Well, it’s frigidly cold in Omaha today, so I thought it might be a good time to share just how I got so interested in bed and breakfasts. So gather around while I put another coal on the fire and prepare yourselves to hear the tale of the Victorian Villa.
It was the spring of 2004 and I am an incredibly avid reader who especially loves to read mysteries. On this particular spring day, it suddenly struck me that it might be fun if I could find a mystery weekend and actually experience a case for myself. Off to the internet I went and began searching to see what I might be able to find. When I included the name of Sherlock Holmes into my search, one of my results was for the Victorian Villa in Union City, MI.
I clicked on the link and was quite impressed with what I saw. What really caught my eye was that one of the rooms in the Carriage House of the Villa was called the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber and the second floor of the Carriage House also contained a little museum dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. Reading that sorely tempted me to make a visit to the Villa, but then I noticed that a mystery weekend was going to be held in April of that year.
I couldn’t say no to that, so I went ahead and booked the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber and was told I’d be contacted “by that nice Mr. Denham” of Shadowstalkers, the organization behind the mystery event. Both Ron Gibson, the owner of the Villa, and that nice Mr. Denham sounded a little surprised when they found out I was coming from Omaha. Most of the visitors to the Villa come from within a 2.5 to 3 hour radius and I was going to drive 10 hours to attend this event.
I’ll repeat that.
I drove 10 hours from Omaha to Union City to attend this event. Little did I know that I would be so bowled over by the Villa that I would make that journey 3 more times over the next decade.
I still remember my arrival on that spring Friday in April 2004. I was warmly welcomed to the inn by its innkeeper, Cynthia Shattuck, who brought me to the bar area where I met Ron Gibson and his son, Josh. Ron gave me a hearty greeting and told me I was free to explore the house and could enter any bedroom with an open door (signifying no occupation by guests) and that I could take all the pictures I wanted.
I was absolutely mesmerized by the intricate beauty of the place. I felt as if I had truly passed through a time warp as everything was authentically Victorian from when the place had first been built in 1876. Even more amazing was the history of how the mansion was first built all the way through to its rebirth as the Victorian Villa. This had truly been a labor of love for Ron whom I was told put in 18 hour days for several years to restore the Villa back to its original condition.
The Villa is known as the #1 inn in the Midwest and a well deserved reputation it is. Aside from the beauty of the place, the inn was famed for its Sherlock Holmes weekends, Victorian Christmas weekends, and food. The Villa has been featured in numerous articles and, I believe, on the Michigan PBS station.
One could spend hours just soaking in the scenery of the Villa and the meals have been some of the most enjoyable that I have ever eaten. Over the years, I have had such delicacies as cream cheese stuffed French Toast, ox and barley stew, English Cheshire Cheddar Cheese Soup, and roast goose. And the rooms are a unique treasure in and of themselves. During my visits I have enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber, the Victorian Country Bedchamber, and Tower Suite South.
I’ve also been blessed to meet and become friends with many wonderful people such as Ron and his two sons, Josh and Zach, Cynthia, John Sherwood (a talented actor who sometimes plays Charles Dickens for the Christmas weekends), Ted and Rhonda Cowell and their Sherlock Holmes scion society, the Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay.
As for my first visit, the mystery event was a great deal of fun, but more like a game. A murder had been committed and some jewels stolen, so we had to figure out who done it and locate the missing jewels. Each of us played a character (I was Ellery Queen), and had certain abilities we could use to obtain clues from other guests. But. . .the killer was one of us and would be attempting to kill us before we could discover his or her identity. As a solo player, I was a marked man as the killer could only kill you when you were alone unless he or she got the “mark of death” on you.
Luckily, I was occasionally accompanied by “that nice Mr. Denham’s” wife to offer me some protection. During the course of the night I won a target shooting contest which netted me a bottle of wine sold exclusively at the Villa. I also did solve the case, but I had my epiphany when I was alone with the 2 killers. Though I bolted from the room when I realized the truth, I had already been marked for death by them as they feared I was getting a little too close according to the snarky note they left under my door the next morning. However, for having traveled so far, I was given a nice parting gift of the Ellery Queen novel, The Dragon’s Teeth.
I was fortunate enough to be able to return to the Villa in September 2005 when I finally had the chance to meet Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
Oh, didn’t you know they were real people?
It’s true. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was really Watson’s literary agent and he got credit for writing the tales to perpetuate the idea that Holmes was a fictional character, thus preserving his anonymity. Ron’s great-grandfather was Senator Neil Gibson, whom you may know from the case entitled “The Problem of Thor Bridge”. Through him, Ron became friends with Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, whose lifespans have been augmented through a royal jelly elixir Holmes had cultivated when he had retired to the Sussex Downs.
In Mr. Holmes’ own words, he enjoys visiting Union City because “it is a hellhole of crime of great depth and brilliance”. Unbelievably, I have had the honor of assisting Mr. Holmes in two cases. While I have copious notes of these accounts, a pledge of silence has barred me from sharing these stories until, and unless, Mr. Holmes gives me leave. However, I don’t think I would be amiss by admitting that I was crucial to helping him bring the affair of “the nameless corpse” to a successful conclusion for which I received a lovely Holmes nutcracker which graces my mantle today.
The last time I visited the Villa was 2010 when I attended one of their Christmas weekends where I was treated to a marvelous performance from John Sherwood as Charles Dickens where he read A Christmas Carol and enjoyed a sumptuous 9 course Roast Goose Christmas dinner as described in Dickens’ tale.
Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson have not visited the Villa for a few years, but I look forward to a time when they do return so I may renew old acquaintances and perhaps aid Holmes and Watson in another investigation.
But if you find yourself near Union City, take a moment and spend a night at the Victorian Villa and find out why, as they say, it is the past. . .unsurpassed.