“Admirable, Watson! Admirable! You are the best of messengers.”
Switzerland is special to those who love the Sherlock Holmes stories and their author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for several reasons. During extended holidays in Davos – hoping to improve his first wife’s health with fresh, alpine air – Doyle was inspired to use the country as the location of his famous detective’s demise. In December 1893, when ‘The Final Problem’ was first published in The Strand Magazine, readers were sent into mourning by Dr Watson’s story of how his friend – ‘the best and wisest man whom I have ever known’ – met his end in May 1891 during a fight to the death with Professor Moriarty. For years, it was believed that Holmes’s remains lay at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen. However, in 1903, the story of ‘The Empty House’ revealed that only Moriarty had perished and Holmes had survived.
Switzerland featured in other Sherlock Holmes stories – notably ‘The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax’ – and continued to be an important place for the Doyle family. The author is remembered by the Swiss as a pioneering skier and as someone who made a significant contribution to the popularity of tourism and winter sports in their country. Doyle’s youngest son from his second marriage, Adrian, established an Arthur Conan Doyle Foundation in Switzerland during the 1960s and resided for a time at a castle in Lucens where there is now a museum dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. A second museum opened in Meiringen in 1991, the centenary of Holmes’s fatal encounter with Moriarty, under the patronage of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and Doyle’s daughter, Dame Jean Conan Doyle.
Leaving the great cesspool of London on Sunday 9th September by means of modern aircraft, the Society’s pilgrims will travel through Switzerland for a charming week using various means of transport including steam train, postal coach, lake steamer, and funicular. They will make a special trip on the Jungfraubahn to celebrate the centenary of the Jungfraujoch: Europe’s highest railway station. In the Ice Palace at the Jungfraujoch, pilgrims will be able to view a commemorative ice sculpture by John Doubleday (known for his sculptures of Sherlock Holmes at Baker Street and Meiringen), showing the detective on the eve of his death struggle with Moriarty.
Based first at Interlaken before moving to Meiringen for the latter half of the trip, the Society will visit many beautiful locations including the the Giessbach Falls, Grindelwald, and Lake Gelmer. Along the way, pilgrims will be entertained by eclectic performances from alphorn players, choir singers and minuetters. At the Hotel Du Lac in Interlaken, there will be a special kinomategraph presentation of footage from the 1968 pilgrimage. Also while in Interlaken, the Society will pay tribute to the Swiss citizen Corporal Christian Ferdinand Schiess for his conspicuous bravery at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War.
On Saturday 15th September, the final day of the pilgrimage, the fatal encounter between Holmes and Moriarty will be re-created on location at the Reichenbach Falls. A Swiss Leichenmal (lamentation meal) has been scheduled in anticipation of terrible consequences. Will the great detective or the Napoleon of Crime survive this time? We will find out in Meiringen, where it is always 1891…