Great photos of great detectives, no. 3

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 14, 2013
William Burns and family with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

William Burns (at right) and family with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

More than one interesting story attaches to this photo, depicting “America’s Sherlock Holmes” William Burns with Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I spend some time on those stories in Brilliant Deduction because they connect Burns, Doyle and the Pinkertons and reveal interesting points of all three.

It’s also just a splendid photo, by itself, though. Most of the people in it look rather tired, frankly, with Burns and the young man at far left the primary exceptions. The little boy in front of Doyle, with his short pants and wide-eyed straight-ahead expression, is priceless. And then the contrasting, weary adult seriousness of the little girl…

I’m not actually 100% positive who the children are. I’m fairly certain that the photo dates from Doyle’s visit to America in 1914. If so, they’re unlikely to be William and Annie’s own children; they had a large family, as I recall, but I believe all of their children would have been older than this by 1914. Probably they are the Burnses’ grandchildren; if their eldest son was prompt in starting a family, he might have had three children about this age by then.

In which case one of these boys, perhaps even that eager looking young fellow in short pants, was a future director of the William J. Burns International Detective Agency, which as I recall remained family-run into at least a third generation. If so, I’m reminded of a story of the Pinkertons, in which Allan brought his sons to the Oval Office and President Lincoln placed his hand on the shoulder of a young William; what a photo that would have made, and what a memory both it and the above scene undoubtedly did.

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