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Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Very French Connection -- Sherlock Holmes to Le Tour de France

   Holmes statue in London, England
The Tour de France is here! 
For fun and a short break from most gears (but still involving Victorian times and bicycle gears) I give you a creation from my own warped mind...

The connection between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Victorian London character Sherlock Holmes and Le Tour de France
    The Sherlock Holmes story "The Hound of the Baskervilles" references Alphonse Bertillion;   one of Holmes's clients refers to Holmes as the "second highest expert in Europe" after Bertillon.  Also, in "The Naval Treaty", speaking of the Bertillon system of measurements Holmes himself "...expressed his enthusiastic admiration of the French savant".

     Alphonse Bertillon (April 24, 1853 – February 13, 1914) was a French police officer and biometrics researcher who created anthropometry, an identification system based on physical measurements. Anthropometry was the first scientific system used by police to identify criminals.  He also created fingerprinting, the mug shot, and the systematization of crime-scene photography which remain in place to this day.
     Bertillon was a witness for the prosecution in the 'Dreyfus Affair' in 1894 and again in 1899. He testified as a handwriting expert and claimed that Alfred Dreyfus had written the incriminating documents. However, he was not a handwriting expert, and his convoluted and flawed evidence was a significant contributing factor to one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice - the condemnation of the innocent Dreyfus to life imprisonment.

     The Dreyfus affair (French: Affaire Dreyfus) was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil's Island and placed in solitary confinement.

     The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (the Dreyfusards) and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards).
     "Le Velo", then the largest sports daily in France, was Dreyfusard. In 1900 a group of anti -Dreyfusards started "L'Auto" to compete with "Le Velo".  "L'Auto" was not the success its' backers wanted. By 1903, its' circulation was declining.  To boost its' circulation, "L'Auto" launched a new long-distance bicycle race, with distances and prizes far exceeding any previous race.   This was the Tour de France.



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