FAYETTEVILLE — Captian John Buckman was once described in a news article as Fayetteville’s man of mystery.
But a search of old newspaper accounts in an online newspaper archives service provides much insight into his life and the times in which he lived.
Buckman was born in 1834, fought in the Civil War, married at some point in time and had a child. He came to Franklin County late in life, bought land on the east end of Fayetteville and built an unusual home.
He died tragically in 1911 when he got up in the middle of the night and mistook a bottle of carbolic acid for his whiskey bottle and took a couple of swigs.
Is the House Haunted?
As time went on, it was said that the old captain’s spirit roamed his former home, especially after the neglected house became run down and a bit shabby around the edges.
Those facts are part of the local legend that built up about the sea-faring captain over the decades following his death.
The haunting part of the legend could not be verified, but one family who rented the house in the 20th century told a visitor they never saw or heard anything unusual in the years they lived there.
Webster’s defines a legend as a story handed down through generations that are popularly regarded as historical but not verifiable.
The local Captain Buckman legend had him coming to Franklin County sometime in the 19th Century, after the Civil War. According to legend, he was homeless, poor and alcoholic.
He somehow saved enough money from his $24 monthly pension to buy land and build a magnificent home in Fayetteville, all while maintaining his alcoholic lifestyle, the legend goes.
Legends vs Newspaper and Public Records
Newspaper records include interviews with Buckman and court stories. They paint a picture of a man who was well established in Fayetteville — where he bought a 200-acre farm — and nearby Chambersburg, the county seat.
In addition to his pension, he had money from investments, according to one news report.
Buckman’s headstone at Mentzers Cemetery adjacent to the property that eventually became known as the Leeway estate indicates he was born in 1834, but a newspaper article dated Aug. 13, 1910, said he was about to celebrate his 80th birthday.
So either the tombstone or the newspaper article about his upcoming birthday is wrong.
The birthday story says Buckman was born in Ireland and came to the U.S. in the 1840s.
Immigration records show him actually entering the country on Oct. 21, 1858, when he was 24. He sailed from Liverpool, England and entered the country at a Boston port. His occupation was listed as a master mariner.
When the Civil War broke out, Buckman joined the Union Army, or Navy.
His tombstone lists service in Co. K, 12th Reg’t. PA Inf.
Newspapers Help Establish a Timeline
Over the years, he gave a number of interviews to local newspapers, claiming to have served under Admirals Schley, Evans, Dewey and Farragut.
Buckman came to Fayetteville around 1885, according to one newspaper story. He soon bought the farm in Fayetteville, which he called Leeway, a nautical term referring to a vessel’s drift to the lee, or downwind.
He later had stone pillars put up on each side of the entrance to the farm, inscribed with “LEEWAY” and engraved with anchors
The property fronted the road that was at that time called the Chambersburg Pike but eventually became Lincoln Way, and later Main Street when a US 30 bypass was built around Fayetteville.
At that time the village of Fayetteville was much smaller than it is today and the property is described in early records as being one mile east of Fayetteville.
Buckman and the Leeway House
The house that over the decades became a landmark in Fayetteville was built in 1898.
According to a court case filed in December 1900, Buckman contracted with a Mr. Yaukey to build the large house with multiple spires and turrets in the spring of 1898.
The cost was to be $725.
Yaukey claimed in the civil suit that Buckman kept changing the plans for the house and by the time it was completed that fall, its cost had skyrocketed to $1,961.
He sued Buckman for the difference. A judge awarded Yaukey $5.
The house and 25 acres surrounding it sold at auction last fall for $362,500.
The Buckman Legend, and Legacy
While the legend of Buckman being a homeless drifter when he arrived in Fayetteville can be pretty well debunked by newspaper articles, the fact that he drank too much was established by those same sources.
He was robbed at least twice while drunk — once by two women who waylaid the buggy he was riding in on his way home to Fayetteville and another time by a tenant employee who had been drinking with him in Chambersburg.
Charges were brought against the individuals in both cases.
Well Known, Probably Popular Man About Town
Buckman was sober often enough to have a fairly active social life and participate in civic affairs, however.
Newspaper articles often listed visitors to the Fayetteville house and excursions and visits he made to other places.
Opposing the Trolley Line
When a trolley line was being built between Chambersburg and Caledonia early in the 20th Century, Buckman challenged the trolly company’s route that would have taken the line through his property.
Ancestry.com records list a wife, Mary, for him. Newspaper records indicate he also had a daughter.
His relationship with them was apparently not good. One newspaper account tells a story of two women coming to Chambersburg and hiring a driver to take them and their luggage to Buckman’s Fayetteville home.
According to that account, Buckman met them on the porch and a heated argument ensued. The women left, telling their driver they were Buckman’s wife and daughter. There was no record of them returning.
Buckman was active right up until his death, according to the newspaper stories at the time.
He often walked to Chambersburg and had the physique of a much younger man.
When he died, the Valley Spirit covered his funeral service, calling it “largely attended.”
The Wife and the Housekeepers
Over a year after his death, his widow, Mary Elizabeth Buckman, filed a lawsuit against his estate, asking for her “dower interest” in the farm which had been sold to Alice M. Wingred “previous to his death.”
Alice Wingred and her sister, a Mrs. Heisinger, were housekeepers and lived with him at the time of his death, according to newspaper accounts that covered the story of his drinking the carbolic acid.
According to those stories, Alice Wingred was in Philadelphia the night he drank the poisonous acid. Her sister had moved the whiskey before going out for the evening because Buckman had been drinking for days.
When she returned, she found Buckman unconscious on the floor. She immediately called the doctor. Buckman lingered but recovered consciousness the next day, April 10, 1911.
He died at 6 a.m. on April 11, 1911.
Newspaper reports about the outcome of Mary Buckman’s lawsuit against the estate could not be found.
Back to the haunting story
According to a 1976 AP story about Fayetteville’s haunted house, based on an interview with Alice Wingred’s granddaughter, the housekeeper was still living in the house when it was used as a convalescent house for World War I veterans.
In that story, Elizabeth Wingred, then 56 years old, told an interviewer she was born in the house.
That would have put her birthdate around 1920, nine years after Buckman’s death.
She credited her grandmother with either creating the haunted house story, or at least fostering it, during World War I when soldiers from Camp Colt in Gettysburg visited the house on weekends.
Elizabeth Wingred claimed in that Associated Press story that Alice and her sister would go to the attic, where an old organ was kept, while the soldiers slept.
There Alice would play the organ while her sister dragged a logging chain back and forth across the attic floor.
If true, the two sisters hijinks could have added to any nightmares the visiting soldiers, already traumatized by their wartime experiences, had.
It might have been enough to lead them to think the house was indeed haunted.