Did Sherlock Holmes Really Die In Meiringen?

Meiringen Switzerland is a lot like any other Bernese Oberland village. It’s set at the foot of four passes—the Brunig, Joch, Grimsel, and Susten—so it’s a great base for hiking and skiing. But among international visitors, and especially the British, it’s best known as the place where Sherlock Holmes died. And it’s all well documented in Meiringen with statues, bronze plaques, hotels, and a Sherlock Holmes museum.

You might be asking “How does a fictional character gain all this renown for ‘dying’ in Meiringen?”

Elementary, my dear reader. Here’s the story:

Background

Sherlock Holmes, the most popular fictional detective in history, was the invention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes first appeared in a novel published in 1887, but he didn’t become famous until 1891 when a short story appeared in a popular magazine. Overnight, Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle became national celebrities.

Over the next two years Doyle cranked out an average of one new story per month. But the more popular Holmes became, the less Doyle liked him. Doyle was a physician, a prominent national figure, and writer of historical novels, which he considered to be his most substantive writing. He felt Sherlock Holmes kept people from appreciating his more important works. By 1893 Doyle despised the detective.

Reichenbach Falls

Untimely Death

In 1893, after writing 24 Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle placed Holmes at the top of Reichenbach Falls on the outskirts of Meiringen Switzerland. In a battle with his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty—the Napoleon of Crime, both characters plunged to their deaths. The place where this battle took place is marked today by a star and commemorative plaque on a ledge above the falls.

When he finished writing the story, Doyle cheerfully wrote to his mother: “The gentleman vanishes, never to return!” But Holmes fans weren’t so happy. Twenty thousand readers cancelled their subscriptions to the magazine where the stories appeared; Londoners wore black bands to mourn his death; Doyle was inundated with letters. But he was unmoved and snapped: “Holmes is at the bottom of Reichenbach Falls, and there he stays.”

Resurrecting Sherlock

Holmes remained dead for ten years, until 1903 when McClure’s, a US magazine, offered Doyle the astronomical sum of $5,000 per story if he would resurrect Holmes. Doyle’s British publisher offered him nearly as much for the British publication rights. Doyle decided to “accept as much money as slightly deranged editors were willing to pay.” Soon after, readers learned that Holmes hadn’t died at all; he had merely gone into hiding.

Statue of Sherlock in Meiringen’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Place.

The publishers couldn’t print copies of the new stories fast enough. Readers waited in lines and crammed bookshops to get them. Doyle continued writing Sherlock Holmes stories until 1927 when he retired the detective for good. 

Meiringen is a favorite stop on Alpenwild’s Exploring the Jungfrau and Via Alpina tours. On both tours you’ll have a chance to ascend the funicular to the top of Reichenbach Falls and view the very spot where Sherlock Holmes fell to his death. In town, you’ll see the hotel where Doyle wrote the story, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, a Holmes statue, and signs describing the events leading to Holmes’ temporary death.

Reichenbach Falls funicular

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greg Witt

About Greg Witt

Greg Witt is the Founder and Chief Adventure Officer of Alpenwild, the leader in active travel in the Alps. Greg first hiked in the Alps in 1970 as a teenager backpacking through Europe. A best-selling and award-winning author, he lives most of the year in the Swiss Alps, near the border of France and Italy. He’s currently in rehab for his addiction to Gruyère cheese. It hasn’t been successful.

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