We seem to be in the midst of a Sherlock Holmes revival, what with the BBC’s Sherlock series, CBS’s Elementary (both are set in the present) and the Warner Brothers movies staring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. This little side-light on good old Holmes has a Mormon connection.
In 1923, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, British author and advocate for the Spiritualism movement, visited Salt Lake City, Utah and delivered a lecture in the Mormon Tabernacle. Doyle was and is most famous for his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.Holmes’s first adventure involved a crime that was linked to the Mormons of Utah, specifically, the Danite Vigilante Corps so popular in the nineteenth-century press. A Study in Scarlet was sold for 25 pounds sterling and appeared in December 1886.
Doyle’s story offended more than one British Mormon and one in particular challenged Holmes’s creator on the subject of Scarlet and whether Doyle would now apologize for his fictional account of the Mormons. Doyle’s Mormon critic was George Hodgson Higgins, a convert born in Lancashire in 1853. Higgins was a Salt Lake City resident and MD and died of a kidney infection four years after his literary exchange with Doyle.
Here is Higgins’s letter, written to Doyle while the latter stayed in the Hotel Utah.
Nearly thirty years ago, I read a book
entitled “A Study in Scarlet”; which if I
remember rightly was given away as a Christmas
Number with an English Magazine.
I did not at that time know anything about
‘Mormonism or the Mormon people; but the book
gave one the impression that Murder was a common
practice among them. The writer of that
book was A Conan Doyle: who is announced
to give a lecture in the Mormon Tabernacle
Will you now justify a ‘Study in
Scarlet’? Or, finding yourself misinformed
at that time, will you express your regret
at having propagated falsehoods about the
Mormon Church and people?
“By their fruits ye shall know them”
G. Hodgson Higgins
M.R.O.S.Eng. S.R.C.P Edin.
Doyle replied to Higgins during his stay in Salt Lake thusly:
“The Hotel Beaufiful”
Geo. O. Relf,
Salt Lake City
I shall draw the Mormons as I
find them when I write of my present
experiences. All I said of the Danite
Band and the murders is historical so I
cannot withdraw that, tho’ it is likely that in a
work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a
work of history. It is best to let the matter rest, I
think, and draw the Mormons as they now are
A Conan Doyle May 10.
 Doyle’s speech was on his investigation of spirit phenomena. He stayed in Salt Lake for several days, bringing his then wife Jean Elizabeth, three children, and their governess, a woman named French. The Tabernacle was fitted with a large screen to allow Doyle to present images pertinent to his psychic photos, etc. City newspapers like the Trib and Telegram ran stories in the weeks prior to Doyle’s visit, raising interest in the subject, a naturally interesting one for the Mormons in particular, for obvious reasons.
 Doyle constructed the story in two parts, the mystery that presents itself to Holmes in part 1, and part 2, which paints a rather unflattering (and minimally factual) picture of Mormons in Utah.