On this Day in History: First known Photo of a Presidential Inauguration

This image is the first known photo of a presidential inauguration. It shows President James Buchanan’s March 4, 1857, inauguration.

Inauguration of James Buchanan, President of the United States, at the east front of the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1857. Montgomery C. Meigs Papers—Library of Congress

The man who took this historic photo was John Wood. He worked for the federal government and had a special camera platform set up with a clear shot of the inauguration stage.

Buchanan, a long-time resident of Lancaster, would be the only bachelor president in the nation’s history—his niece, Harriett Lane, served as his First Lady.

While Buchanan personally opposed slavery on moral grounds, he believed that the Constitution supported it. In his inaugural address, Buchanan endorsed the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott v. Sanford decision which was not officially announced for another two days on March 6.

Also, in his address, Buchanan endorsed “popular sovereignty,” the idea that the spread of slavery would be determined by the voters in each territory.

In his final address before Congress as president, Buchanan declared that the government could not legally prevent states from seceding from the Union. It was this final act as President that largely influenced Buchanan’s poor historical standing.

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On this Day in History: Winter so cold the railroad ran tracks across a frozen Susquehanna

View of the railroad track on the ice across the Susquehanna at Havre De Grace, Maryland.

The winter of 1852 was so cold that it froze the solid Susquehanna at Havre De Grace! The sheet of solid ice presented a problem for the PW&B Railroad as there was no bridge across the river and used ferries to transport passengers and freight. They overcame the challenge by laying tracks across the thick ice, with the first car traveling across on January 15, 1852. Click the link to read the full story and see the lithograph commemorating the 41-day-long event.

Update on the Search for Lancaster County’s Oldest Headstone

Just when I thought the oldest headstone in Lancaster County debate was settled, I received a message from Katie Moore with a photograph of Sarah Patterson’s grave clearly showing a 1700 death date. If correct, this beats the current record holder belonging to Elizabeth King by 32 years. Click the link to join me on my renewed search for Lancaster County’s oldest tombstone.

River Monsters of the Susquehanna Deeps

Local legend holds that a diver at Safe Harbor went down behind the dam to remove underwater debris only to resurface a few minutes later. He quickly climbed out, announcing he was quitting having seen a creature large enough to eat him. Could there be any truth to this fishy-sounding tale? Click the link to find out.

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