The Great War


Sgt. Ray Baker Hall and his ukulele, c.1918

One hundred years ago it was just The Great War. Sometimes the War to End All Wars, but mostly The Great War. After all was said and done and historians began to realize the global impact of the conflict, World War seemed a more fitting name. And it was one hundred years ago that the United States entered The Great War – sending more than 4,000,000 men and women to serve in various branches of the military at home and overseas. Over 5,000 from Lancaster County saw active duty, including Sgt. Ray Baker Hall, pictured here with his ukulele. Sgt. Hall was part of Ambulance Company 111, part of the 28th Division of the United States Army. Prior to his military service, Hall worked at the Kirk Johnson Music Store on West King Street in Lancaster. Knowing that entertainment might be difficult to find at the front, he packed his trusty uke for company.

Check out Sgt. Hall and other images of Lancasterians during the Great War – both on the homefront and at the very front – in our latest photograph exhibit in’s lower level.


“Finer Than the Best Monongahela”: President Buchanan’s Drinking Habits

glasses of whiskey at Wheatland
Glasses of “old Monongahela” on Mr. Buchanan’s library desk at Wheatland.

When visitors tour President James Buchanan’s Wheatland, many notice the quantity of bottles once containing alcohol that are scattered around Buchanan’s dining areas, parlors, and particularly his private office. An unopened 1827 bottle of Madeira wine from Mr. Buchanan’s collection still sits on a table in his office, one floor above the home’s original wine cellar. Occasionally, a visitor will sheepishly inquire, “Did President Buchanan drink a lot?” The answer to this is that a) Americans in the mid-nineteenth century drank a lot (in 1830, 9.5 gallons of distilled spirits per year!) and b) James Buchanan probably drank more than most of them.

For most early Americans over the age of 15, alcohol consumption was part of daily life. Continuous imbibing built up a tolerance; Americans were probably not walking around visibly drunk despite their breakfast whiskey, morning and afternoon “tea breaks” of distilled spirits, and “strengthening” nightcaps. The colonial era relationship with alcohol continued well into the nineteenth century. When James Buchanan was born in 1791, he was born into the era of heaviest drinking in the nation’s history.

An original 1827 bottle of Madeira from Buchanan's private collection.
An original 1827 bottle of Madeira from Buchanan’s private collection.

James Buchanan was a man of his time. He had a preference for Madeira wine, sherry, and rye whiskey (born in Central Pennsylvania, Buchanan was raised on “Old Monongahela” Rye). Buchanan was also an avid wine collector, accumulating quite a stock of Madeira in his Wheatland wine cellar. In fact, he loved Madeira so much that, when given an assignment at Dickinson College to chart an imaginary ship’s course, young Buchanan chose a route from Boston to Madeira, an island he frequently “visited” from Carlisle taverns when he was a student. When he was a Senator, Buchanan bought his whiskey weekly, in 10-gallon quantities, from Jacob Baer, a well-known whiskey merchant in Washington, D.C. Baer’s whiskey was affectionately known as “Old J. B. Whiskey” and our own J. B. was delighted by the fact that his initials matched his own. According to his biographer, Philip Klein, Buchanan considered Baer’s whiskey to be “finer than the best Monongahela.”

One of the best sources on President Buchanan’s drinking habits is John W. Forney, a journalist and politician from Lancaster County who was Buchanan’s one-time political manager and eventual political rival. In his Philadelphia-based newspaper, the Press, Forney wrote in detail of Buchanan’s taste for alcohol, “The Madeira and sherry that he had consumed would fill more than one old cellar, and the rye whiskey that he has ‘punished’ would make Jacob Baer’s heart glad.” Forney also remarked on Buchanan’s ability to drink large quantities of liquor without appearing drunk. After observing Buchanan drink two bottles of cognac and wash it down with rye whiskey, he wrote, “There was no headache, no faltering steps, no flushed cheek. Oh, no! All was as cool, calm and cautious and watchful as in the beginning.” By the time he was writing these accounts, Forney was a Republican and was biased against Buchanan. Still, he was probably not wrong. Forney knew a thing or two about drinking himself.

Although he could handle his liquor superficially, Buchanan’s drinking was not without consequences. Later in life, Buchanan suffered from excruciating gout, brought on by a diet of rich foods and lots of alcohol. It is not known to what extent Buchanan’s drinking may have impaired his judgment. At least one scholar speculates that heavy drinking may have affected the President’s judgment during the Utah War period. By the end of his life, Buchanan had to seriously cut back on his alcohol consumption as it made the flare-ups of gout more severe. Still, he never turned down a good filet of beef with Miss Hetty’s Madeira wine mushroom sauce.

This is an entry from History from the House:

 A 200-year-old house once occupied by an American president has a lot of stories to tell. From an office in Wheatland’s former kitchen space, Museum Educator Stephanie Townrow digs up quirky, fascinating, and sometimes puzzling stories that reveal the hidden histories within President James Buchanan’s Wheatland. She invites readers to explore his home, meet his “little family,” and learn about the tumultuous political climate that surrounded his presidency.

Experience The Arboretum

Posted by Emily Miller on behalf of the original author, Kelly Seidle, Tanger Arboretum

Now is the perfect time to learn and experience all that the Tanger Arboretum has to offer with a professional guided tour. The Lancaster County Master Gardeners had the delightful opportunity of getting a very educational and inspiring tour given by Tanger Arboretum Board President Jeff Hazlett and Board Member Bob Davis. Both gentlemen add special insights and interesting facts with their horticultural backgrounds and expertise. Tanger Arboretum strives to engage the public to cultivate a deeper appreciation of nature at our historical community asset.

As we walked along the property with Jeff and Bob, they were able to not only identify and describe various trees and shrubs, but also provide unique characteristics, seasonal changes, maintenance care and certain growing specifications. Many folks from the tour acknowledged that type of information was beyond what a tree/plant ID tag can provide and gave you invaluable information if you plan to add that same specimen to your own property. Remember the famous quote…location, location, location!

I know first-hand it is one thing to search for a tree or shrub online or in a catalog or see one in a gallon container at your favorite nursery, but it can be totally different (and an eye-opener) to see a full grown, mature specimen. As you can see from the photos our tour guides were very engaging, pointing out important attributes and welcomed the visitor’s comments and questions. Most of our tour group had no idea there are well over 150 trees and the newly added Dwarf Conifer Garden captivated everyone’s fascination and attention.

I’m so glad I was able to join my friends for this tour and I encourage everyone to contact to book your own guided tour and get to know your local historical hidden gem!

The LeFevre Bible

The LeFevre Bible is one of the most requested items from our collections. The Bible belonged to the French Huguenot family of Isaac LeFevre. Isaac survived the massacre after the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 and was able to smuggle the Bible out of France as he escaped with the Ferree family.

To enlarge any of the following pictures, click on the images to open a larger view.

Family Records in the LeFevre Bible

The first page (image below) contains a handwritten note that the “title page was torn out by accident.” It is possible that the page, which would have shown the printer’s name and seal, was torn out to protect the printer in the event the Bible was found by authorities. It is also noted that the book was printed in Geneva in 1608.

First page of the LeFevre Bible. Handwritten text says the title page was "torn out by accident."

Several pages contain genealogy of the family from the 1600s to the 1800s.

Several pages contain genealogy of the LeFevre family from the 1600s to the 1800s, including the birth dates of Isaac LeFevre and his siblings.

Birth dates of Isaac and his siblings. (Image above.)

Transcription and translation of the above page. (Image below.)

Birth dates of Isaac LeFevre and his siblings transcribed and translated.

Birth dates of Isaac and Catharine’s children. (Image below.)

Birth dates of Isaac and Catharine LeFevre's children.

Transcription and translation of the above page. (Image below.)

Birth dates of Isaac and Catharine LeFevre's children transcribed and translated.

As the Bible was passed down through the family, information was recorded in English instead of French and the spelling of the surname changed from LeFevre to Lefever.

Samuel and Ledy and their children. (Image below.)

Samuel and Ledy LeFevre and their children.

Joseph and family. He married three times and had children with his first two wives, Salome and Lydia. It is interesting that they recorded the time of day each child was born. (Image below.)

Joseph LeFevre and his family.

Joseph’s dates of marriage. (Image below.)

Joseph LeFevre's dates of marriage. He was married three times.

John and Elizabeth and their children. (Image below.)

John and Elizabeth LeFevre and their children.

Additional Information in Bible

Other important information was also recorded in the Bible. One page, in French, has yet to be translated. However, we believe part of the page is the recipe for cough medicine that is pasted onto the back endpaper.

Possibly a recipe written in French. If you are able to translate this page, please send us a copy! (Image below.)

Possibly a recipe written in French within the LeFevre Bible.

Recipe for cough medicine. A local gentleman made a batch and shared it with us. It tastes a bit like a steak marinade. I have been told by descendants that it really does work. (Image below)

Recipe for cough medicine within the LeFevre Bible.

Take a 1/2 pint of honey, 1/2 pint of wine vinigar, 2 Table spoons full of Ginger, & 3 worth of Alicompain [Elecampane or Wild Sunflower] Mix the above articles together, and put the composition in a Bottle, cork it tight Inclose the bottle with the stuff in a loaf of bread, put it in the oven & let it remain in 3 hours — — Take a Tea Spoon full in the morning & Noon & Eveng A Receipt for Curing a bad Cough & stoppage on the Breast

For more information about the family and the Bible, please see websites for the Pennsylvania LeFevres and the Ferree Family Descendants.

If you are interested in visiting to see the Bible, please make an appointment at least two weeks in advance by contacting Heather Tennies, Director of Archival Services, at or (717) 392-4633 x.115.

Susquehanna Potholes

Perhaps the best way to spend a warm Lancaster County day is cooling off by the Susquehanna River. Swimming, fishing, boating, enjoying the summer breeze, sitting in a Susquehanna Pothole.  Yes. Susquehanna Pothole. Those well-worn rocks – dimpled, donut-holed, deeply dug out – all a testament to the eroding powers of sediment-laden water and most often sighted when the water levels of the river drop below normal. The best spot to view them, as seen in this photo snapped by Ed Shopf in September of 1953, is along the shores of Conoy Township, just below the mouth of the Conewago Creek.

Schopf was staff photographer for the Safe Harbor Water Power Company. This photo is part of a collection of photographs that he took during the construction of the Safe Harbor Dam from 1931 to 1933. Although it was taken much later, it captures a truly unique feature of the Susquehanna River. This image is among a handful of photos of Susquehanna summer fun on display in’s lower level through the beginning of October. Stop by and enjoy the river!

The Tragic Tale of Dick the Canary

Wild canaries from Madeira.
“Wild canaries from Madeira” from Canaries: Their Rearing and Management, by “An Amateur.” The Girl’s Own Paper. January 29, 1898.

During President James Buchanan’s twenty years residing at Wheatland, he kept several animals (domesticated and otherwise) on the property. Buchanan’s beloved 170-pound Newfoundland, Lara, was a frequent presence at Wheatland and remains among the largest dogs to ever occupy the White House. Less traditional pets at Wheatland included two Sierra Nevada eagles. The eagles were presented to Mr. Buchanan by friends in California, and he kept them in a cage on the back lawn. Thankfully, when the King of Siam offered President Buchanan a herd of elephants, Buchanan had left office before King Mongut’s offer letter arrived to the White House. Buchanan’s successor, Abraham Lincoln, politely declined the generous gift.

Among Wheatland’s diverse selection of pets were Mr. Buchanan’s canaries. Canaries were a surprisingly popular pet in the Victorian Era. They were brought to Spain from an archipelago off the northwestern coast of Africa (called, appropriately, the “Canary Islands”) in the fifteenth century and originally limited to royal and aristocratic households. Canaries became a desirable pet for families across all social strata in Europe and America by the early-nineteenth century.

Buchanan, James. Letter to Harriet Lane Johnston, 6 June 1863.
James Buchanan Family Papers,

Ever the classic Victorian gentleman, James Buchanan kept at least two caged canaries in the parlor at Wheatland. One of them was named Dick. Why do we know this name? On June 6, 1863, two years after his presidency, Buchanan penned his usual update to his beloved niece, Harriet Lane Johnston, who was living in Baltimore with her family at the time. In the first paragraph of the letter, Buchanan discloses the unhappy news that “Dick the Canary Bird has been killed + taken from the cage by an owl or some other ‘varmint.’” Considering the letter’s date, it is unsurprising that the windows of Wheatland may have been left open to allow a breeze to enter the home. Historical weather data indicates that, on June 7, 1863 (the following day), the temperature in Harrisburg reached 92˚F. What is surprising, however, is the idea that a bird of prey could swoop in through an open window and attack a caged songbird. Apparently, it happens more often than you’d think. We do not know the name of the other canary, nor do we know its fate, but one must assume that the tragic incident motivated Wheatland’s domestic staff to move the canary cage a little further away from the open windows.

This is an entry from History from the House:

 A 200-year-old house once occupied by an American president has a lot of stories to tell. From an office in Wheatland’s former kitchen space, Museum Educator Stephanie Townrow digs up quirky, fascinating, and sometimes puzzling stories that reveal the hidden histories within President James Buchanan’s Wheatland. She invites readers to explore his home, meet his “little family,” and learn about the tumultuous political climate that surrounded his presidency.