On Saturday, October 4th, 1980, Tom Harman and Warren Chaney chartered the John Openshaw Society
(JOS) of Houston, Texas. The first newsletter, The Pip’s Log, announced (Vol. 1, No. 1) on November 30, 1980:
“The John Openshaw Chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars is established in memory of the former young gentleman from Horsham, John Openshaw, who, on September 29, 1887, brought to the attention of the master, Sherlock Holmes, the remarkable case of The Five Orange Pips. It was during this adventure, ‘so remarkable in its details and so startling in its results’ that the great State of Texas was brought to the attention of both Holmes and Watson. In particular, the barque Lone Star, a sailing vessel owned by the Johanssen Brothers of Savannah, but constructed at the Port of Galveston, is featured in a most singular fashion. It is only fitting that the Houston Chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars be named in memory of the man who gave his life, however indirectly, to advance the name of the State of Texas”
Over several years, the JOS scion grew to almost fifty members and held many interesting meetings. Sometimes they traveled to Galveston, Texas, where they joined the Strollers on the Strand scion and together enjoyed the distinctive Strand district which is historically so well aligned with Sherlock Holmes and 1895. The two groups even enjoyed a trip to a submarine docked in Galveston while studying “The Bruce Partington Plans.” The JOS also traveled to England. Warren Chaney made a statue of Sherlock Holmes that he and Tom Harman presented to the London Sherlock Holmes Society. They also gave a JOS membership certificate to the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant and Pub in London. Tom Harman and his wife Karen visited that famous London Pub this past summer and verified that the Sherlockian certificate is still hanging on the wall. Over the years the John Openshaw Society has attended local Sherlockian plays, movies, and book signings (i.e. Laurie R. King).
The recent resurrection of the John Openshaw Society, a la Holmes in “The Adventure of the Empty House” (albeit less dramatically), has not only retained some of the original members, but also has been of interest to newcomer fellow Sherlockians. The society has taken advantage of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to expand membership and strengthen connections with fellow societies. The development of the official website has also been instrumental, along with posters located at Murder-by-the-Book bookstore, in spreading the word and reaching out to more fans. The members cover a range of interests, from engineers to artists, from Sherlock Holmes connoisseurs to passionate newcomers. Whether discussing possible land erosion at Reichenbach Falls, or to questioning the date of the typewriter used by Dr. Watson in the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, whether raising our glasses to Professor Moriarty or Mrs. Hudson, or listening to our member Ipek playing the piano, or listening to another member Julia asking those difficult questions about the Holmes story of the day, the John Openshaw Society is a place for those who have read the stories and thought “I want to read these again,” for those who have watched the stories and thought “I want to watch these again,” for those who have visited 221B and the moors and thought “I want to visit here again,” and for those who have done all of these and thought “I want to share all of this with someone!”
Ken Rozek, a long time devotee of Sherlock Holmes, has quietly collected Sherlockian philatelic material such as stamps, first day covers and cinderella items, for over eight years. Over this time period, he has made contact with many Sherlockians via email, snail mail or eBay. One of those Sherlockians was Peter Blau, who has been a Baker Street Irregular (“Black Peter”) for over forty years. Peter continues to travel the United States pursuing geological conferences as “a practical, but limited, geologist.” Every few years, one of these geological societies meets in Houston, Texas. Last spring Peter and Ken discussed over dinner several Sherlockian ideas. One of these ideas was to re-activate the John Openshaw Society scion in Houston, Texas. This led to someone saying, “Where does one go in Houston, Texas to share experiences and learn more about the Great Detective? Why, it’s elementary my friend, the John Openshaw Society, of course.”
The first reactivated JOS meeting was held at the Red Lion Pub in June 2011. On that night, eight people came, and over a few drinks and an English meal we got to know each other and began to formulate our plans for the scion. After a meeting or two, we hit upon a format that continues to serve as the society’s usual routine. The group meets every other month, usually at a local English pub on a Sunday evening unless a play, movie or other activity takes priority. We share a few toasts and Sherlockian gossip, devour a meal, and enjoy a presentation by a member on a Holmesian theme. Then we take a quiz from a story in the Canon and wrap up with a limerick from Issac Asimov and a reading of the poem “221B” by Vincent Starrett.
For the meeting in August, the group met at the Ruggles café in the Montrose area to enjoy a travelogue presentation by Tom and Karen Harman about their recent visit to Great Britain that included visiting many places of interest to Sherlockians, including the 221B location in London. The quiz that night was on “The Five Orange Pips” – the story from which the group took its name.
In October they reconvened at Ruggles café for a travelogue presentation by Ken Rozek about his recent visit to Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen, Switzerland. Members could almost feel the spray on their faces as they pondered if the location of the precipice has been moved by erosion, or by some other means, from that which is depicted in Paget’s image. Our quiz, that evening, of course was on “The Final Problem.”
For December there was a group outing to the showing of the Robert Downey, Jr. movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Then off to the Black Labrador café on Montrose Avenue to discuss the movie together. The Black Labrador proved to be a perfect location for meetings and the JOS plans to make this a regular meeting place. It has two private rooms, good prices and a delightful English-based menu including shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, as well as the traditional fish and chips. What more could a Sherlockian hope for in this day and age? The quiz that night was “The Blue Carbuncle,” an appropriate story for the Christmas season.
For February 2012 it was back to the Black Labrador for another travelogue presentation by Ken Rozek about his recent visit in January to New York City for the 158th Sherlock Holmes birthday celebration. Ken explained and showed us in pictures how fellow Sherlockians eat, drink and made merry over five very chilly days. Our quiz that evening was on “The Speckled Band.”
Fast forwarding from 2012 to 2018 and beyond, the society continues to thrive and grow. Events are generally published via the group’s Facebook page and an email distribution list. Click HERE to contact us for more information!
In keeping with a tradition inherited from the original John Openshaw Society, the reactivated group is administered by several officers, known as Pips.
- First Pip: Brian Clark
- Second Pip: Caryll Garfield
- Third Pip: Ipek Bozkurt
- Fourth Pip: Vijay Kale
- Fifth Pip: Michael Coulter
Tom Harman and each Pip has contributed ideas to this article.