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Elizabeth Keckly Goals Are Met

Laurie Verge of the Surratt House Museum in Maryland brought this worthwhile project to our notice. She now has this update: "We have reached our goal in the Keckly memorial and have actually gone over it with more donations still coming in. The grave marker has been ordered, and we have changed the unveiling date to May 26, 2010, the 103rd anniversary of Mrs. Keckly's death. Extra funds will be used for the ceremony - flowers, invitations, programs, etc."

Laurie's original message was received on November 25, 2009:

"Most students of Abraham Lincoln are familiar with the story of his wife’s seamstress and confidante, Elizabeth Keckly. For full details on this remarkable woman, we recommend reading her book, Behind The Scenes, or the wonderful biography by Jennifer Fleischner, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley. Mrs. Keckly lived until 1907 and was buried in Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Her grave was marked with a simple stone. In the mid-1950s, the cemetery was bankrupt and the property was sold to developers, who agreed to move the 37,000 graves (many of them African American Civil War veterans, some Medal of Honor winners), but not the grave markers! Mrs. Keckly’s remains went to New Harmony Cemetery in Landover, Maryland, and the records were “lost” for many years.

This past February, Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, presented a program on Elizabeth Keckly. As a result, we were contacted by Mr. Richard Smyth of Pennsylvania, whose hobby is photographing and documenting burial sites of historical figures. He asked for help in placing a marker on Elizabeth’s grave. I replied that I thought her grave was lost to history. He explained that current cemetery management at New Harmony had located her records and had spelled out the location in section, lot, and grave number. Of course, I agreed to help and solicited additional help from Dr. Edna Greene Medford of Howard University. Our initial contacts with a number of African American organizations elicited interest, but all cited financial problems.

We then turned to the Lincoln community, and at their November symposium, the Lincoln Forum agreed to co-sponsor the $5000 project with the Surratt Society, the volunteer affiliate of Surratt House Museum. Each group has pledged $500, and the Society has agreed to hold the funds until the cemetery presents us with an invoice. In the meantime, New Harmony Cemetery has agreed to pay one-half the cost for a high grade marker with name, birth/death dates, photo, and a paragraph of text as well as a sign near the entrance to the cemetery indicating that Mrs. Keckly lies within.

Additional pleas have gone out to the Lincoln Group of D.C. and the National Park Service. Several individuals have pledged also. We estimate the need for about another $1000. Additional funds that might be raised will be put towards a perpetual care agreement for Mrs. Keckly’s grave site.

I know that holidays are bad times to solicit money, but time is short if we want to have an unveiling ceremony in February of 2010. If you wish to make a donation, please make your check payable to “Surratt Society” and add “Keckly Fund” in the memo section. Mail to: Laurie Verge, Director, Surratt House Museum, PO Box 427, Clinton, MD 20735. All donations will be acknowledged for tax purposes. If you are not familiar with the Surratt House Museum and the Society, please visit www.surratt.org, e-mail me at laurie.verge@pgparks.com, or call me at 301-868-1121. Thank you in advance for any help you can give in this project."

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