Not much is known about Juliette Beach’s early and later life. We know that she and her husband, Calvin were acquaintances of Henry Clapp. The couple may have visited Pfaff's during their occasional sojourns to New York City. We know, also, that Beach was a contributor for the Saturday Press (Loving 568). Much more, however, is known about the controversy over a review of Leaves of Grass, and there has been much speculation surrounding the true nature of Beach’s relationship to the poet.
Born in Massachusetts to a family of merchants and seamen, Clapp traveled to Paris to translate the socialist writings of Fourier. In Paris, Clapp abandoned his ardent sympathy for the temperance movement and embraced the leisurely café life of the city. Upon returning to New York in 1850, he sought to recreate this atmosphere, spending hours at Charlie Pfaff's beer cellar, drawing a crowd of journalists, painters, actors, and poets to cultivate an American Bohemia in which participants admired and discussed the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Washington Irving (Martin 15-7).
Ada Clare (whose given name was Jane McIlheny) was born in South Carolina. As Thomas Gunn, a contemporary of Clare, describes she "made an attempt – several attempts – to become a tragic actress, but despite any amount of puffery on the part of fellows who knew her (or wanted to know her in a scriptural sense) failed. She had money and aspired for 'fame' only" (Gunn vol. 11, 160). She received a small inheritance upon her parents' deaths, which she used to travel to Paris.
On March 25, 1862, Walt Whitman received a letter addressed to him at Pfaff's and signed by "Ellen Eyre." The signature "Ellen Eyre" has long been thought to be the assumed name of an unknown female writer. The note reads as a love letter to the poet from a woman who knows him quite well. During the twentieth century, a number of historians took the letter to be evidence of a romantic tryst between Whitman and one of several candidates from the Bohemian circle and New York theatrical communities. The most commonly suggested identities for the writer of this letter were Ada Clare, Mrs.
In "Whitman Pursued," Emory Holloway describes Frank Sweeney as someone with whom Walt Whitman discussed his relationship with the mysterious Ellen Eyre. Whitman mentions Sweeney in one of his many notebook listings of the men of the city he knew: "Frank Sweeney (July 8th ’62), 5th Ave. Brown face, large features, black moustache (is the one I told the whole story to about Ellen Eyre)--talks very little" (Holloway, “Whitman” 7). Holloway explains that "[w]ho Sweeney was can only be conjectured.
Born on Long Island and raised in Brooklyn, Walt Whitman spent his childhood and early adulthood amid the sights and sounds of New York City and its environs. As a young man Whitman worked as a journeyman printer for several New York newspapers, before ultimately becoming a journalist and editor in his own right. Before committing himself to poetry, Whitman also worked intermittently as a schoolteacher, a carpenter, and a writer of sensational prose fiction.