The Curious Case of the Observant Cabbie

“The world is full of obvious things,” Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in The Hound of the Baskervilles, “which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

But before he wrote that mystery (though after he was a smashing success), the author found himself in a minor mystery of his own.

Dr. Conan Doyle – he’d trained as a doctor at the University of Edinburgh – was in Boston for his first American lecture tour. A grueling 30-city affair during which he paid his own way and carried his own suitcase without much public hassle.

The author was a known name. Though perhaps less known than his creation, Sherlock Holmes. But the author was by no means a known face.

Yet his cab driver in Boston had somehow figured out who he was.

“How on earth,” Dr. Conan Doyle asked the cabbie, “did you recognize me?” The author had no entourage. It was usually just him and his suitcase.

“Your coat lapels are badly twisted down where they have been grasped by the pertinacious New York reporters,” the cabbie replied.

It was true, Dr. Conan Doyle had been in New York on his tour. A tour during which audiences would clap and cheer and want to know when, when, when he would write more about that great observer, Sherlock Holmes.

“Your right shoe,” the cabbie continued, “has a large block of Buffalo mud just under the instep.”

Yes. Dr. Conan Doyle had lectured in Buffalo. Might even have mentioned Dr. Joseph Bell, a University of Edinburgh professor with a great eye for small things, whom Holmes was based on. In fact, Holmes had taken a page straight out of Dr. Bell’s book when he famously said in, “A Case of Identity,”:

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

Perhaps that Boston cabbie had read, “A Case of Identity.” Or perhaps he was an appreciator of those obvious things the world is full of that nobody observes.

Because he concluded to the flummoxed Arthur Conan Doyle:

“And of course the labels on your case give a full account of your travel details – just below the brass plaque reading ‘Conan Doyle.'”

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