American actor William Gillette (1853-1937) was famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes onstage (1,300 performances over 30 years!). Offstage, he was known for devising special sound and lighting effects. In 1886, he replaced the old “hitting halves of coconut shells against marble” technique to simulate the galloping of a horse with a more realistic method of “beating with clappers.” Gillette was also into props. He took credit for having Holmes smoke a curved briar pipe instead of a straight one, and had the detective use a magnifying-glass. Gillette even formulated the phrase “Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow” which later was reused in the talkies as “Elementary, my dear Watson” — one of the most famous expressions in the English language.
When not at the theatre, Gillette was at his home in East Haddam, Connecticut. He designed a medieval looking stone castle atop a hill across 184 acres of land. Inside, visitors to the now historical site can see his clever domestic designs including a movable table on tracks, built-in couches, light switches of carved wood, and a three-mile long miniature railroad that once traveled all around the property. It took $1.1 million dollars and 20 men five years (1914-1919) to complete. Today the Gillette Castle State Park is one of the top three tourist attractions in the state.