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).
Born in England in 1811, Thomas Blades (Bladies) de Walden made his first appearance on the English stage in 1841, then traveled to New York for his premier on the American stage at Park theatre in 1844 (Wilson and Fiske 158). Identified by William Winter as a regular at Pfaff’s during the Bohemian days, de Walden was active in the New York stage community as both an actor and a playwright (Old Friends 88). Mark Lause also labels de Walden as one of the frequent actors who inhabited the vault at Pfaff’s (60).
William Winter describes Solomon Eytinge, Jr. as "[a] man of original and deeply interesting character, an artist of exceptional facility, possessed of a fine imagination and great warmth of feeling [. . .] In his prime as a draughtsman he was distinguished for the felicity of his invention, the richness of his humor, and the tenderness of his pathos. He had a keen wit and was the soul of kindness and mirth” (Old Friends 317).
Getty Gay, born Gertrude Louise Vultee, was an actress as well as a major contributor to the Saturday Press (Gunn 11.162, 14.16-7). Although not much is known about her artistic career, the obituary of Henry Clapp calls Gay "a talented bit of womanhood" (7). A. L. Rawson connects Gay to the scene at Pfaff’s through Ada Clare and Charles Gayler: “Ada [Clare] was never without a woman companion, and one of them was Getty Gay, who was pretty, bright and witty. Her lithe and petite figure and sweetly sad face were ever welcome among the Pfaffians” (103).
Born to a family of tradesmen in New York City, Charles Gayler began his career as a teacher before he moved to Ohio and worked as a journalist and editor. While there, he developed an interest in politics that led him to write songs and speeches for Whig Presidential candidate Henry Clay in the 1844 election. In 1846 he married Grace Christian, with whom he had eight children. While one source suggests that his wife was actress and fellow Pfaffian Getty Gay (Rawson 103), Thomas Butler Gunn indicates that Gay was Gayler’s mistress (10.34).
Though much of her early life, including her real name and exact date of birth, remains in shadow, Laura Keene is thought to have come from a well-to-do background. She was widely read and spent time in Turner’s studio during her childhood. After performing with Madame Vestris’ company, Keene journeyed to New York in 1852 at the invitation of James W. Wallack. She became the leading lady of his theater and enjoyed great success.
While not much is known about the early life of Edward Mallen, he is remembered as an artist and frequenter of Pfaff's. William Winter identifies "Edward F. Mullen" as one of the artists who frequented Pfaff’s Cave along with Launt Thompson, George Boughton, and Sol Eytinge, Jr. (Old Friends 66, 88). Walt Whitman, a close friend of his, is also quoted as saying that "Mullin" was "among the leaders" at Pfaff’s (Bohan 134; T. Donaldson 208-209).
Born in Bavaria in 1840, Nast emigrated to New York City with his mother and sister in 1846 and his father followed them in 1850. Nast’s early artistic influences were historical painter Theodore Kaufmann, with whom he began his first formal study; Alfred Fredericks, whose studio was nearby and who became a mentor to Nash and helped him gain entry to the Academy of Design, as well as Frank Leslie, the publisher of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper who hired the sixteen-year old Nast for five dollars a week.
Harry Neill was born to a Presbyterian minister in Philadelphia (Gunn, vol. 18, 54). Henry Clapp’s New York Times obituary describes Neill as “a gifted Philadelphian” ("Obituary" 7). Neill was a journalist whose work was published in Vanity Fair and other contemporary periodicals. He also wrote under the alias, Inigo (T. Miller 37). Before moving to New York in his early 20s, Neill's work appeared in Philadelphia's Bulletin and the Evening Journal.
Charles Dawson Shanly emigrated to New York City from Ireland via Canada and was working as the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Public Works in 1857. In New York City during the late 1850s and 1860s, Shanly was productive as a journalist and editor at such publications as Vanity Fair, Mrs. Grundy, the New York Leader, the Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Saturday Press.
Born in Connecticut, Stedman’s merchant father died leaving the small child in the care of his mother, maternal grandfather, and lawyer uncle. Stedman’s childhood passed between his grandfather’s New Jersey farm and his uncle’s Connecticut residence. Much of Stedman’s literary education likely came from his mother, who herself was an author of both verse and essay. Stedman’s juvenilia consists of poetry inspired by the Romantics and Tennyson. He attended Yale University but was expelled after a youthful indiscretion.