THE GAME’S AFLOAT III
No, this isn’t a misprint, the name of the conference really was The Game’s Afloat, and it was the third such conference to be held under that name. Even when one knows that The Game’s Afloat really is the conference’s name, one will probably wonder why a meeting held in the St. Louis’ luxurious Westport Plaza Hotel would be described as being "afloat." Well, you see, The Game’s Afloat I and II conferences were actually held aboard the riverboat "Goldenrod," hence, those conferences really were "afloat." The management of the ’98 conference decided to use the traditional conference name, even though the ’98 event was, actually, comfortably land bound! The sponsor of record of The Game’s Afloat III was St. Charles’ scion society, The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn (Michael Bragg, The Blue Whale of the Harpooners) with the able cooperation of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis, and The Occupants of the Empty House scions. The planning and active management of the conference was ably handled by the Steering Committee personed by Joe Eckrich, BSI; Kathy Kelleher; Ed Moorman; Gordon Speck, BSI; and Jessica Young. In very visible executive positions at the conference were Barbara Roscoe, Brad Keefauver, BSI; Dr. Mary Schroeder, Carrie Kinealy, and Helen Simpson. Art Schroeder, whose health would not allow his being present at the conference, was credited with keeping everyone in contact with reality by injecting humor into even the face of the most daunting turn of events. (see biographical sketches of Art and Mary Schroeder).
Although the formal conference proceedings were scheduled to begin on October 31 (Halloween Day), a goodly number of the attendees (coming from as far away as Boston and Colorado) arrived to enjoy the Friday evening reception. We joined the assemblage, in a nearby pub called McNultys (see below), in time for a nip at a "cobwebby bottle" and a great fish and chips dinner. There we all had the opportunity to chat with fellow Sherlockian friends, both old and new. Such informal conviviality and dining is characteristic of Sherlockian conferences and is always a great joy. Following the reception, the conference managers provided a most entertaining Sherlockian film festival. So, we all enjoyed a delightful evening even before the formal conference proceedings actually started.
At 11:45 on Saturday morning, the conference was called to order by Dr. Mary Schroeder who kept the conference moving as its most talented Mistress of Ceremony. Dr. Schroeder and Michael Bragg offered a formal greeting to the attendees and introduced the order of service for the conference.
First, our friend, Roy Pilot, BSI, presented a most illuminating discussion of the archaeological discovery of what has come to be known as "Piltdown Man" in England. These remains were initially presented as providing evidence for the existence, in England, of humanoids predating the oldest known human previously identified. Speculation was set forth that these remains near Piltdown might actually be those of "the missing link" between humans and lower primates. "Piltdown Man" was ultimately exposed as having been a hoax. Several investigators over the years have suggested that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, himself, participated in the hoax. Roy Pilot gave evidence casting serious doubt on our revered Sir Arthur’s involvement in this deception.
One of the true highlights of the conference happened when Rosemary Michaud (author of Sherlock Holmes and the Somerset Hunt, among others) came to the podium. In her presentation, The Medley of Fear, she reviewed some real-life aspects of existence in turn-of-the-century Pennsylvania and West Virginia coalfields – the environment which gave inspiration to Sir Arthur’s The Valley of Fear. Ms. Michaud’s emphasis centered on ethnic Irish and their lives in the coalfields. She commented on The Molly Maguires and The Scowrers and, to the delight of those assembled, she punctuated her presentation with personal renditions of Irish folksongs while accompanying herself on the guitar! Rosemary was a real "show stopper!"
There was something of a groan of disappointment from the audience when John Smithkey, III reported that his presentation on Jack the Ripper was not to be filled with blood and gore. He was quick, however, to remind his audience that all the gory details were contained in his book, Jack the Ripper: The Inquest of the Final Victim, Mary Kelly, which was on sale at the conference. Mr. Smithkey used a collection of photographic slides, most of which he had personally taken in London, to escort his audience to the locations of The Ripper’s grisly crimes. In his presentation, Mr. Smithkey gave a very revealing overview of the seamier side of Victorian England. As the name of his book would imply, Mr. Smithkey’s comments concentrated on The Ripper’s last victim, Mary Kelly – he even raised some interesting doubts as to whether the mutilated body was actually that of Mary Kelly at all! An interesting hypothesis, indeed!
Eminent Illinois Sherlockian, Brad Keefauver, BSI, brought to the attendees an interesting challenge in his presentation,Here Come the Brides. Which canonical woman, if any, would have made a suitable bride for Mr. Sherlock Holmes? He enlisted a few members of the audience to act as a sort of "review board." He provided each "happily married man" on his ad hoc "review board" with a police whistle. Mr. Keefauver then read the roster of all women who appeared in the Canon, along with their possible qualifications as Mr. Holmes’ bride. If, at any time, any member of the "review board" thought the woman being described could not qualify as a viable bride, he could exercise "veto power" simply by blowing his whistle! At the end of the presentation, the general audience was invited to vote for the female canonical characters who had survived the police whistle vetoes. The three women who received the most votes were Violet Smith (SOLI), Irene Adler (SCAN), and Maud Bellamy (LION). Can you guess which of these "lucky girls" was finally designated by the attendees at The Game’s Afloat III as the most suitable bride for Mr. Sherlock Holmes? Which, if any of these, would you pick?
At this point in the conference, Mr. Terence Faherty gave a marvelous presentation on the career of Mr. Basil Rathbone. At his request, exposition of his presentation has been excluded from this review. Should you ever hear of Mr. Faherty's giving his presentation in your neighborhood, we do recommend it to your attention - it is excellent and entertaining.
After some closing comments by Dr. Mary Schroeder, the assemblage adjourned to "The Library" for biscuits and sherry generously provided by Gordon Speck and Jessica Young. As those of us "in the know" were aware at the time, "The Library" was a back room area in McNulty’s pub! (There really are some books there, but we saw no one reading any.)
Here we see McNulty's decked out in "spiderwebs" for the Halloween weekend. Warm Sherlockian conviviality (enhanced by a more than adequate quantity of excellent sherry!) permeated the gathering which lasted until time to change for the formal reception and dinner in the Westport’s Skylight Room. An excellent dinner among congenial Sherlockian companions was capped off by a playing of a "radio play" written especially for the occasion by the remarkably talented Art Schroeder and starring Randy Getz, Mary Schroeder, and Gordon Speck (who once played Mrs. Hudson in another of Art’s amazing radio plays). Here is Randy Getz "tuning" the old cathedral-top radio through which the assembled diners heard Art Schroeder’s dramatic original play, The 71st and ½ Annual Running of the Wessex Cup and/or Plate.
Carolyn Senter, of Classics Specialties, was just one of the vendors whose wares were on display at The Game’s Afloat III. Here we see Carolyn displaying Classic Specialties’ original "Holmes Is Where theHeart Is" sweatshirt for the shoppers visiting the vendors’ area. Other vendors present included Joe Eckrich, Bill and Lynda Conway (from Pittsburgh), and Scott Price (from Memphis).