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Oscanyan, Christopher Bey (1818-?)

Editor, Journalist, Lecturer, Novelist, Playwright, Politician, Translator, Travel Writer

Hatchik Oscanyan was born in Constantinople, Turkey. He later changed his name to Christopher. As an Armenian resident of the Ottoman Empire, he came to the United State for an education, but he decided to stay after he completed his studies at New York University (Nance 56; Lause 52). Scholar Susan Nance describes Oscanyan, along with Bayard Taylor, as individuals who "labored to sell various Ex Oriente Lux messages about the East in a growing information and publicity infrastructure that was taking shape in the 1840s, just as they both came to public notice" (54-5). Oscanyan first appeared on the public scene through his lecture series in 1838 given to the audience of "church societies of middling folk" (Nance 56). After returning to Istanbul for some time, he came back to New York and married an American woman, Mari Louisa, in 1849 (Nance 58). A man who "foster[ed] a rare cosmopolitanism," Oscanyan opened a Turkish coffee house at 625 Broadway in early 1855, but it eventually failed (Lause 52). Oscanyan returned to the lecture circuit during the 1850s and 1860s, and some of his lectures were mentioned in newspapers such as the New York Daily Times (Nance 58).

It was during this time that Oscanyan became connected to Pfaff's and several of the individuals who were regulars there. A. L. Rawson describes him as a friend of Ada Clare, which is echoed by Gay Getty who referred to as Clare's "royal Captive, the Grand Seignor of Turkey." His connection with Clare does not place him at Pfaff’s; however, it does indicate that he was part of the Bohemian crowd that routinely gathered at Clare’s 42nd Street home (Getty 2, Rawson 102). Scholar Mark Lause interprets Rawson's recollection that Oscanyan was an "occasional caller" at Clare's home to mean that he was somehow connected to Pfaff's as well (52). Similarly, Susan Nance connects him to the Bohemian scene in New York writing that Oscanyan was "a regular in the bohemian salon of Ada Clare, where he rubbed shoulders with a group of unconventional young Americans likewise making their way as writers by lecturing, publishing, and theater work." Further, Nance argues that the contacts Oscanyan made with Bohemians helped him get his book, The Sultan and His People, which was published in 1857 "through the publication process" (60). The book, described in a review published in the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, was “devoted to sketches of the present condition, national customs, and peculiar institutions of the Turkish people” (120).

During the Civil War, Oscanyan left the United States for London, where he became involved in an expensive plan to establish a Turkish-style public steam bath. He later served as the Ottoman consul in New York from 1868 to 1874. Remembering Oscanyan, Nance writes that "he prospered by comming across as friendly and well meaning, adopting many American ways but remaining just Eastern enough, with his fez and Turkish accent, to flatter American interest in consmopolitan consumption" yet "he never produced the sheer volumes of information in easily digestible forms that most literary stars did" (64).