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The View from Sherlock Peoria (111)

July 18, 2004

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The Hansom Cab Clock

No man can resist the power of the hansom cab clock!

Today another Sherlockian, my friend Hobbs himself, succumbed to the lure of that aged artifact of no direct Holmes significance, as so many others have before him. These things have such an attraction that one almost pictures a hansom cab clock sitting atop a delicately balanced stone pillar in an ancient ruin, waiting for Indiana Jones to tuck it under his leather jacket and run away from a giant boulder to get it back to civilization.

The first hansom cab clock I ever encountered was found by my neighbor, Bob Burr, at a garage sale not far from his home here in Peoria. As the leader of our local scion society, the Hansoms of John Clayton, the idea of a faux-bronze hansom cab appealed to him immediately, and he bought it and took it home to his mantle. The little streetlight next to the two-wheeled cab, and the coachman's whip-arm would mechanically whip up his mare, just like John Clayton himself did in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The hansom cab clock seemed was a remarkable find, and every Sherlockian who came through Bob's house back in the eighties remarked upon it, and many vowed to find one of their own. Even though it had no image of Sherlock Holmes riding in the cab, the hansom cab is such an evocative vehicle to the true Sherlockian that the clock almost seemed like it could almost have been merchandising for Basil Rathbone's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (remember Bas wrecking a hansom in that one?). But it seemed like such a rarity -- could such antique lightning ever strike twice?

Well, years passed and Bill Cochran, Occupant of the Empty House, former editor of The Baker Street Journal, and a good friend of Sherlock Peoria, was wandering a fairground flea market in Southern Illinois with his wife, saying, "You know what I wish I could find? A clock shaped like a hansom cab, like that one Bob Burr has." His wife, who was facing a different direction, said, "You mean like that?"

And there it was . . . the second hansom cab clock.

Now that two of these treasures had been found, it was only a matter of time before a third showed up, and a friend of mine in Denver named John Holliday greeted me on a visit with a gift: yet another hansom cab clock, found in the west.

Suddenly the world seemed booming with hansom cab clocks, and it was John Holliday who eventually discovered the reason why. For entertainment one evening, John was perusing a Sears catalog from the early 1960s, and . . . well, apparently there were once enough hansom cab clocks that you could order one from your local Sears store or catalog outlet!

The hansom cab clocks were made by United Clock Corp. of Brooklyn, New York, their Model No. 701 (With Lights On) -- apparently United Clock Corp. was famous for its novelty clocks. Clocks with golfers, clocks with Uncle Sam, sailing ship clocks . . . United Clock Corporation seems to have put clocks in just about everything. You almost have to wonder if they did a Sherlock Holmes clock at some point. But since the actual clock of the hansom cab clock obscures the cab's passenger, until such a clock is discovered, we Sherlockians may have to settle on Model 701 as United Clock's most Sherlockian item.

After all, we don't know that Holmes isn't riding in that cab, do we?

Adding Don Hobbs to the roll, the Secret Society of Sherlockian Hansom Cab Clock Owners (so secret that even the members don't know that they're in it!) now numbers at five, to my knowledge, but I bet there are more members out there.

Because no man can resist the power of the hansom cab clock!

Your humble correspondent,
Brad Keefauver