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Ottarson, Franklin J. (1816-1884)

Editor, Journalist, Reformer

Also known by the alias “Bayard," Franklin J. Ottarson was a successful New York journalist, editor, and civil servant. Born in Watertown, New York, Ottarson learned the trade of the printing business in a Whig newspaper (possibly the Whig or the Tribune Almanac) (Brockway 172). Under the editorship of Horace Greeley, Ottarson was part of the “very strong” Tribune staff of 1854 along with Bayard Taylor (Brockway 141). Ottarson is perhaps best remembered for his editorship, first at the Tribune and later at the New York Times. Junius Henri Browne characterizes him as “for five and twenty years a city journalist, nearly all of which he has spent in the service of the Tribune” (156). After Henry J. Raymond assumed his seat in Congress and abdicated his editorship of the New York Times, Ottarson took over these responsibilities. He is characterized by an article in the Independent as “a gentleman who, we believe, is never remembered to have been young, but who is the kindest of editors to juvenile applicants with manuscripts” (“The Young Men of the New York Press” 4).

Junius Browne and Mark Lause identify Ottarson as part of the Pfaff’s fraternity as does Henry Clapp’s obituary, which lauds him as "Frank Ottarson, who stirred up the Bohemians so savagely in the Round Table, [and] was an occasional visitor" to Pfaff’s (Browne 156-7; Lause 49; "Obituary" 7). In fact, it is presumed that pieces published in the Round Table criticizing the group at Pfaff's can be attriubuted to Ottarson. These criticisms likely inspired Frank Bellew's illustration of the group of artists and writers at Pfaff's subtitled as "they were said to be by a knight of the Round Table" (Cottom 159, 320n.45; "The Vault at Pfaff's" Homepage). Lause notes that Ottarson "remained close to [Henry] Clapp," the so-called king of the Pfaffians and was also Horace "Greeley's 'trusted assistant and friend," who was another individual linked to Pfaff's (41).

Later, Ottarson became a Councilman for New York and was the Chairman of the third National Quarantine and Sanitary Convention held in New York April 27-30, 1859. The records of the proceedings reflect that Ottarson offered “additional proof of the well-earned reputation which the Metropolitan has long enjoyed” (Proceedings 617). He also helped to bring down New York's infamous Tweed Ring by providing evidence of voter fraud the organization had facilitated and suppported. At the time of Clapp's death in 1875, Ottarson was described as a federal officeholder who continued to dabble in journalism (“Obituary” 7). Ottarson "died in 1884 at seventy-five 'in a very feeble condition brought on by hard work and irregular habits'"(Lause 118).