Day Six would prove to be a long and draining day, but we refused to be swayed from sticking to our theme, even though it meant a detour for the sake of a politician saddled with a “consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history” per one or more Wikipedia editors. Honestly, we’re not in a position to argue with them.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
Our driving tour of Valley Forge lasted into the early afternoon, but our next stop was a mere hour away via rural highways. Thus we soon found ourselves in the town of Lancaster, final resting place of James Buchanan — the only President ever born in Pennsylvania, and the only one who never married. (Theories vary.) Buchanan moved to Lancaster after a small-town upbringing and after college graduation, and would eventually die there after the Civil War. His record between those dates was…not the best. You’d expect great things from a guy who won his party’s nomination over the incumbent President (I mean, it was Franklin Pierce, but still, that’s an extreme rarity) and who defeated another former President on Election Day itself (well, Millard Fillmore, but still), and yet…Buchanan fans number very few.
During his time in office, President Buchanan approved of the infamous Dred Scott decision, and had hoped to fast-track it, because he wanted to move on to other subjects and hoped to “solve” the issue of slavery by getting some firm “That’s the end of THAT chapter!” decisions on the books. He presided over the Panic of 1857, which didn’t go well for the North. His zeal for expanding America’s turf and adding more states to the Union put him in direct conflict with several other countries. He inherited the notorious “Bleeding Kansas” debacle from President Pierce, but his efforts to ramrod the area into statehood were generous to slavery advocates despite the significant abolitionist population that eventually won out despite his “help”. Worst of all, the Southern states began seceding on his watch, to which he responded that they didn’t have legal power to secede, but the federal government didn’t have the authority to stop them. Or something absurdly wishy-washy to that effect.
Buchanan’s quest to embiggen America by any means necessary ultimately led to America burning itself to the ground. Lesson learned: American Presidents who ignore critical issues in favor of their own single-minded pet projects tend to yield a shameful legacy in hindsight. If not sooner.
Probably fortunately for us, Buchanan had decided early on not to seek a second term, thus dumping America’s big mess in the lap of Abraham Lincoln. Also fortunately for us, Lincoln had a very large lap.
Poor scorecard aside, once upon a time James Buchanan was President of the United States of America. Thus his gravesite was squarely on our research radar. His particular Lancaster cemetery was among the smaller ones we visited this week, but finding him took far more searching than it should’ve because the forested hill in its center obscured our view from most directions.
Our final stop for the day was a good four hours away. Lunch therefore needed to happen before we left town. Lancaster has a small but dense downtown, replete with restaurant options and copious affordable parking. Our mealtime destination of choice was The Pressroom, a restaurant owned by the local newspaper. It’s over twenty years old, but the building dates back to the 1700s.
Downtown Lancaster had good folks working for it, and other shops that were tempting to explore, but we didn’t have time or energy to indulge. We caught a few more glimpses as we returned to the road and worked our way toward the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which we’d managed to avoid so far this year but eventually had to face unless we wanted our long day to get unbearably longer.
To be continued!
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