Romancing History

Tag: Romancing History; Kelly Goshorn

Will the Real Sherlock Holmes Please Stand Up?

My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”  ~The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Perhaps one of the most recognized characters in all of literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has captured the imagination of generations around the world. Doyle’s brilliant private detective became known for his signature prowess at using logic and his keen powers of observation to solve cases. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short-stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Almost all were narrated by Holmes’ friend, Dr. Watson. Doyle’s work gained popularity as serialized stories published in The Strand Magazine over a period of forty years.

No doubt Holmes is perhaps the most famous fictional detective, and indeed one of the best known and most universally recognizable literary character, but did you know that Doyle based the his famous character on real people?

Dr. Joseph Bell, photo courtesy of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate

Joseph Bell (1837–1911) was a professor at the University of Edinburgh in 1877 where the young Doyle enrolled in medical school. Bell captivated Doyle and his classmates with his amazing deductive skills and often immediate conclusions regarding patient diagnoses, occupation and other personal details just by studying their appearance and mannerisms. In addition to taking Bell’s classes, Doyle served for a time as his clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he got a further look at the older man’s diagnostic methods. In addition to using his deductive powers to diagnose diseases, he occasionally assisted the police as a forensic doctor.

Years later, Conan Doyle wrote to Bell: “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes and though in the stories I have the advantage of being able to place him in all sorts of dramatic positions, I do not think that his analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I have seen you produce in the outpatient ward.”

Henry Littlejohn – Photo courtesy of
Edinburgh University Library

Henry Littlejohn (1826-1914)  Joseph Bell was not the sole inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Doyle also credits famed Scottish forensic scientist, public health inspector, and dissector of human bodies, Henry Littlejohn, for giving Holmes some of his personality. Part of Littlejohn’s job as Surgeon of Police and Medical Officer of Health in Edinburgh was to consult with police when they needed medical expertise. Littlejohn investigated accidents, tragic deaths, or murders that took place in the city. He revolutionized the way cases were solved at the same time as Doyle was writing his master slueth’s adventures. Littlejohn is credited with pioneering the use of fingerprinting and photographic evidence in criminal investigations.

During the time Doyle was writing “The Final Problem” in 1893, Littlejohn was called as an expert witness in the trial of Alfred John Monson who had been accused of shooting his twenty year old student, Cecil Hambrough, during a hunting trip. The defense claimed that Hambrough had “accidentally” shot himself in the head. According to the Edinburgh News, Littlejohn testified that the position of the wound, the scorch marks from the bullet, the damage to the victim’s skull, and even the smell of the victim indicated that the victim had been murdered.

William Gillette portraying Sherlock Holmes

William Gillette (1853–1937) This one is a bit of a stretch. Although William Gillette wasn’t an inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes character, as one of the first actors to portray Holmes (which Gillette did more than 1,000 times), he has influenced the development of the Holmes character tremendously to the public. Gillette was the first to wear Holmes’s signature deerstalker hat, the first to replace Holmes’s straight pipe with a curved one, and the first (while helping Conan Doyle to write the first official Sherlock Holmes stage play) to pen the line, “elementary, my dear fellow,” which would eventually be turned by later writers into, “elementary, my dear Watson.” Gillette had his own Homes-like qualities. He was an inventor, earning patents for a variety of items including a timestamp device and a system for making more realistic sound effects on stage.

Tidbits & Trivia

  • The name “Sherlock Holmes” is believed to have been taken from two sources–“Sherlock” from Doyle’s favorite musician, Alfred Sherlock, and “Holmes” from the prominent, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
  • By the late 1890s, Dr. Bell had earned quite a reputation as an investigator. So much so, in fact, that when a series of murders of “ladies of the night” went down, the police called in Bell to help. This became the infamous Jack the Ripper case.
  • Doyle continued to write adventures for Sherlock Holmes until 1927 and would pass away from a heart attack in 1930.

Which is your favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery?


Happy Birthday, Uncle Sam!

Earlier this week, on September 7, Uncle Sam turned 203 years old!

I always thought Uncle Sam was only a nickname, a personification for the United States. But I recently found out there is a real person behind the name.

So who is the real Uncle Sam?samuel_wilson_portrait

Samuel Wilson, along with his brother Ebeneezer, began a meat packing business in Troy, New York. Samuel was considered outgoing and friendly, and became well known in Troy and the surrounding areas as “Uncle Sam.” Their enterprise was highly successful and soon the brothers purchased their own dock and sloops, as well as land to raise produce and pasture animals headed for the slaughterhouse.

During the War of 1812, the Wilson’s were subcontracted by Elbert Anderson, Jr. to supply five thousand barrels of pork and beef to troops stationed in New York and New Jersey. The barrels supplied to the army were stamped “E.A.–U.S.,” indicating Elbert Anderson, supplier to the United States government. Visitors to the docks asked what the marking on the barrels meant. Slaughterhouse workers mistaking the U.S. stamp for the initials of their employer responded, “Uncle Sam Wilson. It is he who is feeding the army.” The misinterpretation spread and before long any rations headed for U.S. government use were known as “Uncle Sam’s.”

nastunclesamBy March of 1813, “Uncle Sam” appeared in print as a nickname for the United States government in broadsides published in New York. The first sketches of Uncle Sam appeared in newspapers as early as the 1830s but the images varied from artist to artist. During the Civil War Uncle Sam’s appearance began to resemble that of Abraham Lincoln (tall, lean, beard). But it was Thomas Nast’s iconic rendering of Uncle Sam in the 1870s with a white beard, top hat, blue coat and striped pants had evolved into one that we would recognize today.  Before long, his image became pervasive in newspapers, magazines and advertisements. By 1876, Uncle Sam was widely used as a symbol for the U.S. government in Nast’s political cartoons. The image to the right appeared in Harper’s Weekly, November 24, 1877.

unclesamwantyouArtist James Montgomery Flagg’s version of Uncle Sam may be the most commonly known. Flagg’s Uncle Sam adds stars to his top hat and a red bow tie and points straight ahead at the viewer. During World War I, this version of Uncle Sam with the words “I Want You For The U.S. Army” was used as a recruiting poster. The image, which became immensely popular, was first used on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly in July 1916 with the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” The poster was widely distributed and has subsequently been re-used numerous times with different captions.

But whatever became of Samuel Wilson? He and his brother opened a second meat-packing house in Catskill, New York and their operations grew to include over 200 employees. Samuel became a philanthropist and gave generously of his time and money to many civic organizations in the Troy, New York, area. Wilson died at age 88 in 1854. In September 1961, the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.”


Who is the real Uncle Sam? (Click to Tweet)



Come Hither and Speaketh Like Shakespeare!


April 23rd, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and what better way to honor the bard than with a national day! Talk Like Shakespeare Day was created by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2009 to pay homage to one of the world’s best known storytellers and inspire new generations to fall in love with his poems and plays.

Here are some tips to speak like the Bard:

  • Replace your it’s with ‘tis, your he with ‘a, your and you with thou and ye
  • You will use thou if you are angry with the person or want to insult them. It is also used in intimate relationships (i.e. Romeo and Juliet). There may be switches within a single conversation, depending on the topic, the situation, the mood and the moment.
    • Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood. ~King Lear
  • Do not use “do” in negatives and questions.
    • I know not//I do not know
      Know you?//Do you know?
      I love thee not//l do not love you
  • Shakespeare often reversed the order of pronoun and adjective to modify nouns. It was the standard order in Old English.
    • Good my lord//My good lord
      Sweet my coz//My sweet cousin
      ‘Tis he that…//It is the man who…
  • Elizabethans, like Shakespeare, contracted a lot more words than we do today. However, not is never contracted in Shakespeare. It became a practice only after 1640s. The many elided forms evidence the pace of Elizabethan speech. In fact, when Romeo & Juliet was being performed in original pronunciation in parallel with modern English at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2004, the one in original pronunciatio ended 10 minutes earlier!
    • Arrive’d//Arrived

      and’s//And his
      to’t//To it
      after’s//After his
      In’s//In his
      H’as//He has
      ‘Tis//It is, it’s
      ‘twas//It was

ShakespearSpeakingFrequent Words found throughout Shakespeare’s Works


Fair befall you!//Best Wishes!
How do you?//How are you?
Grammercy//Thank you


Hither//Towards here
Come hither//
Come here
Towards there
Even but now//
Just now
Therefore//That is why
Where, in which
In that, there
Whereof//Of what

I pray thee/you//

Repair//Go (usually in a hurry)
Repair home//
Go home
Hie//Hasten, hurry up
Hie thee hither!//
Come here, quickly!
Become (Tears do not become a man)//Suit (Tears do not suit a man)
Dally//Linger; move, act slowly
Wait, stay, linger
I wot not//I do not know


Fie!//Shame! For shame!
How fare you?//
How are you?
Commend me to my lady//Pass on my greetings to the lady
Quoth I//
I said

Verily//In truth

I think
Methought//I thought
Bethink oneself//Think over


Thou beest/ be’st//You are
Thou wast/ were//You were
Thou wilt/shalt//You will/shall
Thou knowest//You know
Thou thinkest//You think
Thou canst//You can
Thou mayst//You may
Thou shouldst//You should
Thou wouldst//You would
Thou hast//You have
Thou hadst//You had
Thou dost//You do
Thou didst//You did

Although my list of tips is nowhere near exhaustive, use them as oft as thou canst and they will become part of thy daily English with haste. Then canst thou make thy speech sound Shakespearean “trippingly upon thy tongue!”

What is your favorite line from one of Shakespeare’s works?

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