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
ossia, la fanciulla di Milano"): Victorian/Edwardian
ballads needed the right provenance (if pre-Victorian, like
The verse would be sung by homesick Civil War
be it ever so humble,
there’s no place like home
they turned to the refrain that never features the collocation of the
title, "Home, sweet home":
There’s no place like home, oh,
there’s no place like
The story of Payne’s connection to the house in this scenic village
East End of Long Island is almost as sentimental as the emotions
in the song, which the museum was founded in 1928 to celebrate.
There’s just one problem, to use Popper's terminology.
Payne wasn’t born there.
He never lived there.
top, the cottage was not the inspiration for the song.
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
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
One reason it gained currency is because Payne did have some
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,
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
Popper might prefer, but never 'falsified') that
although the home might
have been sweet for someone, that someone was never Payne.
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
the Popperian problem becomes: what does a museum do when it turns out
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
The site is now less about Payne and his operatic aria, and
Gustav and Hannah Buek, a wealthy couple from New York who
cottage in 1907.
The ironic thing is that the Bueks
purchased this summer cottage because
they were charmed by the “Home Sweet
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
East Hampton no longer relies on the myth of John Howard Payne
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
a dining room table set for dinner.
The original Georgian
paneling from 1750 has also been restored to
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.
Hamptonians, alla Popper, now can proudly say that they (via this
firm) pretty much proved (or 'corroborated') that Payne never lived
But, figuratively, East Hamptonians, can still implicate, via a
speech, that they still got his "head."