Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Buchanan

Since I’ve been here in Lancaster. I’ve enjoyed many lectures at Wheatland, the former home of James Buchanan, our 15th President. The scene shifted on President’s day, though, and the lecture was held at a local bar, The Shot and Bottle, just a few blocks from my apartment. It was the best lecture so far. Stephanie, from Lancaster History, spoke on the theme of the evening, the life of Harriet Lane, Buchanan’s niece.

Since it was a bar, I started the evening, of course, with a beer. Then I looked at the President’s Day appetizer menu. The items included Buchanan Balls, Polk Stickers, Eisenchowder, Roosevelt Fireside Catch Tacos, Barackoli and Shrimp Salad, Bernie Sandler, Kennedy Fried Chicken, Trump Roast, Sherbert Hoover, and Washington Apples. I began with Buchanan Balls, breaded and fried sausage, beef, onion and sauerkraut served with sprouts, Dusselforf mustard and cucumber aioli.

It reminded me of the old joke about the tourist in Spain who looks at the menu and orders the Matador’s Surprise. It turns out to be a huge pair of baked bull balls. Though a little odd, they are so delicious than on his second night in Spain the tourist goes back to the same restaurant and once again orders the Matador’s Surprise. This time, however, he receives two very tiny balls, and he asks the waiter, how come it is so different from the meal he had on the first night. The waiter quickly explained that “Sometimes, senor, the bull wins.”

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They turned out to be delicious, and the effect of the positioning of the sprouts got me laughing even more than that old joke did.

Two actors dressed as James Buchanan and Harriet Lane wandered around the room all evening, chatting with all the attendees and making themselves available for pictures. “Harriet” and I chatted for a long time, and she even displayed her Victorian-era curtsy move, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get that on camera.

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I had a nice chat with the speaker, Stephanie, before she got up to present her lecture on Harriet Lane, and, unfortunately, the picture below does not do her justice. She, and the blonde on the far right of the bar, both had very pretty eyes, which were nothing like the “deer in the headlights eyes,” which reflected the bright flash of my camera.

Stephanie at Shot and Bottle

When the talk was over, I spoke with Robin from the Lancaster History, who reminds me of Robin Scherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother. We debated the merits of James Buchanan’s Presidency. Since I seemed to be Jimmy’s biggest fan in the room, a member of the LH invited me to volunteer to be a guide on the Wheatland house tours. I’m going to take them up on the offer, and I pity the tourist fool who tries to tell me that James Buchanan wasn’t a great President. They just might find themselves drowning in James Buchanan’s bathtub.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Royal Treatment

 

Harriet Lane, Queen Victoria, me, and an unwrinkled President Buchanan

June 1st is the birthday of Marilyn Monroe, Morgan Freeman, Heidi Klum, and Amy Schumer.  This June 1st was also the 151st Anniversary of the death of President James Buchanan.  His historic home, Wheatland, is just a few miles from my apartment, so I made my second trip there to pay honor to the man on this solemn occasion.  I’m glad I did.  Normally a guide takes you on a tour of the mansion, but, on this day, because of its significance, we had two guides, and there were also two special guests.  Two very beautiful local actresses in full costume played the roles of Queen Victoria and Buchanan’s beloved niece, Harriet Lane.  The ten of us on the three o’clock tour entered the room where the two actresses were sitting opposite each other, and they played out a scene for us.  They reenacted the moment in Buckingham Palace when Queen Victoria asked the enormously popular Harriet to remain in England after her Uncle finished his duties as Ambassador to England and returned to the States. 

Halfway through their scene, the Queen noticed the t-shirt I was wearing and directed a question to me.  “Is that a picture of Harriet’s uncle on your shirt?”

“Yes, your Majesty,” I responded a little nervously, as if I was actually speaking to royalty.  The “Queen” told me that she approved, and I beamed with pride that she had interrupted the scene to speak with little old me.  Well, she didn’t exactly interrupt the scene, she incorporated me into the scene.  Both she and the actress playing Harriet remained in character while they told me how much they liked the shirt.  The “Queen” then involved me further into the scene by asking for my opinion about whether or not Harriet should remain in England or return to the States with her uncle.  At that point, I really wanted to break out my phone and get a selfie with the two lovely actresses, but I don’t think they had smart phones in the Victorian era, and I didn’t want to break the magical spell of the reenactment.  Where are the paparazzi when you need them?

After the tour, I wandered around Wheatland for a while, walking in the footsteps of America’s most underrated President.  Some historians even claim that he was the worst President the U.S. ever had.  That’s a sad situation, which I hope to rectify with a play I am writing about him and his Wheatland family.

President Buchanan was unmarried, so when he was in the White House, his niece Harriet Lane handled the social calendar, and she was the first woman that the newspapers referred to as “The First Lady.”  She parlayed her popularity in Europe by being even more popular here as The First Lady.  She played piano and especially enjoyed the songs of fellow Pennsylvanian, Stephen Foster.  She also loved to dance, and she planned an elaborate ball at the White House when her friend the Prince of Wales made the first visit of a member of the British Royal Family to their former colonies.  Many Americans, especially in the Northeast, were suffering the effects of the Panic of 1857 at the time, and President Buchanan did not think it was proper for there to be dancing in the White House while Americans were out of work and going hungry. So, he made her change her plans from a grand ball to a State Dinner.  She was disappointed, but she understood.  So, there was no dancing in the White House while he was President, but there was dancing in the street when he returned home to his home, Wheatland, in 1861.

I took a bus home and it went past Buchanan Park, which is just south of Franklin and Marshall College, where James Buchanan was the first President of their Board of Trustees.  The place was packed with people.  There were so many vendors tents that it looked like a camp grounds.  I don’t know what occasion they were celebrating, because I didn’t get off the bus to find out.  I was just happy to see so many hundreds of people having a good time in Buchanan Park. I only hoped that they were all somewhat aware of the historical significance of the day.   James Buchanan loved the places and the people of Lancaster, and the people of Lancaster loved him right back.  More than 20,000 people came to his funeral 151 years ago, even though he had requested a small simple service.  A century and a half later, he is still beloved by the people of Lancaster, and they are still dancing in the street for him.

 Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Tippy Toe

Marianne, who has watched every Seinfeld show, reminded me of an episode where George Costanza used his invented code word “Tippy Toe” to signal Jerry that somebody was entering the room. It was right at the beginning of Marianne’s annual St. Patrick’s and Birthday party. I was talking about my latest big interest, James Buchanan. She told me that she would use the word “Tippy Toe,” if she thought I was talking too much about James Buchanan.

Then she said, “Tippy Toe” and went back to her other guests.

Eventually, other people at the party picked up on the signal, and I got a total of 24 “Tippy Toes” over the course of the evening. In my defense, I was wearing a James Buchanan T-Shirt (an item which can only be found here in Lancaster, his hometown). It was a conversation starter.  Many of Marianne’s guests are theatre people, so I was talking about the play I’m writing to boost the poor image we have of our 15th President. “It takes place during the Civil War,” I said.

“Oh, so it’s a musical,” Liz quipped.

“No,” I said, laughing, but then after a moment in thought, I said, it might contain some songs by Stephen Foster. Why not? He’s from Pennsylvania, too – and the same era as Buchanan, and his songs are in the public domain.”

“Tippy Toe.”

“Old Folks at Home?

“Tippy Toe.”

“Battle Hymn of the Republic?”

“Tippy Toe.”

I got the most “Tippy Toes” from Patrick, who gave me four of them. The last one was just for looking like I was gonna start talking about Buchanan.

It was a learning experience for me, as I searched for the episodes in Buchanan’s life that most interested a theatre-going audience. I found out what worked.

Very little.

Cool, I thought. Edison spent years testing over 10,000 elements, eliminating them until he was able to find Unobtanium, or whatever was the one substance he would use for a filament for his new light bulb. In just one night, I found out 100 things that the audience doesn’t want. A very famous sculptor, maybe it was Michelangelo, once said, I take a block of marble and chisel off the parts that are not whatever it is I want that statue to be. Me, too. I just have to chisel away the parts of my Buchanan’s story that the audience doesn’t like, which is pretty much everything between, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen” and “Good night. Drive safely.”

They liked the funny stuff, but there wasn’t a lot of funny stuff.

That settles it. Buchanan, a Rock Between Two Hard Places will now be a musical comedy.

I’m just gonna need more funny stuff.  Way more funny stuff.

Did you hear the one about Buchanan, a priest, and a rabbi walking into a bar…?

I know. Tippy Toe.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

James Buchanan: A Rock Between Two Hard Places

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Usually when historians are asked to rate the U.S. Presidents, they put James Buchanan at the bottom.  I think this is very unfair.  He was a very good President, who just happened to be elected at the very worst time in U.S. history.

The country was on the verge of Civil War when he was elected in 1856.  Abolitionists in the North desperately wanted to crush slavery and the South along with it.  Secessionists in the South were afraid of the dire consequences they would have to face if slavery, which had legally existed in America for 200 years, was outlawed and 4 million negroes were suddenly free to take merciless revenge on their masters.  Buchanan had to use everything he learned during his forty plus years of public service to keep the powder keg from exploding, and he managed to do so.  Then the election of Abraham Lincoln lit the fuse, and all Hell broke loose.

Rather than acknowledging Buchanan’s peace keeping efforts, both sides immediately blamed him for the war.  Though Buchanan had strong sympathies for the South, he was also a strong Unionist and, for the sake of the preservation of the Union, he had to endure the lies that were spread about him by both sides.  He didn’t want to further incite the South, so he couldn’t level blame on them for seceding, and he didn’t want to cast aspersions on the new President during wartime by blaming Republicans and Abolitionists for driving the South to secede.  He was literally a rock between two hard places, and for the sake of the Union had to take the abuse that was heaped on him without defending himself.  His silence only caused both sides to increase their level of abuse until his reputation was utterly destroyed.

He did not wish to stand idly by, though, and he wrote his memoirs to correct all the lies that were being spoken and printed about him.  He loved his country so much, though, that he refused to publish his defense until the War was over.  Then the Civil War dragged on and on for years and by the time he published his memoirs in 1866 it was already too late to save his reputation.  History had already painted him as the villain, and he knew that a century would have to go by before his name could ever hope to be cleared.  Unfortunately, a century and a half has gone by, and historians still fail to give him a fair trial.  I’m sure they feel that removing blame for the Civil War from Buchanan would force them to place some of the blame on Abolitionists and Lincoln, and that just ain’t gonna happen.  Lincoln had already been made into a god.  After all, Lincoln freed the slaves, and he was the victim of an assassination.  He’s one of the four Presidents on Mount Rushmore.  His place in history was literally and perpetually carved in stone.  So, Buchanan has to continue suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”  Maybe, it will be another century before James Buchanan can get a fair hearing with historians and escape the bottom ranking…unless, of course, if Donald Trump continues the way he’s going.

Our representatives are chosen in free elections.  The best way to get good representatives in government is for the people to study the issues, study the candidates, and be sure to vote.  Tomorrow is Election Day.  Vote wisely.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl