Saturday, July 7, 2012

"THE EMPTY CHAIR" - In Memoriam Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (d. July 7, 1930).

Waiting for 'St. Paul'. Albert Hall, London. July 13, 1930.
The story that launched The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 1903 has, in 2012, provided a dramatic image in support of the campaign to save for the nation The Empty House of Undershaw, Conan Doyle's home in the decade preceding 1907, the year he moved to Little Windlesham Cottage.

It was, however, upon an Empty Chair, that thousands of eyes were focussed at a memorial service in the Albert Hall on Sunday, July 13, 1930, less than a week after the death of Conan Doyle - for they were waiting for the one they called St Paul".

Exhausted from a lecture tour of Scandinavia, Doyle had suffered a fatal heart attack in the bedroom next to his favourite writing study on the first floor. As his body gave up the ghost, he lay (by last request) propped up in a chair so he might see his favourite view of  Crowborough Common.

A few days later the family buried him next to his writing hut beneath a copper beech to the rear of Windlesham Cottage. Many national figures and local people attended the funeral. It took a large fleet of lorries to transport the floral tributes.
The Funeral of ACD.

Lady Conan Doyle would continue to live at Windlesham until her death in 1940, when she too was interred there.

In 1955 the estate was sold, at which point both bodies were exhumed and re-interred where they rest together today - at All Saints Church, Minstead in the New Forest, close to Bignall Wood, a country retreat Doyle purchased as a love-gift for his wife in 1925.
All Saints, Minstead.

Conan Doyle was 71. His Obituary in The New York Times (and countless other World newspapers) may be read HERE 

For the memorial service, the chair upon the stage normally occupied by Doyle when he chaired Spiritualist meetings there was left unoccupied  - save for a cardboard placard saying simply 'Sir Arthur Conan Doyle'. In that vast gathering, his was the only empty seat.

Between six and ten thousand people had gained entry with hundreds more trying to access the Hall. The reason was simple: everyone (especially Doyle's family) was expecting Doyle to address them from 'Summerland' (his own name for 'the undiscovered country'.

BUT these were no sceptical Georgian Hamlets - this 'traveller' had promised to return.

"The completeness of the silence," wrote one journalist, "was unforgettable."

Time Magazine (July 21, 1930) and others carried detailed (and varying) reports of precisely what took place in the Albert Hall that day.

Two of these accounts are available on-line and may be read (well worth the read!), courtesy Spiritualism Link HERE

I leave the reader of this special post in memory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his or her own conclusions on the religious and spiritual validity of a cause dear to the author, which became his sole mission in later life.

On a personal note, I am convinced of one thing for sure - that the motto on Doyle's grave precisely and movingly describes the man interred there - a Great Soul remembered this day.


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