The Old English sheepdog can adapt to a rural setting such as East Hampton.
But apparently Payne couldn't.
This should interest historians interested in tune-changing.
For years, visitors to the "Home Sweet Home" "cottage", just a few blocks
west of East Hampton’s fancy shopping district, have been told:
-- that this 1750 saltbox was the birthplace of Payne, and
-- that it was the house he had in mind when he wrote the lyrics to what
would become one of the most famous drawing-room ballads of the 19th century
(from "Clari; ossia, la fanciulla di Milano"): Victorian/Edwardian
withdrawing-room ballads needed the right provenance (if pre-Victorian, like
"Clari", the better).
The verse would be sung by homesick Civil War soldiers:
be it ever so humble,
there’s no place like home
as they turned to the refrain that never features the collocation of the
title, "Home, sweet home":
sweet, sweet, home
There’s no place like home, oh,
there’s no place like home.
The story of Payne’s connection to the house in this scenic village on the
East End of Long Island is almost as sentimental as the emotions expressed
in the song, which the museum was founded in 1928 to celebrate.
There’s just one problem, to use Popper's terminology.
It’s not true.
Payne wasn’t born there.
He never lived there.
On top, the cottage was not the inspiration for the song.
Talk about Putnam's 'causal constraint'!
Payne is actually thought to have been born in the Upper East Side of
Manhattan, the sixth of nine children born to William Payne, who was from
Massachusetts, if you need to know.
His mother, the former Sarah Isaacs, grew up in East Hampton -- "So his
mother may have been the inspiration", Geary guesses.
The institution’s original premise was based on local folklore perpetuated
in the late 19th century -- etymythology, as it were, when the opera aria
sung by Clari was still well known.
One reason it gained currency is because Payne did have some legitimate
East Hampton connections.
His father taught at The Clinton Academy, across the street from the "Home
Sweet Home" cottage, before Payne was born. (The academy is now a museum,
And one of Payne's aunts may once have lived in the house.
A few years ago, two historic preservation consultants, combed through two
centuries’ worth of land ownership and census records, and determined (or
'corroborated', as Popper might prefer, but never 'falsified') that
although the home might have been sweet for someone, that someone was never
This was a singular, not a universal, discovery.
Documents uncovered by the East Hampton preservation consultants suggest
that the house was NOT the inspiration for the operatic aria, in particular
an angry letter from Payne’s grandnephew to The New York Herald Tribune when
the museum first opened, decrying "the whole story as a fiction". Curtius
would be amused, for following Toynbee, he conceived of all _history_ as
So, the Popperian problem becomes: what does a museum do when it turns out
that its longstanding narrative is wrong?
Home Sweet Home has been rearranging its exhibits and refocusing its
interpretive tours, following American Alliance of Museums standards to present
accurate and appropriate content.”
The site is now less about Payne and his operatic aria, and more about
Gustav and Hannah Buek, a wealthy couple from New York who purchased the
cottage in 1907.
The ironic thing is that the Bueks purchased this summer cottage because
they were charmed by the “Home Sweet Home” legend.
In one letter to her sister, Mrs. Buek writes, "Gustav BELIEVES the story:
I just like the location", with a ps., "And admittedly, it is an EASY (too
easy) aria to play and sing!"
When Gustav Buek died, the village bought the house from Hanna Buek, and,
as it was amply furnished with all sorts of the operatic aria paraphernalia
that the couple had collected, turned it into the "museum."
It was a hit with a generation old enough to recall the operatic aria,
which had been one of Abraham Lincoln’s favourites -- and he could whistle. "I
can whistle two tunes: one is Payne's "Home, Sweet Home"; the other ain't",
he used to joke.
East Hampton no longer relies on the myth of John Howard Payne having been
born in East Hampton.
East Hampton is a place to _summer_, not to be born at!
But, for what is worth, the myth is why the Bueks bought the cottage in the
Relying on an insurance inventory from 1916, museum administrators have
restored the house to the way it was during the Colonial Revival period of the
early 20th century.
Now visitors see Mrs. Buek’s extensive collection of lusterware dishes and
a dining room table set for dinner.
The original Georgian paneling from 1750 has also been restored to
reinforce architectural authenticity.
Original objects or artifacts are viewed as inherently trustworthy, said a
senior consultant for the museum research and development arm of Reach
Advisors, the firm in Quincy, Mass., that conducted the survey.
Some applaud the efforts of museums like "Home Sweet Home" to set the
Mary Busch, a full-time East Hampton resident (but once only part of the
summer colony) who has been visiting Home Sweet Home since she began spending
summers in the area, likes the museum’s new emphasis.
As for the "reinterpretation" "playing down" the Payne connection, she
"I’m not sure you have to deny the connection to Payne or the operatic
Admittedly, it would be hard for the cottage to disengage entirely from
Payne or the operatic aria. A colossal bust of Payne (if not the operatic
aria) greets visitors at the entrance.
The bust proved too large to move.
East Hamptonians, alla Popper, now can proudly say that they (via this
Mass. firm) pretty much proved (or 'corroborated') that Payne never lived here.
But, figuratively, East Hamptonians, can still implicate, via a figure of
speech, that they still got his "head."
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