Whilst there are some waterfalls in the world, such as the Niagara and the Victoria, that draw thousands of tourists each year to marvel at their natural wonder, there is one hidden away in the alps of Switzerland that looms large in the discerning reader’s psyche: the notorious Reichenbach Falls. For it was here that marked the final and deadly confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis, the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty.
First published in the Strand magazine in 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill off his infamous alter ego in a short story called The Final Problem. His opponent was the nefarious Moriarty, a shadowy figure responsible for organizing all the evil, undetected crimes in London. A fight to the death between the two intellectual equals saw them plunge to their doom in the Reichenbach Falls. The story might have been fiction, but the location was very much real. Doyle was visiting Switzerland as a guest of Sir Henry Lunn, who would go on to found one of England’s first major travel agency companies, Lunn Poly. Visiting the haunting beauty of the Reichenbach Falls, Doyle was given the inspiration for the venue in which to kill off his famous detective. In The Final Problem Doyle describes the falls as a “fearful place…a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house.” By 1893, Doyle had tired of Holmes’ celebrity; he’s quoted as saying, “I have had such an overdose of Holmes that I feel towards him as I do toward pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day.” Wanting to pursue what he saw as more serious writing, he told his mother, “I must save my mind for better things, even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him.”
But Holmes was to die in glory; vanquishing the wicked Moriarty by sacrificing himself, and sending them both plunging into the chasms of the Falls. But following Holmes’ apparent death, there was large scale public outcry in England. Eventually Doyle relented and restored Sherlock to his adoring fans in the 1902 novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Today, intrepid explorers can retrace Sherlock Holmes’ footsteps by taking a funicular railway to the falls high in the Swiss Alps. There, a pathway and bridge lead to a trail where the infamous narrow ledge is still there today. A small plaque marks the spot where, “at this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty on 4th May 1891.”