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Monday, February 20, 2017

The "They Found My Hat In Harriet Lane's Boudoir! - Part I" Story

The rear of James Buchanan's "Wheatland" (click to enlarge)
It was an ordinary day.  Standing on the rear porch of President James Buchanan's home known at "Wheatland" waiting for my hat.  Seems I was in Lady Harriet Lane's boudoir and somehow my hat slipped out of my pocket.  I was very careful to make sure that wouldn't happen, but ...  
Miss Nancy ushers me into "Wheatland"
Wasn't long before Nancy opened the rear door and handed me my hat.  "Feels like your going to need that today," she said as she closed the door behind her.  The day was sunny, but the chill in the air made the day a hat day, especially for someone who is bald.  My visit to "Wheatland", in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is part of my membership to the Lancaster Historical Society which Carol gave me as a Christmas gift this year.  I entered the Historical Society to check in at the desk and walked out the rear door, heading towards "Wheatland"; a short walk down the red brick pathway.  
A young James Buchanan
Before I take you with me on my tour, I should give you a bit of background information about James Buchanan.  Before his Presidency he served two years in the Pennsylvania Legislature, 22 years in the U.S. House and Senate, four years as Secretary of State and six years in Russia and Great Britain as a U.S. Foreign Diplomat.  In 1856 "Wheatland" served as his presidential campaign headquarters.  From 1857 to 1861 he struggled to calm the nation divided over slavery, states' rights and popular sovereignty.  His term ended with the secession of seven States after the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln.  My tour was to start at 2:00 P.M. so I sat on one of the large white benches by the rear door.  
The dining room table with setting
The house was built in 1828 by Mr. William Jenkins, a local lawyer, on 165 acres of wheat fields and thus the name "Wheat- land".  He used it as a summer home for a few years, then sold it to William Meredith in 1841.  Eventually it was sold to Mr. Buchanan in 1849.  James moved into in with his young niece Harriet Lane, his 7 year old nephew James Buchanan "Buck" Henry and his housekeeper, Esther "Miss Hetty" Parker.  
China displayed in the corner-cupboard.
The top three shelves hold china
that was used in the White House.
Harriet would later become his "First Lady" in the White House.  Their 20 year difference in age did not stop her from becoming her uncle's political consort as well as his personal confidante.  Well, shortly the door opened and out stepped Nancy, dressed in period dress.  I was the only guest today so we introduced ourselves, walked in through the rear door and headed toward the dining room.  The 13 foot ceilings of the brick Federal-style home made for an impressive entrance. Once inside the dining room, Nancy pointed out the corner-cupboard that held two sets of china.  One set was a gift from the French Ambassador in the 1840s and was used by James while at the White House.  Another cupboard held the china that Harriet purchased when she married two years before her uncle James died in 1868. 
The floor in this room bore the original wooden boards from 1828.     
The West Parlor
After admiring the table setting, we headed towards the West Parlor.  As we walked back toward the rear door, I asked about the flooring in the entrance.  Nancy told me it originally was was oilcloth, but was later replace with linoleum that Lancaster's Armstrong Cork Company made to match the same pattern as the oilcloth. 
Beautiful fireplace with portraiture
of James Buchanan above it.
In the West Parlor I admired the stone fireplace which I was told had been filled in and  a grate at the bottom allowed for heat to enter from a coal furnace in the cellar.  All rooms had fireplaces, but those on the first floor were opened to the cellar for heat from the furnace.  On the wall was Buchanan's portraiture that had been painted in 1856.  Stepping through the door we entered the vestibule of the front door.  Standing along one side was a tall coat rack that held a few of his black top hats.  Off to the East Parlor which I was told was James' inter sanctum.  On one end of the room stood a beautiful engraved desk that was given to him by an official in India.  The desk was transported to the White House while he was President.  
Entrance vestibule
To one side stood another smaller desk that was used by his nephew "Buck". On the other side of the room sat a table that had a bottle of James' favorite, a bottle of 1827 Red Seal Maderia bottled in 1832.  This bottle was found in the wine cellar a few years ago.  Well, I have taken you about half way through "Wheatland" with me.  Tomorrow I will take you upstairs with me to show you where I had misplaced my hat.  Shame on me!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Top hats held in place on the mirror.
The front door knob and lock.  Can you imagine how many dignataries placed their hand on the door knob during the last 190 plus years.  Would make a story by itself; if we only knew the answer.
Fireplace in the East Parlor
James Buchanan's desk in his study.  To the right is the desk used by his nephew "Buck".
The frayed armchairs are a testimony to the use of the desk.  The drink on his desk probably helped him make decisions.
An original letter on his desk.  Click to enlarge and you may be able to read some of the letter.  His penmanship is beautiful.  And, his aide is to the left of the letter.
A beautiful piano at one end of this study.
A favorite bottle.
A closer look.  This bottle has never been opened. It was found in the wine cellar of he home.
On our way back to the stairs to find treasures on the second floor.

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