On this day on November 18th 1865, a short story by an little-known writer appeared on page 8 of the New York Saturday Press, entitled “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”. The story would later be re-titled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. Its author was Mark Twain–it was his first published work.
The Saturday Press was a short lived publication which ran in two stints, from 1858-1860 and again from 1865-66. The publisher was a Henry Clapp Jr, known sometimes as the ‘King of Bohemia’. He was part of a literary circle that met at Pfaff’s Beer Cellar at 647 Broadway (the building still stands and the underground cellar is still there), a popular watering hole founded by German immigrant Charles Pfaff. Clapp’s circle included author Walt Whitman, actor Edwin Booth, actress and author Adah Menken, author Ada Clare, composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and humorist Artemus Ward. It was Ward, a friend of Twain, who submitted the short story to the Saturday Press.
Clapp wanted the Saturday Press to be New York’s version of the Atlantic Monthly, the prestigious literary magazine published in Boston. He tried to differentiate by hiring women authors such as Menken and Clare. It was also a significant platform for Whitman. The paper published 11 of his poems from Leaves of Grass.
Unfortunately the Bohemian ethos of the publisher wasn’t very good for the Saturday Press‘s finances and it had a very short life. But its legacy would last for generations. Clapp and his Pfaff’s literary group are often considered the birth of Greenwich Village as a literary and bohemian enclave. Mark Twain himself would reside at two different addresses later in his life not far from Pfaffs; and countless other writers would flock to the neighborhood in coming decades.