Walking in a Wheatland Wonderland

Last Thursday I headed to James Buchanan’s Wheatland for the 2nd of 3 lectures in their Presidential Lecture Series. James Buchanan is unfairly criticized by history and often rated as the worst President ever. The first lecture was about the foreign policy of James Buchanan and his many overlooked accomplishments in world affairs. The second lecture was about his close friendship with William Rufus King.

James Buchanan was our only bachelor President, and many stated that he was our first gay President. His close friendship with Rufus King is, they claim, the “smoking gun.”

The lectures are always interesting, but the reception beforehand can prove equally interesting. The hundred or so attendees mill about sipping free wine and voicing their opinions on the subject. At the last lecture I had an interesting discussion with a man named Tom, who was quite knowledgeable on the subject of James Buchanan. This time I had an interesting discussion with a man named Dale, who mentioned that he had also been to visit the home of former President Martin Van Buren. I knew almost nothing about Van Buren, so I was keen to learn a little bit about him. Then, we both wondered why a Connecticut professor had taken such an interest in James Buchanan. Pennsylvanians, like Pulitzer Prize winner, John Updike, could be expected to take an interest in the only President from the Keystone State, but what ever possessed Thomas Balcerski from Connecticut to take an interest in the man.

The answer came in his opening remarks. Tom was gay. So, he had a strong reason to study the life of the man who was perceived by history to be the first gay President. To our surprise, his conclusion was that James Buchanan was probably not gay, though probably not very macho, either.

My problem with the lectures is that they only last an hour, from 4:30 to 5:30, and my friends well know that I would be much happier with lectures that lasted well into the night. James Buchanan is becoming my favorite subject, even surpassing Barnstormer baseball and roller derby, though remaining maybe a level or two below Harness Racing. The other problem with the short lecture is that my bus home doesn’t arrive until 7:10 p.m. Wheatland is only a mile and a half from my apartment, so I could walk home, but nowadays, with my arthritic hip, it takes almost 2 hours to walk a mile and a half, so I might as well wait for the bus.

The last time I stood at the bus stop waiting. This time I decided to use my time more productively. In addition to Wheatland being the home of our 15th President, it also is the location for the Tanger Arboretum. Fall is definitely a great time to observe trees, so I decided to spend the hour and a half I had before the bus came, to wander around the great variety of trees at Wheatland. I wandered over to my favorite tree, a huge sugar maple that commands the front lawn of the property. On my way I noticed great big beautiful pine cones lying on the walkway. I stooped down to pick up the prettiest ones and noticed that the wind was causing a veritable storm of raining pine cones in the area. So, I began scooping up even more. Then, I walked over to the plaque that told about the tree and read that it was a Himalayan Pine indigenous to Southwest China. I gathered a big bagful of the most beautiful specimens.

When I got home, I put the bag down in my living room. The next day I saw a very weird looking insect by the bag. I love nature, but not in my living room, so I gave it a swat. Then I brought the bag of pine cones to my kitchen and proceeded to wash them all in hot soapy water. To my displeasure, I watched the beautiful pine cones close up and lose their beauty. They now just looked like giant wet turds.

So, I removed them from the water and set them out to dry. A day later they just looked like giant drying turds. I figured I would just toss them into the garbage and go back to Wheatland and gather more. Then, an idea hit me. Google. “Google, how do I get closed pine cones to open up?” Without batting an eye, Google replied, line a cookie tray with aluminum foil, and place them on the tray. Then, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place the tray in the oven for 30 minutes.

Thirty minutes later I had a trayful of what looked like hot steaming turds. So, I made an adjustment. These were giant, wet pine cones, not your everyday pine cones. I put them back in the oven for another hour and raised the temperature to 275 degrees. Eureka! It worked. An hour later I had a trayful of beautifully baked Himalayan Pine cones in full bloom. My next step is to turn them into Thanksgiving Turkey decorations, but that’s a project for another day.

 

Meanwhile, back to my day at Wheatland. After I got home, I headed over to Clipper Magazine Stadium, where they’re hosting a Kickball tournament on Thursday nights. A dozen coed teams wearing different colored t-shirts drink lots of beer and have fun kicking a big ball around the outfield. I don’t know very much about the sport of Kickball, but the bar is open, and they show Thursday Night Football on the big screen in Left field, so it’s something fun to attend.

I went to the bar to get a beer. The middle-aged man in front of me handed the barmaid his credit card and said that he wanted to run a tab for all the players in the pink shirts and all the players in the blue shirts. She took his credit card and then asked me what I wanted.

“I’d like a blue t-shirt, please?”

 

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