It’s possible there might have been a romantic tie-in to the timing of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science’s opening of its newest exhibit, “The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes,” on Valentine’s Day.
After all, Americans seem to be crushing continuously on the British super sleuth — especially the cinematic versions of his adventures — although that might have something to do with the handsome cast of actors who have portrayed him in recent years.
Colleen Walker, the museum’s chief executive officer, says Holmes’ intriguing mystery-solving abilities have been the centerpiece of four books, 56 stories and more than 200 films.
“Popular culture has kept Sherlock Holmes alive,” Walker says. “Science shaped the story, the story didn’t shape the science. It really was the beginning of forensics.”
Science remains the key to modern crime-solving and Walker says visitors may find themselves surprised by how many modern practices originated in the late 1800s. The Perot exhibit demonstrates precisely which elements employed by Holmes in fiction were applied in truth by early investigators — and which are still used by forensic anthropologists today.
“The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes” includes props from television and films, and a new whodunit written specifically for the exhibit. With its mix of mystery, science and cleverness, the exhibit has appeal for all ages, and the Dallas stop is the only one in Texas. Here’s a brief guide to the entertainment and educational fun found within.
Sign of the time
Prepare to hone your senses of observation. For ages 4 to 7, junior detective notebooks are available. The entry sets the stage with a brief history of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Spinning his tales at the turn of the century, when medicine was far different from today’s application, Conan Doyle was a physician. His inspiration for the stories came from his instructor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Dr. Joseph Bell, who challenged his students to use observation and experimentation, and to avoid drawing conclusions without evidence. He is often quoted as saying, “You see what you do not observe,” reminding his students to take note of both obvious and subtle details.
This skill was the key to Holmes’ adventures and became the foundation for many elements of modern forensic science. Today’s forensic anthropologists examine remains to identify the victim, determine the cause of death and compare the evidence with scientific records to solve the crime.
A study in science
The next room holds six displays that explain how photography, botany, the telegraph, ballistics, cosmetics and optics functioned in the 1800s. Learn what was required of the Scotland Yard policemen and whether you would qualify. Discover how science works with technology, and do not forget to stamp your notebook at each station.
At the photography station, you’ll learn how the box camera simplified the process of taking a picture and revolutionized the way that police could photograph law-breakers and record evidence.
The botany station displays a variety of insect specimens, offering a lesson about how studying the life cycle of these bugs and plants can provide insights to investigators who analyze them as evidence.
The telegraph was a modern marvel in its day. Read about its creation, then try your hand at sending a message to someone on the receiving end of one of these devices. Tap out your message in Morse code using the alphabet guide.
Ballistics relies on the laws of physics, so this station helps novice mystery-solvers line up the beam of light with a target through different holes and discover how investigators use ballistics to compare bullets and inspect evidence closely.
Because cosmetics in the 1800s were often filled with harsh ingredients, the cosmetics station introduces several of these toxic elements — including strychnine, nightshade and arsenic — and discusses how the science of toxicology can differentiate between normal exposure and intentional poisoning.
At the optics station, visitors look through the microscope and turn the wheel to get a closer look at common soil samples, also learning about the way that early investigators combined the spectroscope and microscope to identify blood stains.
Before moving on to the next area, it’s worth your while to stop at the News display. Make a rubbing from a newspaper article on one page, then punch the second to reveal a hidden message.
The game’s afoot
Around the corner, enter the infamous study room of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson at 221B Baker St. Iconic pieces, such as Holmes’ violin, riding crop and pistol, fill the space. Test your powers of observation by searching for specific items listed in the notebook that are somewhere in the room. When you are ready, read the police report and head to the scene of the crime to begin the investigation.
The evidence is plentiful: a seedpod, a bullet hole, a shattered statue, blood splatters and lines in the sand. What do they mean? Before you jump to conclusions, it is time to investigate using observation, experimentation and deduction. Collect each piece of evidence and record it in the notebook.
For starters, take a rubbing of the seedpod. Then, draw the trajectory of the bullet, stamp the blood-splatter pattern and make an embossing of the lines in the sand. Once you have gathered all of the clues, take each to its respective station to study closely.
In the Conservatory, the seedpod is easily compared to several plants, and explorers observe the chemical reaction when each is mixed with a reagent to determine if the seed in question was poisonous.
In the Penny Arcade, it’s time to flip the film and reassemble the statue in order to determine how it was broken by a bullet and from where the gun must have been fired.
In the Slaughterhouse, the spray pattern is tested using three different blood splatter machines, then visitors compare each to the evidence to match the pattern.
At the Thames River, two mechanical devices help to determine what created the lines in the sand. One rotates boots around a circle to replicate footprints, the other mimics the results of dragging feet through the sand.
His last bow
After studying the evidence as Holmes would have, use the clues to draw the most logical conclusions. You can revisit any station, then take the notebook to the Gazette display for your final instructions.
Just before the exit, a letter from Holmes gives the big reveal. Who will guess the truth?
If you go
▪ Through May 10
▪ 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
▪ $21-$29 ($6-$8 members)
▪ Perot Museum of Nature and Science, 2201 N. Field St., Dallas
▪ 214-428-5555; www.perotmuseum.org
(included in admission, appropriate for all ages)
First Thursday: Clue
March 5, 5-9 p.m.
With a goal of learning how scientists use investigation and research, visitors follow clues around the museum to solve a riddle and connect the pieces of a puzzle.
Discovery Days: Junior Detectives
March 14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Solve mysteries around the museum and participate in hands-on experiments.
First Thursday: Forensics
April 2, 5-9 p.m.
Visitors review scientific concepts and solve a mystery with the help of scientists and researchers, learning about forensic science and practicing problem-solving skills.
First Thursday: Myth
May 7, 5-9 p.m.
Popular myths like the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot facilitate the use of observation skills and help visitors develop their abilities to distinguish between myth and fact.