The composer of the perennial “Home Sweet Home,” John Howard Payne, once had a large memorial on Sullivan Hill in Prospect Park which featured a large bust of the songwriter sculpted by Henry Baerer, who has a number of other memorials around town to his credit. It remained in place for about a century, from 1873 to 1973, when vandals finally managed to topple it. The city reacquired it and put it in storage on Randalls Island, but then, the Home Sweet Home Museum in East Hampton in Suffolk County acquired it and currently displays it there.
John Howard Payne (1791-1852) was a songwriter, actor and ambassador who enjoyed most of his success in Britain. He later worked extensively with the Cherokee Indian tribe, which he postulated was one of the lost tribes of Israel. “Home, Sweet Home” was written in 1822 and remained extremely popular for decades — it was sung by both Union and Confederate troops and was a favorite of President Lincoln, who had an opera singer perform it at the White House after the death of his son Willie. For all of Payne’s talent as an actor, songwriter and playwright, he struggled with money issues for much of his career.
The museum includes a small cottage built in the colonial period which for many years was associated with Payne, and the assumption was that he had resided there in his youth and wrote the song in its honor. However, after the museum did some digging in property records in the mid-2000s, it discovered that Payne had no real or lasting connection to the cottage. Still, it seems like the song and the house are inextricably linked and so, the bust remains there.
Me, I remember it how Bugs Bunny did it in “Upswept Hare”:
“Be it ever so crumbly, there’s no place like Rome; Nero, he was the emperor and the palace was his home. But he liked to play with matches and for a fire yearned, so he turned Rome to ashes and fiddled whiled it burned!”
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