84 years ago, the world was first introduced to the intrepid, titian-haired teen detective. This brave, smart young woman fought villains and solved mysteries, opening up a world where girls could – and – did do anything. Today, the legendary sleuth Nancy Drew continues to inspire generations of women and her influence is global. Nancy Drew books are published in 25 languages, and have sold 200 million copies worldwide. Some pretty awesome people are also fans, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, TV personality Oprah Winfrey and the members of Nancy Drew Sleuths – a fan club set up to foster the legacy of Nancy Drew.
Established in April 10, 2000, the Nancy Drew Sleuths is made up of Nancy Drew collectors, fans and scholars. Helmed by club president and Nancy Drew consultant Jennifer Fisher, the United States based club began life as an online group before evolving into a bigger entity with conventions, regional gatherings and other projects.
It’s a lot of work running a fan group but Jennifer won’t have it any other way. “It’s a labor of love for sure–lots of work. I’ve heard from so many fans over the years, it’s been fun to get to know so many different types of fans and find out what they like about Nancy Drew or how she’s inspired them.“
As a testament to Nancy Drew ‘s enduring appeal, the group attracts a diverse fan base of all ages, both male and female, from all walks of life.
“Because Nancy Drew has been around since 1930, she spans so many generations, there’s fans of all ages. Mums and grandmas are passing down the books to the next generation. Millions have read these books since 1930. Our fan group is a nice mix of all types–we have kids up to grandmas and men too.
I’d say our main core is probably people in their 20s to 50s. We have a Jr. Detective Squad group just for kids. It’s mostly an online club with a newsletter out 3 times a year. We’re doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, school teachers and librarians, cops and detectives, stay-at-home mom’s, college students, and so much more. It’s a very diverse group.”
Left: Amanda Arkebauer wore a shirt that she had made for her from the Nancy Drew print fabric. Middle: Amanda re-enacted the cover of Forgotten City (below) during the Sleuths convention in Las Vegas. Right: Amanda with a Nancy Drew quilt made by her stepmother.
Elementary teacher Gina Travis has been reading Nancy Drew since she was 8 years old and it was a goal of her to complete the 56 yellow spines of her youth. “I was down to the last one, The Secret of Mirror Bay, which my husband found on Ebay for Christmas, 2005. The seller was none other than Jennifer Fisher, the President of the Nancy Drew Sleuths!” All this while Gina thought she was the only adult who still read and collect Nancy Drew books so she was thrilled to find out about the club and connect with other fans.
Flight attendant Amanda Arkebauer was there right from the start of the club formation. “I had joined The Society of Phantom Friends in 1993 after reading about them in the Nancy Drew Scrapbook by Karen Plunkett Powell. And I had been to several of the Phantom Friends conventions all over the country. (The Phantom Friends were not just Nancy Drew fans, but cater to all girls series books like Judy Bolton, The Dana Girls and Trixie Belden) So I guess you could say, I was in on the ground floor so to speak when Jenn Fisher expanded her Yahoo Groups Discussion group to become the Nancy Drew Sleuths.”
Like many Nancy Drew Fans, Nurse Lea Shangraw Fox has fond memories of being introduced to Nancy Drew and still owns her first book. “My little brother’s godmother was the book buyer at a local department store and she gave me The Spider Sapphire Mystery when I was 8 years old. I still own that copy. I then found that a few friends from school also had some stories and we would loan them to each other because the San Francisco public library did not have them.”
Jim McNamara (L) and Todd Latoski (R) posing at the sign of a subdivision near Melbourne/Titusville that was named “River Heights”, which is also the name of fictional town where Nancy Drew was from.
When Paralegal Todd Latoski was a child, his mother bought him Nancy Drew books that she enjoyed as a child. He fell in love with them and started reading as many as he could lay his hands on.
“Her books are pure mystery – unlike the Hardy Boys, which were more about adventure, and Tom Swift, which was more about science, Nancy Drew was all about things that go bump in the night, haunted houses, stolen inheritances, and just good ol’ fashioned mysteries!”
Gina was impressed with the bravery of Nancy Drew and she drew inspiration and support from the famous detective to get her through the challenging teenage years. “I was a very shy child, even through my teens, and I would rely on what I knew about how Nancy would handle a situation. One example is going into the courthouse to take my driver’s test when I was 16. I was terrified as I had never been in such a large building alone before. I stood for a very long time trying to get my courage up and then I thought, “Nancy would just march right in there, say hi to Chief McGinnis, and do what she needed to do”. That was exactly what I did (Chief McGinnis was not there though!) and this is how I got the courage to do most things until adulthood.”
Sleuths doing a re-enactment/satire of sorts from our theme book, The Hidden Window Mystery, at the mystery dinner from from Charlottesville 2011.
The highlight for Nancy Drew Sleuths is the annual Nancy Drew convention. The first convention was held in March 2001 at Toledo, Ohio where the members met the original “Carolyn Keene,” Mildred Wirt Benson and had their books signed and asked a lot of questions.
“Mildred Wirt Benson was a very intelligent and interesting woman to talk to. Just meeting a “Carolyn Keene” was a treat. She was still quite amazed herself at all the fuss, as these books were a job to her when she was in the early stages of her writing career–she had no idea they would go on to be so popular and an inspiration for kids growing up.” Jennifer recalls her experience meeting the writer.
“Her favorite Nancy Drew was The Hidden Staircase. She still had a very sharp mind at age 95 and answered the questions easily. She was still working at The Blade writing a column–in her 90s! She was a great example of a person with good work ethic and she just loved her job–kept her going as she’d say.”
The mission for each year’s convention is to “walk in Nancy’s footsteps”. Typically the club selects a theme book – one of the classic 56 hardcover Nancy Drew books printed from 1930-1979 and picks a real life location where the book was set. Adding to the nostalgic flair, the members relive and re-enact what NancyDrew and her friends did in books. There is usually a couple of days of sightseeing and touring built in at the beginning of their convention following a Meet and Greet party that kicks the week off. Finally it ends with a convention day where there are speakers on various Nancy Drew topics and interesting presentations. Lea is one of the speakers and she is doing a presentation on the foreign editions – Around the World with Nancy Drew.
Clipper ship sail in Salem during the Boston 2013 Nancy Drew convention – Sleuths from the left: Shelli, Elizabeth, and Jennifer.
A regular Nancy Drew convention attendee since 2007 (except for 2009 when she was in Europe), Gina shares some of the memorable moments. “Horseback riding in the Arizona desert as Nancy did in The Secret of Shadow Ranch where she searched for Dirk Valentine’s treasure, acting more like Nancy’s friend Bess and eating scrumptious Amish desserts in Lancaster PA which is the location for The Witch Tree Symbol, touring NASA like Nancy in the Moss Covered Mansion, having President Monroe wander in while touring his home near Charlottesville VA and speak to you as if it were early 1800 or sailing on a clipper ship as Nancy and her chums did in The Secret of the Wooden Lady are wonderful experiences, but, for me, at the 2010 Florida convention, I was honored to meet Rudy Nappi, the illustrator for the cover art on the revised books. I had wonderful conversations each evening with him and his wife, Peggy, while sharing a dinner table on a Bahamas cruise as part of the celebration of the 80th Anniversary of Nancy Drew.”
Todd’s favourite part of convention was the mystery dinner parties. “I absolutely love the mystery dinner parties – they are always fun, trying to figure out “whodunit” – and I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in one of the mysteries and help write another one. Seeing everyone dress up, take on roles, and just have some good clean fun is always a memorable experience!”
Having attended 12 out of 15 conventions, Amanda feels that that 2007 convention in Pasadena was particularly memorable as they were able to tour the Warner Brothers studio and see some “behind the scenes” stuff about the Nancy Drew movie starring Emma Roberts. “That was also the year that the producers from the 1970’s TV show came and talked to us as well. Another great moment, meeting two women who worked in Hollywood in the 1970’s in a time when women were just breaking into the Television Business. They were instrumental in bringing Nancy Drew into our living rooms in the 1970’s. I found it inspiring to get to hear their stories about working in a mostly male environment and trying to keep Nancy Drew independent (and not relying on the Hardy Boys to save her!)”
This year, the convention will be held 2-6 June in San Diego. The lineup looks just as promising with an evening ghost tour in Old Town at the Whaley House, a cruise on the Bahia Belle on Mission Bay and a Saturday mystery dinner with a vintage “Sleuthpunk” and Steampunk theme going back to the vintage 1930s/1940s Nancy Drew books.
All the fans are looking forward to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys 1970s TV Show Bash party on Thursday, June 5 where the guest of honor is actress Pamela Sue Martin who played Nancy Drew in the 70s TV Show and starred on Dynasty. This will be Todd’s fifth Nancy Drew Sleuths convention and he is excited about meeting the actress whom he remembered watching back in the late 70s as Nancy Drew on television.”For me, when I think of Nancy Drew, her face is usually the image that comes to mind, because she brought the character to life for me when I was a child.”
For Gina, she is already looking forward to next year’s convention. “I’ll be thinking once again, how will Jenn top this one? I have no doubt the next one will be just as exciting and mysterious as ones before, if not more!”
The winning tribe – Nancy Drew team of the “Sleuth Survivor” game, taken in Boston 2013 on Thompson Island. Every year at the Nancy Drew convention, the Nancy Drew Sleuths do their own take on the show Survivor where they break into tribes of 3 or more to outwit, outplay and outsleuth. It’s usually a 3 part challenge – the first is putting together a puzzle, 2nd part is deciphering the puzzle/codes, and then the third part is running around collecting clues and then racing to the finish line.
Check out our interview with Jennifer Fisher, World’s No.1 Nancy Drew fan and president of Nancy Drew Sleuths fan club.
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