Issue # 17
July 21, 2000
Searching for Buchanan
By Rich Wilhelm

July 3, 2000 dawned clear and beautiful, with just a hint in the air of the heat that would later envelop the day.

Actually, I have absolutely no idea how July 3, 2000 dawned.  The evening before, Donna, Jimmy and I went down to my parents’ house, ultimately winding up at the July 4th fireworks in Linwood, PA.  We arrived back at our house sometime after midnight.  An evening at Pap Pap’s and Grandma’s, followed by fireworks, had thoroughly exhausted Jimmy, so much so that the next morning he did the unthinkable for a toddler: he slept late.  We all stumbled out of bed around 10:00.  We had missed the glory of the dawn, but to tell you the truth, we were all much happier sleeping.

Even though we woke up late, I was in the mood for an impulsive road trip involving a dead president, so I said, “OK, let’s go to Lancaster to find James Buchanan’s gravesite!”  Donna was amenable to that and Jimmy simply liked the idea of going for a ride, so around noon we all jumped in the car, popped a Blue’s Clues CD into the player for Jimmy’s entertainment, and zoomed straight up to the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

We actually didn’t “zoom.”  We got in the car and put the CD on.  We pulled out of our driveway and drove two blocks.  We then realized we had not packed Jimmy’s stroller.  Since we had no idea what kind of walking we’d be doing, we turned around, picked up the stroller and set out again.

Our next stop was the supermarket, where we bought film.  This was followed by a stop at the gas station to fill up.

At this point we were beginning to feel a bit unspontaneous but we were ready to hit the open road.  Zipping down Route 113, headed toward our rendezvous with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Jimmy said, “I’m hungry.”

“But Jimmy, you’re eating goldfish crackers,” I replied.

“No.  I need to eat something more.  I need to eat dinner.”

Since it was only around 12:30, it wasn’t dinner Jimmy was seeking, but lunch.  In our mad rush to travel, we had not considered lunch.  Fortunately, one of those fast food restaurants with the golden arches was nearby, so we stopped for a bite to eat.  By the time we ate the last of the french fries, it was after 1:00, over an hour after we first hit the road for our “impulsive” journey. 

So, again, finally (this time I mean it), we were ready for the Turnpike.  As gray skies hung above us, we drove west, passing farmhouses, silos and big black and white spotted cows along the way.  After about an hour, we exited the turnpike and began driving south on Route 222 into Lancaster.  Once we hit town, Donna navigated me toward Woodward Hill Cemetery, using the directions in Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb—A Tour of Presidential Gravesites.   We found an apparent error in the book, which directed us to turn the wrong way onto one-way Hager Street.  This threw us off momentarily, but, intrepid grave-finders that we are, we soon found the cemetery, or at least the back entrance to the cemetery. 

We entered and drove along the narrow road through the lonely graveyard.  Although I had imagined that we would be just three among hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people spending their 4th of July weekend visiting a dead president, we were, in fact, alone in Woodward Hill Cemetery that afternoon.  It wasn’t long before we found James Buchanan.

A word or two about old JB: James Buchanan was our 15th president.  He is the only Pennsylvanian and the only bachelor to have served as Chief Executive.  Buchanan’s election as president in 1856 should have been the capstone in his career as a diplomat and politician, but the United States was being torn apart by the slavery and states rights issues that would send erupt into the Civil War and Buchanan was not a strong enough leader to do anything about it.  He called it quits after one term, leaving the shattered country in Abraham Lincoln’s hands.  Returning home to Lancaster, Buchanan wrote a book defending his presidency but nobody wanted to hear it.  He died in 1868, not exactly a broken man, but never to be considered one of the truly great presidents in our country’s history. 

The folks on 20/20 Downtown or one of those other TV newsmagazines would have field day with Buchanan if he were a modern politician.  First, a young woman he had been seeing, Anne Coleman, died mysteriously soon after she had fought with Buchanan and they had broken up. Even though Buchanan was a prosperous young lawyer at the time, the whispers around Lancaster were that he was only after Coleman’s money.   Then, according to Whose Buried…, when Buchanan began his political career in Washington, his first roommate was a flamboyant fellow senator named William Rufus DeVane King.  This further contributed to the rumor mill surrounding Buchanan’s personal life. 

Buchanan himself never mentioned these events publicly, though he did promise to reveal the cause of his breakup with Coleman in a letter to be opened after his death.  Two days before he died, however, Buchanan instructed the executor of his estate to burn the letter.  

With all of this history bouncing around in our heads, we found Buchanan’s gravesite and stepped out of the car to pay our respects.  I shot a whole bunch of still photos and cranked up the video camera.  “Jimmy, can you say James Buchanan?” you can hear me say on the videotape.  “JameBoocana,” Jimmy replies, as his attention is drawn to the construction activity happening down the hill and across the street from the cemetery.  “Look, Mom and Dad!  Diggers!” 

Jimmy was eventually diverted from the diggers and walked up to James Buchanan’s gravestone.  As I’m telling him how

Buchanan's Grave Me and Jimmy at the gravesite: "Dad, do you think that James Buchanan was a fundamentally good man who simply didn't have the strength to deal with the slavery and states rights issues or do you think that even a very strong man would not have been able to withstand the pressures Buchanan did? And what do you think Bachelor Buchanan would make of this poopy diaper I have?"
James Buchanan was a president of the U.S., Jimmy sat on the ledge at the base of the tombstone and announced loudly, “I have a poopy diaper!”  This turned out not to be true, but I couldn’t help but wondering how Bachelor Buchanan would have handled a diaper change.  Jimmy then stood up and jumped off the ledge.  “I’m jumping off James Buchanan,” he squealed, pronouncing the name perfectly.

After noticing a Phillies cigar band at the base of the gravestone (another Buchanan fan who had come to share a smoke with the late president?) and taking all the pictures we could, we decided to move on.  We drove into the center of town and stopped at the Lancaster visitor center.  I picked up a pamphlet for Wheatland, Buchanan’s home in Lancaster, and we decided that even though it was close to 3:30 by that time, we would check it out.

Thus followed the only truly tense part of our trip, as I promptly got lost in Lancaster, trying to find Wheatland.  It was getting later, Jimmy was cranky, Donna wanted to have some time to stop at an outlet mall on the way home—this unexpected Wheatland trip could have been a disaster.  However, singing, “I’m going to Wheatland, Wheatland/in Lancaster in PA/I’m going to Wheatland” to myself, I found my way to the elegant Buchanan homestead.  We caught the last tour.  As we followed the guide into Buchanan’s own bedroom, Jimmy loudly announced “I’ve got something in my nose.” 

Anyway, the Wheatland tour was interesting and I even picked up the sheet music to something called  “The Wheatland Polka” in the gift shop.  We took some pictures on Wheatland’s front porch (from which Buchanan gave the only speech of his presidential campaign), and then it was time to move on and find some dinner.

We drove back north on Route 222 to eat dinner at the legendary Zinn’s Diner in Denver.  I have been up and down the PA Turnpike dozens of times since my earliest days and had seen the billboards for Zinn’s each time I’d made a trip, but had never actually been there, which is what accounted for its legendary status, at least in my mind.  Had I known about the 15-foot-high Amish man that offers friendly greetings outside, the place would have taken on an even brighter aura for me.

Amos is his name, and he is one giant Amish man.  After we ate dinner (we didn’t eat any of the serious Pennsylvania Dutch food on the menu, but our meals were fine just the same), we met Amos. 

Amish Guy Donna and Jimmy with Amos: "Welcome to Zinn's Diner. Have a piece of shoo-fly pie, with lots of whipped cream. I think you're really gonna like it!"
When you push a button, Amos talks.  “Welcome to Zinn’s Diner!  Come on in and have a piece of shoo-fly pie, with lots of whipped cream!  I think you’re really gonna like it! 
Ha Ha Ha.” 

Jimmy found Amos to be both fascinating and somewhat scary, though he did pose for pictures with both of us at Amos’ large bare feet.  While hanging out with Amos, Jimmy made no mention of anything going on with his body. 

Our Amos photo op complete, we headed back down Route 222 to intersect with Route 30 East.  This was going to take us to the Rockdale Outlet Mall.   A driving rainstorm hit as we drove down 30, but we slogged through it and found Rockdale, a huge series of strip malls, each one containing eight or ten outlet stores.  Some cosmic force gravitated us to the QVC Outlet Store Yard Sale.  I contemplated the name of that store.  “So this is the place,” I said to Donna, “where QVC sends the stuff they can’t sell anymore, either on TV or in their regular outlet stores.”  After we entered the store, I found that my thesis was largely correct, although we did find a holy grail of sorts: an angel for our Christmas tree.  Our trees have been angel-less and we’d always wanted to do something about that.  Finally, at the QVC Outlet Store Yard Sale, we found a nice angel for less than ten bucks. And each Christmas, as we place the angel lovingly atop the tree, we can recall our trip to Buchanan Country back in 2000.    It’ll be a fun story to tell.

Our day in Lancaster County ended in the parking lot of Rockdale Outlet Mall.  As I rolled the videotape, we talked about the amazing deal we’d just gotten on the angel and Jimmy pointed out the pinkish sunset that had settled over us.  We had seen the Dead President, the Giant Amish Man and the Christmas Angel.  More importantly, we had all had fun.  Now, it was time to go home.

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)