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James Stanley Connor was born in New York City in 1857, the first and only child of James Connor (1824–1867) and his wife, Kate Irwin Connor (1834–1901). The elder Connor, an Irish-born actor, met Kate Irwin in Lowell, Massachusetts. They married in 1852 and, by 1855, were settled in New York City. In 1859, James Connor opened “a dramatic agency on West Houston Street. His was probably the first of the important agencies” (M. B. Leavitt, Fifty Years of Theatrical Management [New York: Broadway Publishing Company, 1912], p. 269). The business enterprise ended abruptly with Connor’s untimely death, in January 1867, reportedly of consumption, leaving a widow and 10-year-old son. Kate Connor made ends meet by running a tobacco shop on Houston Street, where, one day, John Anderson (1812–1881) stopped in to buy some tobacco. By this time John Anderson was an enormously wealthy man with a fortune in real estate, close connections to the ruling politicians of New York’s Tammany Hall, and a very public past. Anderson had built his financial empire based on a modest tobacco business strategically located across from City Hall in lower Manhattan. When Anderson visited Kate Connor’s tobacco shop, he was said to be interested in purchasing some of his own tobacco which the widow sold there. Various accounts describe Kate as a good-looking woman, perhaps a former actress herself. Uncharitable accounts of Anderson describe him as an inveterate womanizer, involved in an unhappy marriage that had produced four living children. No one denied that the marriage was troubled. At any rate, Anderson was charmed by Kate Connor. Sometime around 1870, Kate Connor seems to have moved in with Anderson. His wife had taken up residence in Virginia, where she died in 1872. There are no records of a marriage between Kate Connor and John Anderson, but she called herself Kate Anderson and lived as his wife. The only impediment to this new domestic bliss was Kate’s son James. With four grown children of his own, Anderson had, apparently, no interest in step-fatherhood. 

In 1904, hearing of the death in Florence, Italy, of the sculptor, J. Stanley Connor, Felix McCloskey volunteered his story. It was published on Sunday, November 4, 1904, in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, headlined “How Young Connor Got His Fortune: The Skeleton in the Closet of the Late Millionaire Tobacconist, John Anderson Revealed. An Actress’ Good Luck: Felix McCloskey Grows Reminiscent After hearing of the Death of a Sculptor in Florence.” McCloskey identified himself as a former business partner of Anderson. He claimed to have visited Anderson at his Fifth Avenue residence and discovered the boy, described by Anderson as “the son of Mrs. Connor. I remarked that it was a shame to have the lad living there under the circumstances. I noticed that Mr. Anderson seemed to pay little attention to him and appeared to want him out of the house.” By McCloskey’s account, he obliged and took young Connor away, arranging for his education. When young Connor came of age, in McCloskey’s story, Anderson “insisted upon the boy leaving the city and going to Europe. I believed at the time he was afraid of young Connor as he came to manhood on account of his associations with his mother.” McCloskey suggested to Connor that he travel in Europe, to which he consented, perhaps without knowing that Anderson was paying the bill. After he arrived in Europe, Connor wrote to McCloskey, saying that he had decided to become a sculptor, and shortly thereafter, sent to McCloskey, through Louis Comfort Tiffany, the portrait bust of Cain now in The Metropolitan Museum. The dates of McCloskey’s chronology do not hold up to inspection, but there is no reason to discard the substance of his account. We do know for fact that Kate Connor was known as Mrs. John Anderson and lived for twenty years after Anderson’s death as his widow. John Anderson died suddenly in Paris in 1881 of pneumonia. His will was complicated with three living children and numerous grandchildren. He left a generous settlement to Mrs. Anderson including his estate in Tarrytown and commercial property in Brooklyn in addition to cash. Although McCloskey claimed “they never married,” given that while portions of Anderson’s will were contested, his settlement to Kate was not, it seems reasonable to speculate that the couple did eventually make the relationship legal. (Among the contested elements of the will was a struggle over the inheritance of parcels of real estate owned by Anderson, which included land at Fifth Avenue and the southern end of Central Park, now the site of the Plaza Hotel.)

Kate Anderson appears to have supported her son in his career in Florence as a sculptor. After Anderson’s death, she lived quietly, preserving enough of the inheritance, despite incursions from spiritualists on whom she relied, to pass on to her son a substantial fortune. Mrs. Anderson died in 1901, a short three years before Connor. It was the challenge to the sculptor’s will that provides additional details of his life. He left “the bulk of his estate ... to Miss Catherina Paffi of Monatlcino, Italy, who was his favorite model” (“Sculptor Connor’s Will,” The New York Sun, May 2, 1905, p. 1). Other accounts describe the couple as having lived together for over twenty years with two children. Connor had taken trouble, in 1903, to have his will written and witnessed in the office of the American Consul in Florence. In addition to the monies left to Miss Paffi, he bequeathed the remaining proceeds of the estate to his aunt, his mother’s sister, Susan Irwin Leonard (1837–1918). The will was challenged by seven descendants of siblings of the Irwin family who claimed the handwritten document was improperly produced and attested. The King’s County (Brooklyn) Surrogate Court judge dispatched an investigator to Florence to interview the witnesses. Based on their report, the will was allowed to stand.

In newspaper coverage of Connor’s death, Owen Langdon, a syndicated society gossip columnist based in New York described Connor as having “lived the life of a recluse” (“A Life Tragedy Ended,” Carlisle Evening Herald [Carlisle, Pennsylvania], November 30, 1904, p. 3). While it is certain that Connor appears to have lived quietly in Florence, avoiding the notoriety that his source of income might have attracted in the United States, there is no reason to assume that his was a lonely or unhappy life. In the 1880s he was occasionally mentioned in notes about American artists in Italy. In 1881, he participated in a benefit performance for a local charity in Florence with other “young men of the American colony” including “Mr. Edward Powers, youngest son of Mr. Hiram Powers, the sculptor.”

Connor is buried in the Protestant Cimitero degli Allori in Florence, where his substantial headstone reads “To the Memory of James Stanley Conner [sic] ... was Good, Honest, Loyal and Died Mourned by All.”

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