Kurt's Historic Sites

Harriet Lane Johnston

Harriet Lane Johnston

Interment LocationVisited 
Baltimore, MDJuly 6, 2015 

Photographed July 6, 2015.

A brown Celtic cross at Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery signifies the interment site of the first lady of the only U.S. president to never marry. When bachelor James Buchanan became chief executive in 1857, his sister’s 26-year-old daughter, Harriet Lane, assumed the role of White House hostess. Lane was popular — much more so than President Buchanan, who was ill-suited to handle the mountainous tasks his administration faced. In her post-first lady years Lane anointed herself the role of “guardian of her uncle’s legacy,” as graduate public history fellow Sarah Fling of the White House Historical Association characterized it in 2019.

After she left the White House in 1861, Lane wed, reared two children, and became a philanthropist. Sadly she outlived both of her offspring by more than two decades. The youngsters’ graves are marked by the two Latin crosses of white stone on either side of the Celtic monument.

Photographed July 6, 2015.
Photographed July 6, 2015.

First Lady Harriet Lane is not the only noted historical figure interred at Green Mount Cemetery. Other permanent residents include Associate Justice John A. Campbell of the U.S. Supreme Court and presidential assassination convicts Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen. Many visitors stop by the graves of Elijah Bond, who was the patentee of the Ouija board, and the man who murdered President Abraham Lincoln himself, the infamous John Wilkes Booth. The Booth family plot is a short distance south of Harriet Lane’s resting place.

A number of men pursued Ms. Lane’s affections, and the person she chose was Baltimore banker Henry Elliott Johnston, who was one year her junior. They married in 1866 and remained together until Henry died in 1884. The inscription on the base of the Celtic cross is dedicated “[i]n loving memory of” the couple, whose names and lifespans are carved into it.

Photographed July 6, 2015.
Photographed July 6, 2015.

The curly initials atop the Johnstons’ footstones look like a font that director-producer Tim Burton would approve of.


Fast Facts

Born: May 9, 1830 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania

Spouse: Henry Elliott Johnston (m. 1866-1884)

First Lady Tenure: 1857-1861

Died: July 3, 1903 in Narragansett, Rhode Island

Age: 73

Interment: Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

“I suppose I may be permitted to suggest that Miss Lane occupies a position in the palatial residence of her eminent relative similar to that which Queen Victoria and the Empress Eugenie occupy at Buckingham Palace and the Tuileries.”
- New York Times

March 20, 1857

Sources Consulted

Fling, Sarah. “Harriet Lane: American Princess.” White House Historical Association. October 19, 2020. https://www.whitehousehistory.org/harriet-lane.

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