Elizabeth Keckly Gravesite

National Harmony Memorial Park -- Largo, Maryland

Born into slavery near Petersburg, Virginia, this remarkable woman used her talents as a seamstress and designer to buy her freedom and that of her son. In July of 1860, Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C. and became the seamstress for many of the city’s social elites.

On Inauguration Day 1861, Mrs. Keckly was introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln at the Willard Hotel and was asked to come to the White House the next day for an interview. That interview would lead to her becoming the modiste to the First Lady. A strong friendship developed between the two women. Her position as confidante to the Lincoln family is profiled in her 1868 book, Behind the Scenes, which has given historians an intimate look into the Lincoln White House.

Elizabeth Keckly died in 1907, and was buried in Washington’s Columbian Harmony Cemetery. The cemetery was bought by developers in the 1950s, and her remains were moved to an unmarked grave in National Harmony Memorial Park in Largo, Maryland.

In 2009, Mr. Richard Smyth of Pennsylvania informed the Surratt House Museum that the current management at National Harmony had located her records and had spelled out the location in section, lot, and grave number. The Surratt Society, the Lincoln Forum, and Black Women United for Action of Fairfax County, Virginia sponsored a $5000 project, in conjunction with the New Harmony Memorial Park, to raise the funds to place a marker on Elizabeth’s grave. Contributions for the grave marker were received from various organizations and individuals.

On May 26, 2010, the 103rd anniversary of Mrs. Keckly’s death, this remarkable lady was honored by marking her grave site for future generations.

Update: March 9, 2012

After news of the dedication of a new tombstone at Mrs. Keckly’s grave was printed in The Washington Post, museum staff received a call from the National Park Service project manager for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom initiative. Mrs. Keckly had played a significant role during and after the Civil War in securing shelter, food, clothing, and jobs for newly emancipated freedmen who poured into Washington, D.C. The museum’s research librarian was asked to prepare a nomination application to have Mrs. Keckly entered into the Network to Freedom project. On March 9, 2012, word was received that the application was approved.

Through the Surratt Museum’s efforts to mark the grave of a remarkable lady, the nation can now learn of the historic work of Elizabeth Keckly.

Directions to Mrs. Keckly’s Grave:

  • From I95, the Capital Beltway, take Exit 17B towards Bladensburg.
  • Merge onto Landover Road/MD 202W.
  • Turn left onto Brightseat Road.
  • Make slight right onto Sheriff Road.
  • 7101 Sheriff Road/National Harmony Memorial Park is on the left.
  • Turn left after entering the cemetery and follow signs for the office.
  • Look for the marker reading “Costen Section” on the left. 
  • Mrs. Keckly’s gravesite is Lot 115, Grave 7, not far from the fence.