An editor, poet, journalist, and short story writer, Nathan Dane Urner had a prosperous literary career, serving as the city editor of the New York Tribune (Current Literature 479) as well as publishing poems like “Consolation,” “A Lesson in Skating,” “The Harvest Meeting,” and “The Snow Sprites” in periodicals like The Independent, Scribner’s, The Continent, and The Massachusetts Ploughman. Urner also wrote sensational short stories like “The Singer’s Ghost” (1882) and “The Fatal Chamber” (1884) which appeared in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly.
The sensational flavor of these tales carried over to his reporting in at least one famous instance. Called a “facetious reporter” by P.T. Barnum for his “amusing” account of the fire which destroyed Barnum’s American Museum in New York (242), Urner’s story appeared in the Tribune the next day, July 14, 1865, was reprinted by provincial papers, and was included in Barnum’s memoirs.
In the article Urner states that the view from his window afforded a direct view into Barnum’s third floor menagerie. Urner describes in detail the suffering and death of the lion, tiger, monkeys, snake, whale, and other animals; he also details the escape of several creatures including an eagle, a snake, tropical birds, monkeys, and an orangutan that appeared at the window of Herald editor James Gordon Bennett while snakes, “true to their instincts, sought shelter in the World and News offices. Tongue firmly in cheek, Urner relates that a large black bear escaped from the burning Museum into Ann street, and then made his way into Nassau, and down that thoroughfare into Wall, where his appearance caused a sensation” (Barnum 244) and resulted in rapidly falling shares in the market. While the bears and bulls fought one another for dominance in the market, Urner also relates that firemen rushed into the building to retrieve the famous wax figures: “The full length statue of P.T. Barnum fell down of its own accord, as if disgusted with the whole affair. A red-shirted fireman seized with either hand Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan by their coat-collars, tucked the Prince Imperial of France, under one arm, and the Veiled Murderess under the other, and coolly departed for the street” (Barnum 243).
In addition to his poems, sensational stories, and colorful journalism, Urner also published works using the pseudonym Burke Brentford (Haynes 19). As Brentford, he published Florence Falkland, Gold Dust Darrell and Lost in New York. These works may have been dime novels as a mention of them appears in Frank P. O’Brien’s The Beadle Collection of Dime Novels [Printed at the NYPL] (1922).
Urner is remembered as one of the “fruitful literary workers” who led a “retired” life after the Pfaff’s period as did writers like Charles G. Leland (Current Literature 479). He is also cited as a “valuable authority” on the lives of itinerant, indigent child minstrels in the city (E. W. Martin 126), based on work he published in Packard’s Monthly, November 1868.
Urner is mentioned as one of the "bright spirits" who met at Pfaff's.[pages:10]
Barnum labels Urner a "facetious reporter" who wrote an amusing account of a fire in the Tribune.[pages:242]
Urner is mentioned as one of "the best know writers who frequented that cozy corner [Pfaff's]," as well as a regular contributor to the Saturday Press.[pages:9]
Urner is mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson in a "reminiscent letter to the Galveston News." The blurb gives "updates" on the whereabouts of many of the former Bohemians.
"Nathan D. Urner, who was once city editor on the Tribune, and Charles G. Leland of Hans Breitmann fame, both lead retired lives, but are still fruitful literary workers."[pages:479]
The author identifies the following pseudonym: Burke Brentford (19).[pages:19]
Urner is cited as a "valuable authority" on the lives of itinerant, indigent child minstrels in the city (126).[pages:126, 130]
Urner is mentioned as one of the "happy, careless children of Bohemia" who attended the "carnivals in Pfaff's cellar" (5).[pages:5]
"It is a striking fact that the number of young men prominently connected with the New York press as writers is greater now than at any former period...the chief editorial work in these journals is done by men between the years of twenty-five and forty" (4).
"Then, too, in the same office, are Clarence Cook, waging war against all bad pictures and some good; Edwin H. House and William Winter, dramatic critics; Nathan Urner and Kane O'Donnel, comparatively new arrivals in Gotham..." (4).[pages:4]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015