Known in the New York journals as "the Literary Policeman," George S. McWatters was a New York City police officer who occasionally visited Pfaff's and there earned the respect of the bar's bohemian patrons (McWatters xix). A.L. Rawson writes, "McWatters was a genial and kind-hearted policeman, and fond of children. When Ada [Clare]'s boy came he named him 'the Prince,' and the title was at once accepted by the coterie. . . . The coterie [at Pfaff's] helped to get him appointed on the 'force,' where he served until retired for long and faithful service" (107). William Winter further cements his connection to Pfaff's with a letter that he sent along with a collection of Fitz-James O'Brien's works writing, "You were so long & so intimately associated with that merry company that the reading of these pages cannot fail to revive remembrances of the past" (Winter [Letter]).
It was McWatters who led "a committee representing many acquaintances of [Henry] Clapp in New York" in making sure that Clapp's remains were given a proper burial in his hometown of Nantucket ("Current Memoranda" 714). The fact that McWatters would do Clapp this service suggests that a strong relationship had developed between the two during the time they spent together at Pfaff's. McWatters was also the author of a number of books about detective work, including Knots Untied: or, Ways and By-Ways in the Hidden LIfe of American Detectives (1871), Detectives of Europe and America (1877), The Gambler's Wax Finger and Other Startling Detective Experiences (1892), and Forgers and Confidence Men (1892).
Believed to be born in Kilmarnock, Scotland, McWatters was taken at a young age to Northern Ireland, where he was raised and educated. He worked there for a time as a mechanic, before moving to London, continuing his trade and marrying a "most estimable lady" with whom he would have six children (McWatters 22). He and his wife came to America and he studied law in Philadelphia from 1848-1849. He found collecting debts from the poor was not to his liking and he migrated to California, but, disheartened by the lawlessness there, he left for New York City after nine months. Once in New York, he became "associated with Laura Keene, the actress, as her agent in New York and Buffalo"(McWatters 27). He also became a lecturer on California, served as the agent of Lola Montez, the Countess of Lansfeldt, and pursued a career as a private detective. McWatters entered the Metropolitan Police force in 1858 and served for 12 years until his retirement from the force on October 17, 1870.
The article notes that "The remains of the late Henry Clapp, Jr., have been buried at Nantucket, his native place, under the direction of Mr. George S. McWatters, of a committee representing many acquaintances of Mr. Clapp in New York."
George S. McWatters, a New York City police officer, was the author of Knots United: Or, Ways and By-ways in the Hidden Life of American Detectives (Hartford: J. B. Burr and Hyde, 1871).
McWatters is identified as one of "the friends of Henry Clapp in the city of New York," but not necessarily a Pfaffian.[pages:714]
Reports that McWatters died of pneumonia on April 7, 1886, at the age of 74 and lists a number of his accomplishments.
McWatters is credited with contributing towards a granite monument for Clapp's grave site.[pages:9]
McWatters was a native Scot and a friend of Henry Clapp's. After moving around, McWatters found work as a booking agent for Laura Keene and others in the theater. Solving some minor mysteries in the theatrical community led to his eventual job as a private detective (28).
Known as "Officer Mac" during his detective days, McWatters founded the Lost Children's Bureau (85).
McWatters managed to occupy many different, seemingly contradictory, roles in society: "Perhaps at no other point in our history could anyone have so seamlessly combined the roles of policeman and private detective, theater critic and social critic, ardent Republican and lifelong labor radical" (85).[pages:2, 28, 42, 85, 87, 92-93, 96, 110-111, 118-119]
Pages 23-70 contain a shortened version of the biography of McWatters found in Knots Untied by "a well known literary gentleman of New York." The remainder of the work contains a number of stories by McWatters about his exploits in addition to those from various European detectives.
Pages 21-112 contain a biography of McWatters written by "a well known literary gentleman of New York," signed as simply "S." The remainder of the work is written by McWatters himself and recounts his various adventures as a detective.
The bookseller L. W. Currey, Inc. once auctioned a copy of William Winter's The Poems and Stories of Fitz-James O'Brien (1881) that was apparently Winter's presentation copy to George S. McWatters. In a letter to McWatters included with the book, Winter recalls the heyday of the bohemian scene at Pfaff's.
Full text of the letter:
"Dear Mr. McWatters: I feel sure that you will find something to like in this book, and that you will sympathize with the purpose and spirit of my endeavor to rescue from forgetfulness the fast-perishing memory of our old friends of the Long Table and the Cave. You were so long & so intimately associated with that merry company that the reading of these pages cannot fail to revive remembrances of the past. I hope they will be pleasant and that the figure of the editor & biographer will not seem over prominent in the picture. Yours faithfully, William Winter."
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015