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Urner, Nathan Dane (1839-1893)

Editor, Poet, Journalist, Short Story Writer

An editor, poet, journalist, and short story writer, Nathan Dane Urner had a prosperous literary career, serving as the city editor of the New York Tribune (Current Literature 479) as well as publishing poems like “Consolation,” “A Lesson in Skating,” “The Harvest Meeting,” and “The Snow Sprites” in periodicals like The Independent, Scribner’s, The Continent, and The Massachusetts Ploughman. Urner also wrote sensational short stories like “The Singer’s Ghost” (1882) and “The Fatal Chamber” (1884) which appeared in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly.

The sensational flavor of these tales carried over to his reporting in at least one famous instance. Called a “facetious reporter” by P.T. Barnum for his “amusing” account of the fire which destroyed Barnum’s American Museum in New York (242), Urner’s story appeared in the Tribune the next day, July 14, 1865, was reprinted by provincial papers, and was included in Barnum’s memoirs.

In the article Urner states that the view from his window afforded a direct view into Barnum’s third floor menagerie. Urner describes in detail the suffering and death of the lion, tiger, monkeys, snake, whale, and other animals; he also details the escape of several creatures including an eagle, a snake, tropical birds, monkeys, and an orangutan that appeared at the window of Herald editor James Gordon Bennett while snakes, “true to their instincts, sought shelter in the World and News offices. Tongue firmly in cheek, Urner relates that a large black bear escaped from the burning Museum into Ann street, and then made his way into Nassau, and down that thoroughfare into Wall, where his appearance caused a sensation” (Barnum 244) and resulted in rapidly falling shares in the market. While the bears and bulls fought one another for dominance in the market, Urner also relates that firemen rushed into the building to retrieve the famous wax figures: “The full length statue of P.T. Barnum fell down of its own accord, as if disgusted with the whole affair. A red-shirted fireman seized with either hand Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan by their coat-collars, tucked the Prince Imperial of France, under one arm, and the Veiled Murderess under the other, and coolly departed for the street” (Barnum 243).

In addition to his poems, sensational stories, and colorful journalism, Urner also published works using the pseudonym Burke Brentford (Haynes 19). As Brentford, he published Florence Falkland, Gold Dust Darrell and Lost in New York. These works may have been dime novels as a mention of them appears in Frank P. O’Brien’s The Beadle Collection of Dime Novels [Printed at the NYPL] (1922).

Urner is remembered as one of the “fruitful literary workers” who led a “retired” life after the Pfaff’s period as did writers like Charles G. Leland (Current Literature 479). He is also cited as a “valuable authority” on the lives of itinerant, indigent child minstrels in the city (E. W. Martin 126), based on work he published in Packard’s Monthly, November 1868.