East Falls past: Love and suicide

Ann Caroline Coleman.Pres Buchanans girl.ResizedII

What possible connection could our 15th president, James Buchanan, have with East Falls?

James_Buchanan

As it turns out, Buchanan’s financee was buried at Laurel Hill cemetery (ed note:  whoops! Suburban Press got this wrong — see below).

The tragedy of her dying before they were married, some say, was the reason he remained our only bachelor president. Here is how a 1929 Suburban Press article recounted what had happened back in 1819:

“The story of Buchanan and his early love is very touching and presents the character of a man who was ridiculed on account of his bachelorhood. In the campaign for his election this fact was used against him.

At age 24, Buchanan was a rising attorney in Lancaster, Pa. and was engaged to an esteemed young lady there – Ann Caroline Coleman, whose family owned the finest coal mines in the state, known then as the Buck Mountains.

The year was 1819. Buchanan had made arrangements with Miss Coleman to attend a dance but, unfortunately, his professional friends requested that he transact some legal business the same evening. In a quandary, he finally decided he would escort Miss Coleman but when she learned of his business engagement, she refused to let pleasure interfere with business and decided to stay home.

On the evening of the appointment, Buchanan waited until 9 pm in the office for his friends but they did not appear. Finally the office janitor asked Buchanan if he had received his colleagues’ letter on the desk which said the meeting had been called off. He hadn’t. Annoyed, and too late to call on Miss Coleman, Buchanan decided to stroll past the dance hall to see how the affair was progressing.

As he entered he spoke to some lady acquaintances. He remained just a few minutes before going home but it is supposed that this was long enough for someone who saw him enter with the ladies to carry word to Miss Coleman that he had escorted another woman to the dance.

When she failed to appear for breakfast the next morning, a servant found her “cold in death with an empty laudanum bottle beside her.” It is supposed she became disconsolate and ended her life.

The Coleman family turned their grief and guilt on Buchanan and forbade him to attend the funeral. Ann’s body was brought to Laurel Hill – her grave is marked by a monument surmounted by the figure of a young girl leaning on a pedestal.

For many years, Buchanan visited her grave. The incident so severely shook him, he vowed never to marry another. He became our only bachelor president (and the only president from Pennsylvania).

Note: Other accounts of this story claim that friends of Miss Coleman told her Buchanan was only interested in her money (though he was worth over $250,000 before age 30 – a sizeable fortune then) and that he was seeing another woman. Distraught, she sent him a letter breaking the engagement and died a few days later.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Although the Suburban Press article lists Laurel Hill as Ann’s burial site, the site Find a Grave suggests she may be buried at Saint James Episcopal Church Cemetery in Lancaster County PA.

Saint James Episcopal ChurchThe nine Coleman crypts at Saint James Episcopal Church in Lancaster County, PA. Several of the grave markers are illegible, leaving open the possibility that Ann is buried with her family, rather than at Laurel Hill. 

Could her body have been moved? It wasn’t unusual in the 19th century. In any event, it wouldn’t have happened before the 1830s, when Laurel Hill was founded.

Stranger still — according to an employee at Laurel Hill, the cemetery’s earliest Ann Coleman grave dates from 1864. Hmmm, curious. Stay tuned while we dig into it (so to speak).

UPDATE (11/3/14)

Mystery solved (sort of). When Karen King, Parish Secretary of Saint James Episcopal Church, confirmed to us by email that Ann Caroline Coleman is buried in Saint James Episcopal Church, it solved one mystery for us. Then Karen mentioned that there are two Ann Colemans buried there in the same year. ?????

St James email reply.Resized

ANOTHER UPDATE (11/4)

Thanks to the historian of St. James, Leo Shelley, we’ve solved our dual mystery (and discovered another tragic lovelorn affair).  From Leo’s email:

Hi Steve,

Yes, Ann Caroline Coleman who died on 12/9/1819 is buried in our churchyard. She was engaged to James Buchanan.

Her sister, Sarah Hand Coleman, died on Nov. 1, 1825, similarly. (She overdosed on opium.) She wanted to marry the assistant rector of St. James, William Augustus Muhlenberg, but her father and brother said “no.” The Rev. Muhlenberg also remained a bachelor his entire life.

What a tragic end for the two girls.

Leo Shelley

St. James Episcopal Church, Lancaster PA Historian

PS The two Ann’s that our secretary noted are one-in-the-same. First date is that of death and second of her burial.