One disadvantage of being an on-line gathering is that we rarely get the opportunity to learn more about each other as we would tend to do as part of a Scion Society that often meets in real life. I feel that I may not be the only one who is curious to learn more about our fellow Watsonians…
So, I reached out to a fellow JHWS member who kindly agreed to an interview. As a result, she allowed me to learn more about her and her Sherlockian interests. This was a very fun experience for me, so I’m honored to share my interview with Judith Freeman, “Cocoa” of the John H Watson Society.
To start off, Cocoa, I’d love to know about how you first encountered Dr. Watson’s writings.
I have been reading mystery/detective fiction since early adolescence but somehow didn’t meet Holmes & Watson until about 35 years ago. A friend and I were organizing The Maltese Falcon Society here in NY and he introduced me to members of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. I went to my first luncheon and was so impressed with the witty, intelligent women I had met there that I went out purchased a copy of the Doubleday Canon forthwith.
What is it about the cases of Sherlock Holmes that appeals to you as a reader?
At first it was the charm of moving back in time to the foggy streets of Victorian London. But over time, as I re-read the stories, I was attracted to the relationship between the Holmes & Watson.
Aside from the John H Watson Society, what are some other Sherlockian groups and activities that you enjoy?
Where to begin? I’ve been a member of ASH since the early 1980’s. The NYC area has five active scions and I’ve been to meetings of all of them. Over the years I’ve also attended special events like Autumn in Baker Street and the Scintillation of Scions, as well as gatherings in Chicago, Toronto, etc. I even attended the last of legendary John Bennett Shaw’s workshops. In addition to the Watsonian I’ve been published in the Muse, the BSJ and other journals.
Currently I’ve cut back my level of activity to being the current discussion leader of the on-line group WelcomeHolmes and I am the Headmistress of The Priory Scholars of NYC.
How did it come about that you became Headmistress of the Priory Scholars of NYC?
You could say I inherited the position. I had been working with the late Joe Moran for several years. He was the head of scion and I took care of the administrative stuff. Due to personal issues Joe was unable to continue as Headmaster and, in 2006, the scion went on hiatus. When I retired I decided to rehabilitate Priory and in 2012 we began to meet again.
If you’re interested in the history of The Priory Scholars of NYC, please check out our web page: https://prioryscholarsnyc.wordpress.com/about/
What activities does your position of Headmistress entail?
They’re still mostly administrative; including scheduling, emailing the announcements, following up on communications, selecting subjects for the homework assignments, coordinating with the other members of the faculty in selecting the story for discussion, etc. In other words doing whatever needs doing.
I’ve recruited several of the younger local Sherlockians to participate in running the scion. We currently have a “faculty” that consists of a discussion leader (Nick Matorelli, member of JHWS), a Bursar (Chris Zordan also member of JHWS), a Web Mistress and a Quiz Master. I even created a manual, “How to Start and Run a Sherlockian Group” to help them.
At my local scion society, the Sound of the Baskervilles in Seattle, Washington, we open every meeting with a toast to Murray and finish every meeting with a recitation of “221B” by Vincent Starrett. This is our most constant tradition. So, in your case, Cocoa, have you noticed any unique traditions for the Priory Scholars and also for the other NYC scion societies?
Over the last three years we’ve evolved a successful format. We have 4 short toasts; always one to Holmes & Watson and 3 that are related to items in the story. We also have 4 homework assignments (mini papers); one is a synopsis of the story and three others that explore significant aspects of the story under discussion and are presented during the course of said discussion. Limiting the amount of time for both the toasts and homework assignments helps keeps the meeting flowing. Several of the “students” presentations have been published in the Serpentine Muse.
And also, are there any traditions among the different societies that are similar in nature to each other?
Most of the local scions have toasts; many have either discussions and/or presentation of papers. But each of the local scions has their own traditions and program format. For instance The Three Garridebs always have a toast to the wives of Dr. Watson. The Epilogues in NJ always discuss two stories concurrently. Mrs. Hudson’s Cliffdwellers, also in NJ, often have games and/or contests as part of their program.
Why do you think New York City is such a popular gathering place for enthusiastic Sherlockians?
The five (actually six) local scions are spread out over the tri-state area. There are the Epilogues and Mrs. Hudson’s Cliffdwellers in New Jersey. In New York there are the Montague Street Lodgers in Brooklyn, The Priory Scholars in Manhattan and The Three Garridebs in Westchester. The Men on the Tor are located in Conn. Many of the local Sherlockians go to as many of the meetings as their schedules permit.
Through your interaction with local scion societies and from working with younger Sherlockians in the Priory Scholars of NYC, what are your thoughts on the next generation of Sherlockian scholarship?
That’s a complicated question to answer. When reading a journal like the Watsonian or the Muse you don’t always know the writer and therefore would have no way of knowing their age. Also I tend to skip through articles on subjects that are not of interest to me. However I must say that I have been very impressed by the presentations of the younger members of Priory Scholars. I think the future will continue to provide us with entertaining scholarship from the younger Sherlockians.