An exhibition devoted to the character of Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 19th century Victorian period, celebrates to scientific inquiry, innovation, and the long-rooted collaborations between police and scientists.
It just opened at the Minnesota History Center, after first opening in Portland in 2013 and then touring North America.
The Conan Doyle estate played a role in putting the exhibition together. Richard Doyle, the author’s great nephew, appears in a video as you walk into the space. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was tapped to make sure the forensic portions of the exhibition were accurate.
Also working to put “Sherlock Holmes: The Exhibition” together was a local firm, the Exhibits Development Group, the Oregon Museum of Science Industry, and Geoffrey M. Curley + Associates.
Curley comes from a theater background. “We look at topics that are important, especially for museums, and tell them in a way that really resonates with the heart and soul, as well as the mind,” Curley says during a tour of the exhibition.
One room in the exhibition will delight Sherlock Holmes superfans. It’s filled with objects from the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Library, which houses the largest collection of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes in the world, with over 60,000 books, journals, and other ephemera.
The University has a long history with Sherlock Holmes. The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, a local chapter of the national literary group the Baker Street Irregulars of New York, was founded in 1948 by a group of five deans and department heads from the University of Minnesota, including Professor Theodore Blegen, who was also the superintendent of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Some of the Andersen Library objects include letters written in Conan Doyle’s hand, a first edition of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” an illustration of a Sherlock Holmes story by Sidney Paget from Strand Magazine, and a copy of “A Study in Scarlet,” the first Sherlock Holmes story Conan Doyle ever published. “It wasn’t so radically popular that people kept it, so a lot of people must have gotten rid of it,” Curley says.
The exhibition uses the objects from the Andersen Library together with an intricately designed setting that highlights the Victorian time period and offers a look at Conan Doyle’s world, through decor objects like beautiful wood desks and tables and antique looking lamps. There are also objects from numerous TV shows and films featuring Sherlock Holmes.
“We’ve created this in such a way that it’s reminiscent of what would be around Conan Doyle as he was writing these stories,” Curley says.
There’s even a replica of Holmes’ study. Conan Doyle never made it to London, so the replica of 221B Baker Street is more of how it looks based on Conan Doyle’s descriptions rather than an actual place. “There is no such address,” Curley says. Yet touches like the bow window and the objects in Holmes’ study are taken from Conan Doyle’s writings.
Conan Doyle had studied medicine during an era of great discovery in the medical field. He attended the University of Edinburgh from 1876 to 1881, and also studied botany at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.
“Edinburgh was the center of medical innovation,” Curley says.
In fact, the character of Sherlock Holmes drew from a medical genius in Conan Doyle’s proximity: forensic science pioneer Joseph Bell. Conan Doyle had been Bell’s assistant during his educational years.
A host of participatory experiences immerse you in the exhibition, including an area that offers insights into the technological advances during the time Conan Doyle was writing about Sherlock Holmes. From the London Underground, to morse code, to advances in forensics and policing, each station offers a hands on learning experience. For example, there are different types of machines that give information about how blood is spattered based on the way it has been sprayed. Other stations focus on microscopes and telescopes, which became refined during the late 19th century, and became tools for solving crimes.
You’ll also put your newly learned skills to work as you try to solve a fictional crime in an elaborately designed series of rooms that immerse you into the process of solving the murder. The case isn’t the basis for a plot in one of Conan Doyle’s stories. Rather, the designers used a case Dr. Watson merely mentions in one of the stories.
Exquisitely and imaginatively put together, the exhibition thrusts you into the world of Sherlock Holmes with wonderful detail and thoughtful touches. “Sherlock Holmes: The Exhibition” is worth a stop.
Sherlock Holmes: The Exhibition runs through April 2 ($12 adults, $8 kids over 5). More information here.
If, after seeing the exhibition at the History Center, you need more Holmes, there’s a separate Sherlock Holmes-themed installation, called “The League,” running at Lundstrum Performing Arts in Minneapolis, presented by Sparkle Theatricals. It’s a multimedia show with live and prerecorded sections that thrust you into a theatrical Sherlock Holmes experience. It runs Friday, Oct. 28, Saturday, Oct. 29 7 Monday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. & 9 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. ($45). More information here.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to correct the date the Holmes exhibition is closing. The correct date is April 2.