This timeline provides a chronological overview of some of the major events in the history of bohemian New York. This section of the site is currently under construction; new content is being added on a regular basis.
Henry Clapp, Jr, attends the Second General Peace Congress in Paris, France, on August 22-24, 1849. Clapp covers this and other similar events in Europe—such as the World Convention of the Friends of Universal Peace held in Brussels, Belgium, in 1848, and events at the London Peace Society in 1847—for the Pioneer and the New York Tribune. Rather than return to the United States after the convention ends, Clapp settles into the Hotel Corneille in Paris's Latin Quarter and throws himself into Parisian bohemia (Lause 9-12).
Edgar Allan Poe dies at age 40 after collapsing in the streets of Baltimore. The legend of a life spent in the passionate dedication to literary art—along with a dissolute and penniless death—inspires the bohemians of New York City.
Henri Murger's La vie de Boheme premiers at the Theatre des Varietes in Paris. The play is based on twenty-one loosely autobiographical stories about the bohemians of Paris's Latin Quarter that Murger published between 1845 and 1849. Theodore Barriere co-wrote the theatrical adaptation with Murger, which proved successful enough to lead Murger to collect and revise his stories into a novel that was published in January 1851.
Fitz-James O’Brien arrives in New York City in 1852 after having spent the previous few years in London living off of his inheritance. He soon spends what is left of his inheritance in the United States and looks to rebuild his fortune through his literary efforts (Wolle 30).
Charles Astor Bristed translates excerpts from Henry Murger’s Scenes de la vie de Boheme (1851) and publishes it in New York City’s Knickerbocker magazine as "The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter: Translated for The Knickerbocker from Henry Murger's 'Scenes de La Boheme'" (Levin).
William North, a British writer and friend of Henry Clapp and Fitz-James O’Brien, commits suicide in his New York City apartment. He leaves behind an envelope containing twelve cents and a note reading, "The remains of my fortune and labor for ten years" ("Suicide of Mr. William North" 3).
William North’s novel, The Slave of the Lamp, is published in New York City. It is a loosely autobiographical tale that bolsters the mythic qualities of North’s short and tragic life as a prototypical bohemian who suffered for his art, was scorned by his lover, and died by his own hand.
Walt Whitman self-publishes the first edition of Leaves of Grass through the Brooklyn firm of Fowler and Wells in the early summer of 1855. It is a slim volume of twelve untitled poems that catches the attention of several high-profile readers (including Ralph Waldo Emerson), but is neglected by the public at large.
A group of progressive New Yorkers, including Henry Clapp, Albert Brisbane, and Stephen Pearl Andrews, form a “Grand Order of Recreation” that is alternately known in the press as the “Free Love League,” the “Free Love Union,” or the “Free Love Club” (Lause 31-33).
Harper’s publishes the first of many columns about urban life in New York City under the title “Bohemian Walks and Talks.” The final column appears on March 6, 1858.
On October 23, 1858, Henry Clapp, Jr., publishes the inaugural issue of The New York Saturday Press. Edward Howland sells his collection of rare books to provide the capital for the Press, which promises to provide "Literary, Artistic, Dramatic, and Musical Intelligence."
Charles Pfaff moves his small eating and drinking house business from 685 Broadway to 647 Broadway, where he opens a new wine and lager beer cellar that soon becomes the preferred gathering place of Henry Clapp, Jr. and the American bohemians (Blalock 18; Figure 1).
Walt Whitman starts regularly visiting Pfaff’s bar at 647 Broadway despite the six-mile journey from his home in Brooklyn. “I used to go to Pfaff’s nearly every night,” he reflects later in life (Karbiener 4).
William Dean Howells publishes the poem "Under the Locust" in the Saturday Press. It is the first of over twenty pieces that the young writer from Ohio publishes in the bohemian literary weekly. Howells admires the New York bohemians from afar, and writes later in life that, “It is not too much to say that it was very nearly as well for one to be accepted by the Press as to be accepted by the Atlantic, and for a time there was no other literary comparison” ("First Impressions").
Ada Clare begins "Thoughts and Things," her weekly column for the Saturday Press. (She starts writing for the Press August 27, 1859.) The title recalls Margaret Fuller’s “Things and Thoughts from Europe” column from a decade earlier. Clare’s column runs until November 17, 1860 and continues in the New York Leader after the demise of the Saturday Press. In the columns she reviews books, theatrical productions, and poetry (including Whitman’s), and protests the double standards facing women writers.
Walt Whitman's poem "A Child's Reminiscence" is published in the Saturday Press as a "Christmas or New Year's present" to readers. (Whitman would later retitle the poem “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.”) The publication of this poem begins a year-long publicity campaign for Whitman that involves reviews and parodies of this and other poems from the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass.
The first issue of the comic weeklyVanity Fair is published. With contributions from many of the Pfaff's bohemians, it aspires to be an American Punch. The “financial angel” of Vanity Fair is Baltimore merchant Frank J. Thompson (Scholnick 150).
Robert W. Pearsall’s name appears alongside Henry Clapp’s as the co-proprietor of the Saturday Press, one week after he publishes his first essay in the Press. According to Thomas Butler Gunn, Ada Clare becomes engaged to Pearsall—who is described as "a weak, well-to-do Fifth Avenoodle”—for the sole purpose of getting his money to fund the floundering Saturday Press (Gunn 12:139-40; "Letter from New York"). Pearsall's last essay for the Saturday Press is in the March 17, 1860 issue; one week later his name no longer appears as co-proprietor. On July 2, 1860, Pearsall marries Elizabeth Woodbridge Phelps ("The Pearsalls").
Walt Whitman receives a letter from the Boston publishing firm of Thayer and Eldridge inviting him to publish a third edition of Leaves of Grass with them. Thayer and Eldridge begin advertising regularly in the pages of the Saturday Press as Henry Clapp and other Press contributors actively promote Whitman’s poetry in support of the new edition.
Walt Whitman publishes the poem “The Errand-Bearers” in The New York Times to commemorate the visit of the Japanese embassy to the United States. The poem is parodied by William Winter as “The Torch-Bearers” in both the Saturday Press and Vanity Fair.
Due to the loss of advertising revenue from Thayer and Eldridge and poor financial management on the part of editor Henry Clapp, Jr., the Saturday Press ceases publication.
Adah Isaacs Menken attempts suicide in her Manhattan apartment (Martin 125).
Many former Saturday Press writers—including Henry Clapp and Ada Clare—move to The New York Leader. The “Thoughts and Things” and “Dramatic Feuilleton” columns continue there, and Walt Whitman writes under the name of “Velsor Brush,” a combination of his mother's and grandmother's names: Louisa Van Velsor and Hannah Brush.
Fred Gray gives Walt Whitman a copy of Frederick Hedges’ Prose Writers of Germany as a farewell gift before Gray joins the Union Army. Whitman keeps the book for the rest of his life, inserting photographs of Gray and others between its pages and keeping a record of his meetings with Gray and members of his family (Blalock 50).
Walt Whitman leaves New York City for the hospitals of Civil War Washington, DC, to look for his brother George, who was wounded in battle.
Ada Clare leaves New York City for San Francisco. The New York Illustrated News runs an illustration of a weeping group of bohemians titled “Departure of the Queen of Bohemia for California—Intense Grief of Her Subjects.” Upon arriving in California Clare writes a column for the Golden Era very similar to the ones she wrote for the Saturday Press and New York Leader.
In under a year after its post-war revival, the Saturday Press ceases publication for a second and final time.
An illustrated advertisement for Charles Pfaff's Restuarant at 653 Broadway is published in the American Enterprise in January 1872 (Blalock 74). The ad features illustrations of a bearded man, who may be Charles Pfaff, serving drinks to his clientele ( Blalock 51-52).
Whitman visits the new Pfaff’s location at 9 West 24th Street and has a drink with Charles Pfaff as the two recall the antebellum glory days.
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015