It’s fitting that the Museum of London’s exciting new Sherlock Holmes Exhibit begins with a mystery. As you arrive at the museum with your friends, all you see is a massive, wall-to-wall bookcase. Where’s the entrance? Since you’re a fan, you’ll quickly use logic and reasoning to deduce that it doubles as a secret door to the gallery, where you are greeted by the inscription “The man who never lived and will never die.” Truer words were never written about London’s most famous fictional detective, who first appeared in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet in 1887 and hasn’t left the popular imagination since.
With all the Sherlock on our TV and film screens these days, it’s easy to lose track of the character’s many iterations. But the exhibition puts him in context, showcasing how he’s changed over the decades and placing his well-worn name back into the historical context he emerged from, an era that also saw the terror–and public fascination–of real-life serial killer Jack the Ripper.
Plus, this place is a Sherlock shrine. Century-old film posters show the man in the famous deerstalker hat. A dozen screens demonstrate his undying popularity, playing scenes from countless cinematic adaptations. You and your friends watch familiar clips of eccentric Benedict Cumberbatch and fist-swinging Robert Downey Jr., but you also gravitate to the Sherlocks of generations past, like enigmatic Basil Rathbone and debonaire Peter Cushing.
Past the video hall of fame, the exhibition weaves its way through serpentine corridors, each dedicated to a different aspect of the Holmes world. A colorful collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century archive photos, paintings, garments, and everyday objects illustrates life in Britain at the time. A view of the Langham hotel circa 1890 shows the setting where Doyle dined with his publisher, and where Holmes meets Mary to discuss the disappearance of her father in The Sign of Four. A vintage typewriter offers a clue to the mystery solved in A Case of Identity. If you haven’t read all the novels yet, be careful. The exhibits are rife with spoilers.
You pause in reverence when you see the elegant canes and deerstalker hats popularly associated with the character – while your fashion-conscious friends swoon over the coat worn by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC Sherlock series.
The rushing waters of the Reichenbach Falls–where Holmes supposedly met his fate in 1893’s The Final Problem– are the last image you take away from the exhibition before finding yourself back out in modern London. Sadly, no hansom cab awaits you outside, ready to take you on a ride through streets veiled in fog. But you can linger in the courtyard and read The Adventure of the Dancing Man, printed in its entirety on the wall. One last mystery to solve, eh, Watson?