are boxes of letters- the writing faded, cramped. They lean against journals composed centuries ago and cluttered with clippings and mementos. The journals are jammed against the battered memoirs of ancient jurists, of old time detectives, and sometimes, those of the murdered or their killers. All of it the detritus of long ago trials and treachery. And I know that if I allow myself to linger, (as inevitably I will), I’ll discover, on these shelves, in these boxes, accounts of cases that will take over my life—It’s just a matter of choosing one to focus on.
My interest is usually sparked by a forensic anomaly, a missing fact, an odd pathology report, an obviously inadequate cross-examination in a capital case.
Consider the well known English case of George Joseph Smith, accused in 1915, of serially drowning his wives in their baths. (He then callously compounded the heinous crimes after the fact, by playing “Nearer My God to Thee” on the harmonium.)
Smith is described by historians of his day as simple-minded. But his method of drowning grown women in small bathtubs by sudden vigorous submersion was only established by the eminent pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, after lengthy and dangerous experiments performed on an unusually dedicated nurse.
How did Smith know it would work? How did a “simple-minded” man discover the trick? There must have been earlier, similar and sinister efforts not yet known. It makes me wonder about the life spans of his childhood friends, his siblings. Did he have his pet animals, I wonder? Smith was born in Bethnal Green, I discover, and spent time in a reformatory at the age of nine—what techniques did he acquire there?
I could search for the local newspapers published in the years right after his release—if the blitz didn’t destroy them they could be found.
Mr. Marshall Hall was Smith’s defense attorney—did he leave a memoir? Letters? Could I locate them?
Or what about the case of Jeannie Donald, convicted in 1934 Scotland of the murder of a neighbor’s child; largely on the evidence of Sydney Smith, the pathologist. He testified that the asphyxiated victim’s intestines were infected by a rare bacteria, matched by that in the apartment of the accused. At cross examination the defense counsel never explored exactly how rare this bacteria was, or even precisely what it was. There were no questions about the possible presence of the bacteria in other apartments in the tenement building where the crime took place.
Why were these questions not asked? Why was Mr. D. P. Blades, KC, so restrained? Did Blades leave journals? Can I find them? And so it goes . . .
But it’s the Salem Murder I finally choose to write about for Smithsonian Magazine, and that is what has brought Bill and me to the cemetery in Salem. The case is one which formed the basis of the felony murder rule now accepted in many states. The victim was well-known, very rich, and lauded in fulsome terms by the prosecutor, Daniel Webster. But I have reason to believe the victim was a slave trader. Can I find hard evidence of this? I believe Edgar Allen Poe wrote the “Tell Tale Heart” based on this crime—can I prove that? I believe Daniel Webster unethically mislead the court in this matter-can I establish this? I want to see the murder scene, the burial site..
Bill pulls me across the hot overgrown cemetery to where the grey slab bears the name “Joseph White.” Have we found the correct tomb? Alas, the date is all wrong—it was inscribed years before White’s death. Could it be that of his father? But his father lived, not in Salem, but on the Isles of Shoals—I can see another trip to the White papers in my future.
When we arrive home, five hours later, after a long ferry ride, I make the unhappy discovery of a moribund biting insect in my bra. It traveled all the way from the cemetery with us. I make a note to add insecticide and calamine lotion to the paraphernalia I carry as a I dig up old crimes of forensic interest.
This article first appeared in Mystery Readers Journal, Volume 28, Number 3 Fall 2012
Legal Mysteries II
E.J. Wagner as usual pursuing verity.
E. J. Wagner is the author of Edgar®-winning The Science of Sherlock Holmes. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Lancet, Ellery Queens Mystery Magazine, and Smithsonian magazine. Her web site is at http://www.ejwagner-crimehistorian.com/ and her blog is at http://ejdissectingroom.wordpress.com/. She is working on a novel about the Salem murder. Her article about the case can be seen at HYPERLINK “http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/A-Murder-in-Salem.html” http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/A-Murder-in-Salem.html
Thank you for taking part in testing GAGA- a new standardized exam for prospective government officials
This innovative process will eliminate the needlessly hostile television debates.
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. This is merely an exploration of your knowledge and positions. Here are a few sample questions:
1. Economics: A woman of 28 has just received a graduate degree in education. Her husband, same age, had recently graduated law school.Their combined debt for education is $200,000. They have not yet found full time employment, and are working at several part time jobs which have no health benefits. to pay bills. Their birth control has failed, and the woman is pregnant.
Please explain, in 500 words or less,hoe de-funding Planned Parenthood will aid their economic situation.
2, You have changed your position on major issues 7 times in as many years.Explain, in 250 words or less, how this demonstrates your reliability.
3. Planning and Strategy:
You must plan a 12 hour car trip for yourself, five children, a spouse, and an Irish Setter.
Choose your arrangements
a. Rent U haul for luggage,have family and dog ride inside/
b. rent van, have family and luggage inside.
c. Place dog in crate, tie crate to roof of vehicle.
For extra credit,explain your choice.
E.J. Wagner as usual pursuing verity.
Watson frequently remarked on the amazing histrionic abilities of Sherlock Holmes.-who could hide in plain sight, and disguise himself so cleverly that he fooled his close friend. In our own time, we must gasp in admiration at the similar abilities of Mitt Romney, one of the great character actors of our time. He has appeared as a moderate, a liberal, an arch conservative, a protector of women’s rights, and an anti choice proponent.
He has played all these roles in only a few years, wearing the same hair style, and with only a modicum of makeup.
Holmes, I recall, had to make use of beeswax.
Political life may suffer, but the theater has a new star.
On September 28 and again on the 29, History Canada will show the documentary “The Real Sherlock Holmes”. It will be on right after “Elementary” the new, American , re-invention of the Holmes saga
As I did a short interview for the documentary about Mr.Holmes’ contributions to forensic science ,I’m hoping for the program’s success.
The teaser looks intriguing.Watch it here:http://www.facebook.com/#!/therealsherlock. and here::http://www.facebook.com/#!/therealsherlock.
And tell the TV folks in the USA and the UK to show us the
whole program. EJ
Sherlockian scholars have been electrified by the entirely unsubstantiated report that Pulsating Productions is mounting an innovative TV series starring Jackie Mason as Sherlock Holmes. Oprah Winfrey and Madelaine Albright are to alternate in the role of Watson, and in a creative break with tradition, Irene Adler will be played by a newly svelte and contrite Arnold Schwartzeneger.
The part of Inspector Lestrade is not yet cast, although Callista Gingrich is said slated to portray Mrs. Hudson.
Both independent booksellers in the western world took the news philosophically. “If it sells books, it’s a gift !” said one dealer, as with trembling hands he unpacked a large carton of deerstalkers.
EJ Dissecting Room hopes to reach out to internationally known experts such as Les Klinger, Peter Blau, and Roger Johnson for their take on the matter.