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Gunn, Thomas Butler (1826-1904)

Illustrator, Journalist, Playwright, War Correspondent

Born and raised in England, Thomas Butler Gunn first worked as an illustrator for the famous British satirical journal Punch. In 1849, Gunn moved to New York City, where he quickly found work drawing for the city’s comic papers, including the New York Reveille, Nick Nax, the New York Picayune, the Lantern, and Yankee Notions (Faflik xiii, xiv). He also took up writing and editing. In 1857, he published the Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses (New York: Mason Brothers), a humorous description of boarding-house life. The book was illustrated by Gunn’s friends Frank Bellew, Alfred R. Waud, and John Andrew.

In 1886, Gunn was mentioned in an article that referred to an old New York Bohemian Club that frequented "Pfaaf's [sic]" (“Our New York Letter” 64). After this article was published, playwright and politician Thomas Dunn English wrote to the editor to call into question the validity of the piece, describing Gunn as “a correct, upright, and decorous gentleman, anything but a Bohemian, as the term is generally understood.” (“That Club at Pfaaf’s [sic]” 202). However, Gunn’s own diaries (now owned by the Missouri History Museum), tell a different story, confirming his regular visits to Pfaff’s beginning in 1859. Gunn had a large circle of friends, and his entries provide a fascinating and detailed look at the many individuals who were part of the “Pfaff clique” including Walt Whitman, Frank Bellew, Ada Clare, Sol Eytinge, Thomas Nast, and Mortimer Thompson. Still, Gunn never considered himself a Bohemian, despite his close connections with the group. In fact, his entries reveal his disdain for many aspects of the Bohemian lifestyle.

During the Civil War, Gunn became a Civil War correspondent; one anonymous journalist notes, "his letters were full of good matter, and his style excellent." He was stationed in Charleston prior to Abraham Lincoln's Presidential Inauguration. He wrote for the Evening Post and later the New York Tribune (“Reminiscences of an Old American Publisher, No. III” 127). Gunn and other Northern reporters in the South had to take special precautions to protect themselves: they wore blue secession cockades on their lapels, wrote their reports in an elaborate code, and addressed their reports to New York banks and commercial houses who had agreed to work as fronts (Starr 21).

Gunn returned to England in 1863, where he continued his career as a writer. He remained in England for the rest of his life (Faflik xxviii).