McMurdo’s Camp

Sherlock Slept Here

Union Station, Jackson


Here dwell together still two men of note

Who never lived and so can never die,

How very near they seem, yet how remote

That age before the world went all awry.

But still the game’s afoot for those with ears

Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo;

England is England yet, for all our fears-

Only those things the heart believes are true.

A Yellow fog swirls past the window-pane

As night descends upon this fabled street,

A lonely Hansom splashes through the rain

The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet,

Here, though the world explode, these two survive,

And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

  -Vincent Starrett

Sherlock Slept Here

  by M. Vernet

I sit at my desk listening to the 6:00 pm train whistle blow from ‘The Wolverine’ on its way from Jackson, MI to Chicago, IL. As always when I hear that whistle blow, I am transported to that ” romantic chamber of the heart where it is always 1895.”

  First Connection: All Aboard!

My task at hand is to find a connection between my new hometown of Jackson MI, (located in the palm of the mitten) and the elusive Sherlock Holmes.Jackson loc

I began my search with the name Jackson. A popular name after the American Civil War, many boys and many American towns bore the name honoring Andrew Jackson, war hero and President.

It also turns out to be the name of Dr. John Watson’s obliging neighbor who takes over Watson’s practice when Holmes drops by to whisk the good Doctor away on an adventure.

In “The Crooked Man” (CROO) Holmes invites Watson to join him in Aldershot. And Watson has no doubt that Jackson would take his practice.

In “The Stock Broker’s Clerk” (STOC) which takes place shortly after Watson’s marriage, Holmes visits the Paddington practice and observes that Watson had the better practice between his neighbor and himself since Watson’s stairs were worn 3 inches deeper than the other. And Watson assures Holmes that the obliging neighbor (nameless this time) will be happy to repay his debt.

In “The Boscombe Valley Mystery'” (BOSC) Holmes sends a telegram asking Watson to come to Boscombe Valley via Paddington Station. Mrs. Watson assures her Husband that Anstruther would do his work for him. (Hum, Anstruther or Jackson?)

In “The Final Problem” (FINA) a worried Holmes spirits Watson away to the Continent after being assured that the accommodating neighbor would certainly take the practice over.

Who is this kindly obliging neighbor? Dr. Jackson or Dr. Anstruther?

Anstruther is a place name in Scotland and not used as a first name. There were some Lords and Ladies with the Anstruther last name in the 1600’s and a city named for them on the coast of Scotland (today it boasts of the best seafood in Scotland.)

Jackson was a very popular boys first name meaning simply Jack’s son and honoring the American President after the Civil War.

And Mrs. Watson being a mannered and proper Victorian Lady would never call a male neighbor by his first name!

The consensus is that Watson’s neighbor’s name was Dr. Jackson Anstruther and was very obliging indeed!

  Second Connection: Jacksonburgh

Jackson wasn’t always Jackson. Horace Blackman, a New Yorker, set out in the Summer of 1830 to find some land to settle and build a new life. He left from Ann Arbor and took with him an Indian guide named Pewytum of the Pottawatomie tribe and a land surveyor named Captain Alexander Laverty. Jackson at that time was a place where seven Indian Trails met at a fordable part of the Grand River. Blackman looked around at the meadows of wildflowers so thick you could not see a dark leaf underfoot, and called it home. He quickly built a small log cabin without windows or doors to mark the place. He thought Blackman would be a nice name. Pewytum and Captain Laverty went back to Ann Arbor and Blackman went to Monroe to stake his claim.

In January of 1830 a commission was appointed and charged to layout a road (Territorial Road,) to help open the State to settlers. Eight Ann Arbor citizens and the wily Captain Laverty set out to explore. Laverty led them right to Blackman’s cabin. They cut a door in the cabin and proceeded to exhaust their stock of provisions (and liquor) and in a patriotic mood named the new town Jacksonburgh.They returned to Ann Arbor reporting that they had “suffered great hardship from having nothing stronger to drink than water since leaving Jacksonburgh.”

Blackman and his family returned, shook their heads and fists towards Ann Arbor, settled in and built the first Tavern, “Blackman’s Tavern.” They built it like a fort and it served as one when trouble arose. The Blackman’s kept it full of provisions and liquor just in case someone from the road commission should drop by again!

But, the name Jacksonburgh was changed by the Post Office guys to Jacksonopolis because there were too many Jacksonburghs. And finally the Post Office guys in 1838, settled on just Jackson. No one consulted the peaceful Blackman’s, but they do have a Township named after them just North of Interstate Highway 94.

Jackson was on a good spot on the Grand River and when the Railroads came through it became a booming Railroad town. It was like the hub of a wheel with railroad lines going out in all directions. One of these lines the “Palmyra (Southernmost part of the palm of the mitten,) Jacksonburgh Railroad” connected to the ” Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway”(LSMSR) which connects us to Chicago, Birdy Edwards, Sherlock Holmes, and Sir Arthur himself. Settle in, it’s a bumpy ride.

Union Station (renovated and still in use today) was the center of activity in Old Jacksonburgh. This huge and stately red brick building brought a steady stream of travelers and news from the East and from Chicago. Jackson had several newspapers and Eastern newspapers, books, and magazines were delivered twice a day. The newest fashions from the East could be seen on Main Street three days later.

The East side of Jackson was literally the wrong side of the tracks. Hotels, saloons, gambling and other vices could easily be found by people just passing through. Con-men had a constant stream of newly arrived suckers, and the ladies of the night had a steady supply of customers.

When the merry folk and boisterous travelers sang “Bill Bailey, won’t you please come home'” (a local boy, written by his friend the honky-tonk piano player, Hugh Cannon,) a little too loud, there was always the prison.

Jackson prison started out as a fort like enclosure with high log walls and ended as an impressive structure with solid rock walls and tall towers. The inmates were used as very cheap labor by local business and farms.. The remnants of these brownstone towers and walls can still be seen inside the Jackson city limits.

In 1877 Cornelius Vanderbilt and his New York Central and Hudson Railroad gained a majority of the stock of The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad. The line provided an ideal extension of the NY Central main line from Buffalo west to Chicago. The LSMSR was the water level route from Buffalo primarily along the south shore of Lake Erie on to Detroit and Chicago.

It was the only line in 1875 that connected Chicago to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and The Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company was at the time the largest Company in the World. It was considered the first conglomerate (monopoly.) It was an example of domination of the market by a single entity ( and won a place on the Monopoly game board.)

Now the tracks are laid connecting Philadelphia, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago and Jackson, But we need some passengers. 

Union Station, Jackson

Union Station, Jackson


  Third Connection: An Illustrious Passenger

Now let’s travel to 1894 and follow in the footsteps of a talented young author on his first lecture tour of North America. Arthur Conan Doyle (no Sir yet; he was knighted in 1902,) hired Major Pond who was in the business of sending Authors like Henry Ward Beecher and Mark Twain on whirlwind tours of the United states and Canada. Arthur started in New York in October and among the many cities he toured were: Philadelphia, Toledo, Detroit, Chicago (4 times,) Boston, Niagara, Buffalo and Toronto.

These cities could be reached most easily from the New York Central, the Philadelphia Reading railroad and the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan Railway. The LSMSR would have been the choice for traveling to Chicago from New York with a change of trains at Philadelphia. On the way back and forth from Chicago to Detroit, Arthur Conan Doyle would have passed the Palmyra- Jacksonburgh connection at least eight times. Since Arthur had toured two prisons already and had a vivid imagination and a curious nature, I’m sure he heard tales about logging camps and the Jackson Prison. He had already read “The Molly Maguire’s and the Detectives” written in 1877 by Allan J. Pinkerton, (the story upon which he later based” The Valley of Fear”) and Arthur had already met William Pinkerton on an ocean voyage. William ( Allan’s son) told Arthur many tales of his Detective career in America. And William, the Pinkerton Detective, had certainly known all about Jackson Prison and the wild, untamed, railroad town sometimes called “Little Chicago.” 

  Fourth Connection: A Friend Comes On board

Boarding at Chicago is our old friend Birdy Edwards. Birdy is an undercover Pinkerton Detective who is the Hero of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Valley of Fear.”

“The Valley of Fear” was published in 1914 although it takes place between 1875 and 1890. Sir Arthur used that time period because he based the tale on “The Molly Maguires and the Detective” and because he needed Moriarity for his finish. When he released it in 1914 he was thanked by the press for giving Britain a little rest from the terrors of war that was facing her.

In “The Molly Maguires and the Detective” a true story, the Pinkertons are hired by Franklin B. Gowen the president of The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and The Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company to stop a group of Irish workers called the Molly Maguires who are taking over the company. The Pinkertons sent in James McParland (alias James McKenna) and Robert Linden. McParland poses as a Molly and Linden as a Coal and Iron Company Copper. They succeeded in taking down the Mollies and arrested most of them. It all happened in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in the Heart of the Shenandoah Valley, the real valley of fear.

Our Birdy Edwards, alias Jack McMurdo, alias Jack Douglas, was an undercover Pinkerton Detective who infiltrated a secret society in Vanessa Valley and brought them to Justice and managed to fall in love too. But right now I’m more concerned with how he travelled about.

Birdy Edwards spent his younger days in the logging camps of Northern Michigan. And in order to get to those logging camps you had to get on the nearest train, travel to Chicago and then take a connecting train to Jackson. Either the Michigan Central or the Palmyra line would get you there. And Jackson was the staging area for the logging camps. They would set you up with a Jackson Wagon (the #1 wagon in the US) and everything you needed for the camps. You could also get hired there, and about twenty wagons a day left Jackson for the pineries of the North.

When Birdy went to Chicago and later became a Pinkerton he would have been well acquainted with Jackson Prison and probably knew a few Correction Officers and put a few inmates behind bars as well.

So Sir Arthur knew plenty about Jackson, and Birdy undoubtedly had been there. Those connections are strong enough to say the task is accomplished, but I won’t be satisfied till I connect the great Sherlock Holmes himself.

  Fifth Connection:Sherlock Slept Here

Follow my train of thought to 1912 and enter ” that strange impossible place” where Sherlock Holmes is alive and well and travelling the tracks of my fancy until he finds some rest in Jackson.

“His Last Bow” takes place in 1914 just before WWI. In 1912 a retired Sherlock has been asked by King and Country (King George V 1910-1936 and Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith 1908-1916) to go undercover and work for a German named Von Bork and undermine all his dastardly plans. Holmes does so brilliantly, and reunited, Holmes and Watson with help from Mrs. Martha Hudson, bring him down.

Holmes shows up at Von Bork’s home in August of 1914 posing as Altamont, an Irish American car mechanic/criminal. Holmes and Watson capture Von Bork using chloroform and while he sleeps Holmes gives a few clues to what he’s been up to in the last few years. He started his pilgrimage in Chicago, graduated to an Irish secret society in Buffalo and gave serious trouble to the constabulary at Skibbereen.

Not many clues there but to a true Sherlockian scholar like Mr. Donald Hayne it was enough to go on. Mr. Hayne proposes that Holmes went first to Canada to avoid NY reporters and entered the US near Albany and stayed in a summer resort in Altamont in order to learn an American accent and took his name from that town.

I can’t agree with most of this theory, but I do agree that he entered through Canada. But I propose he followed the same route Sir Arthur took in 1894. Toronto-Niagara (Holmes would like to see the falls) Buffalo (he mentions the secret societies there.) The LSMSR that Sir Arthur took would have been the train for Holmes to take. It was the only line connecting Buffalo with Chicago. Mr. Hayne believes Holmes learned his American slang in Albany. But Sherlock was already posing as an Irish American. He would have gone undercover as soon as he boarded the ship to Canada, because in 1914, Sherlock Holmes was as famous as Sir Arthur, and Sir Arthur was mobbed and photographed all through his second tour of America in 1914.

Holmes would have had to have a consistent persona in order to fool the press and criminals from Buffalo to Chicago and back to Ireland. I believe he would have picked his alias in the comfort of the South Downs with a copy of Thackeray’s “Pendennis” (the villain was named Altamont) on his lap and a railway map of the US in his hand while puffing away thoughtfully on his pipe.(As an aside, Sir Arthur’s Father’s middle name was Altamont.)

In “His Last Bow” Altamont’s Irish accent is evident. The phrases “Yankee”,”The Devil,” and “Over the Water,” are Irish. Von Bork remarks, “Sometimes I assure you, I can hardly understand him.” He mentions Skibbereen. Skibbereen is famous for being the worst hit by the potato famine. If Altamont was a youth in Skibbereen he was affected by the worst poverty the country had ever seen. A life of crime might well come from such hardship, and would add credence to the Altamont persona.

So Holmes never needed to learn an American accent. He needed to learn American slang and criminal slang and add it like spice to his Irish- American accent. I’m afraid a summer resort near Albany would not be the place to learn Chicago street slang in 1912. But I do agree with Mr. Hayne on the point that he needed a place to learn to perfect his persona and get ready to infiltrate the Chicago underworld. On the LSMSR there would be one place to pick up Chicago slang, outside of Chicago. How about Little Chicago, Jackson, MI?

  Eight Reasons Why Jackson Would Be Perfect

1. It was easy and accessible to get to Chicago, Detroit or even Buffalo.

2. It was so close to Chicago that Holmes could ride the train and listen to any conversation he wished. He could sit quietly behind a passenger and listen and even take notes.

3.He could easily hide in Jackson There were many people passing through.

4. The Prison would give him good opportunities of talking to police and guards and maybe taking someone into his confidence.

5. Prisoners worked outside of Prison in factories and farms. He could easily talk to them and learn their slang.

6. He could have himself arrested for something simple and infiltrate prison groups. Being fresh out of Jackson Prison would add to his cover.

7. Irish Americans were beginning to take over labor jobs and Irish societies had formed.

8. Jackson in 1912 was producing cars and car parts, Sir Arthur was a car enthusiast, even taking part in races. Altamont was a car mechanic. He would have learned it all in Jackson.

Last stop, everyone disembark, Dr. Jackson Anstruther, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Birdy Edwards,and Sherlock Holmes all made it safe and sound to Jackson.

I can see Sherlock Holmes in his Irish cap and his Goatee looking like Uncle Sam, walking through Union Station and heading towards the red brick Adams Hotel. The sounds of a Honky-tonk piano from Diedrich’s Saloon fill the night. Sherlock signs the register “Altamont.” If the desk clerk had only known, he would have put up a brass plaque:   SHERLOCK SLEPT HERE.


“The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” by Vincent Starrett

” The Man who traded his Wife for Woodworking Tools and other True Stories of 19th Century Jackson.” by C. L.Blanchard

“Welcome to America, Mr. Sherlock Holmes” by Christopher Redmond

“The Annotated Sherlock Holmes” by William Baring-Gould

“Jackson: The first 100 years 1829-1929” by Dr. Laura B. DeLind


  1. The Palmyra line to Chicago, is it? Ouch.

    Anyway, if there’s one thing I love about the willful delusion of old-school Sherlockians, it’s that you learn all kinds of fascinating facts in the process of developing the mad theories. I’m ashamed to admit that until now, I had no idea that Skibbereen was synonymous with the potato famine. Though I’m sure I’d have learned that if I were from the UK, never mind Ireland.

    Comment by Black Cloister — September 7, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

    • Maybe this will inspire me to complete the McMurdo’s Travelogue item about Skibereen that has been dormant for months now. Yes there is a very large mass grave there, and in Holmes’ time especially a great deal of anti-British sentiment. Doyle knew this and used the fact to enable Alamont to be recruited there as a German spy.

      Comment by Matilda — September 9, 2013 @ 10:03 am

    • I’ll take that as a compliment! I’m proud of being an “old-school Sherlockian,” but I get your point. I once read an article proving that Sherlock invented the radio. I had to draw the line at that, but he had some good points!

      Comment by M. Vernet — September 12, 2013 @ 11:28 am

  2. Intriguing. I can definitely see the amount of time and effort devoted to this twinkle of an idea that Sherlock slept in your town. Makes me want to find connections within my favorite stories to where I am living in New York, as well.

    Comment by Melinda — September 8, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

    • There ought to be good pickin’s in NY; more possibilities than Jackson, Mich. See what you can do. Let me know if you have an article to submit.

      Comment by Matilda — September 9, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    • Thank you! In 1914 Sir Arthur’s second wife wrote in her travel diary, “the women of New York are so smart and well dressed. even the shopgirls are so smart and so polite, I admire New York women very much.” Seems some things never change!

      Comment by M. Vernet — September 12, 2013 @ 11:36 am

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