Crack the Case with We the Detectives

By Julie B. RSS Fri, March 24, 2017

Since the early days of printing, readers have been gripped by real-life tales of highwaymen and murderers, the last words of executed criminals, and fictional detective stories which have long fascinated us. What has made this form of literature such an enduring fan favorite?

Beginning Saturday, April 8, the Free Library will crack the case with We the Detectives, a collaboration that explores the art of crime and detection through two unique exhibitions and a multifaceted, immersive theatrical experience. This initiative unites the Free Library and the Rosenbach’s special collections, showcasing the daring and captivating history of the detective novel. It also marks our first-ever partnership with New Paradise Laboratories, which will bring dynamic, experimental theater directly to library users in a new and exciting way.

The Rosenbach’s Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives exhibition explores the history of and fascination with crime—factual and fictional—in literary history from the 1600s to the 1900s. Objects on display include the earliest account of an American mass murderer, the manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Empty House," and letters from mystery writer Ellery Queen about collecting detective fiction.

Picking up the trail is Becoming the Detective: The Making of a Genre in the Parkway Central Library’s Rare Book Department, which explores the development of fictional detective stories and their relationship with readers. Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," this exhibition highlights the metamorphosis of the genre, with readers moving from passive observers to active participants in solving the crime alongside their fictional detective counterparts. Objects featured include Poe’s handwritten manuscript for "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," movie posters of Sherlock Holmes films, and first editions of The Hardy Boys novels.

And in a Free Library first, visitors can dive into a "real" mystery themselves through GUMSHOE, an immersive theatrical experience produced by partner New Paradise Laboratories. This live caper, running from April 8 through May 7, will take participants throughout the Parkway Central Library—including to spaces typically closed to the public—as they attempt to get to the bottom of a top-secret crime that has yet to take place. In addition, throughout the We the Detectives program period, participants can access a mobile version of GUMSHOE that will lead them on a mysterious path from the Free Library to the Rosenbach and other points along the way!

We the Detectives, running April 8 through September 1, 2017, is made possible through a generous grant from the William Penn Foundation.

While you are waiting for the program and exhibitions to get under way, dive into this booklist of classic mysteries and detective fiction!

For a full list of operating hours and performance times, and to reserve a free ticket to GUMSHOE, please visit 

Our We the Detectives initiative continues with Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives at the Rosenbach and Becoming the Detective: The Making of a Genre in Parkway Central Library's Rare Book Department. Check out the exhibitions now through September 1!

And experience the GUMSHOE immersive adventure by New Paradise Laboratories using your mobile phone any time, now through September 1.

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I would like to please send me material
Dianw Fiske - Philadelphia
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

This is a fantastic concept. Please count me in. Thank you ever so much. S.L.
Stan Lignowski - 19130 Philadelphia
Thursday, March 30, 2017

I am in!
Christa Benchley - Colbert, WA
Friday, April 7, 2017

Thank you for gracing our door steps here at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central.The Gumshoe experience is engaging and exciting.I'm a captive audience.Keep up the good work.You have my undying support.
David A. Holley - West Philly
Monday, April 10, 2017

My first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, 2013), is set in Philadelphia in the 1920s, with characters from Philly history. It also includes the son of Dr. Watson and the brother of Sherlock Holmes (Mycroft). I would be glad to come and speak at a library event during the "We the Detectives" exhibition.
David Fessenden - New Cumberland, PA
Saturday, May 13, 2017