by Kathleen Kaska
On May 19, 1934, a unique crossword puzzle appeared in The Saturday Review of Literature. Those who successfully completed the puzzle would be invited to join an elite group. They first met at the Hotel Duane on Madison Avenue in New York City for cocktails. Among those attending were Rex Stout, John Bennett Shaw and Frederic Dorr Steele. Future members would include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, William Baring-Gould, Anthony Boucher, Isaac Asimov, and more recently, writers Jan Burke and Laurie R. King. Now an annual dinner, the event is held on the Friday closest to January 6. Often called the BSI, short for The Baker Street Irregulars, the society has an international reputation. It’s the oldest society devoted to the study of the greatest detective of all times, Sherlock Holmes.
This year the BSI celebrates its eightieth anniversary. Completing a crossword puzzle no longer entitles membership; only a much coveted-invitation opens the door, and it’s extended selectively to notable Holmes’ scholars and writers. I’m still waiting on mine! Who is or isn’t a writer of Holmes stories, pastiches and parodies, is obvious, but how do you quality as a Holmes’ scholar? Does this mean teaching an Ivy League class on Holmes, or his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? It can, but you can also qualify by becoming so knowledgeable about the Sherlock Holmes Canon that you’re able to quote passages verbatim, or recognize where passages appeared when they are quoted to you.
Currently, there are roughly three hundred members of the BSI. Each one identifies himself/herself with a character name from the Canon. American writer Christopher Morley helped found the BSI and created the initial qualifying puzzle. At first the society was informal and loosely organized. Soon after, member and newspaperman Elmer Davis wrote the BSI’s official constitution and “Buy Laws (sic).” The later are listed below:
BY-LAWS OF THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS
(1) An annual meeting shall be held on January 6th, at which those toasts shall be drunk which were published in the Saturday Review of January 27th, 1934; after which the members shall drink at will.
(2) The current round shall be bought by any member who fails to identify, by title of story and context, any quotation from the Sacred Writings submitted by any other member.
Qualification A.–If two or more members fail so to identify, a round shall be bought by each of those so failing.
Qualification B.–If the submitter of the quotation, upon challenge, fails to identify it correctly, he shall buy the round.
(3) Special meetings may be called at any time or any place by any one of three members, two of whom shall constitute a quorum.
Qualification A.–If said two are of opposite sexes, they shall use care in selecting the place of meeting, to avoid misinterpretation (or interpretation, either, for that matter).
Qualification B.–If such two persons of opposite sexes be clients of the Personal Column of the Saturday Review, the foregoing does not apply; such persons being presumed to let their consciences be their guides.
(4) All other business shall be left for the monthly meeting.
(5) There shall be no monthly meeting.
The annual gathering takes place near the date of Sherlock Holmes’ birth. Conan Doyle was never specific about that day, but Morley, in his detailed examination of the Canon, surmises it to be January 6, 1854.
In the town where I now live, we have our own little scion society known as The Dogs of the Nighttime. This name was taken from a famous line in the story, Silver Blaze. The Dogs meet once a month at a local pub to discuss anything Sherlock. We haven’t yet selected our own respective Canonical pseudonyms, and though we keep the drinking to a minimum, we indulge in quizzing one another.
You can check out the official publication of the Baker Street Irregular, The Baker Street Journal, on their website.
Check out other mystery articles (including more on Sherlock Holmes), reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.