The nation had endured its bloody civil war. Great change had come since the actor, author and statesman John Howard Payne passed away in Tunisia in April 1852, though the politics of the post-bellum Reconstruction and Jim Crow kept much the same. The American worker was marching steadily away from the farm towards the factory, and the world we live in, complex, technological, fast, deeply interconnected, was being born. From a novel of Mark Twain’s and Charles Dudley Warner’s, we know the time as the Gilded Age.

Still, people were people, and nostalgia for times past, when “life was simpler,” came as it does now. William Wilson Corcoran, a millionaire banker, philanthropist and art collector from Georgetown, Washington, D.C., recalled having seen John Howard Payne perform at every opportunity when he was a boy in 1807.

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