Long-deceased Philly philanthropist’s unmarked grave finally gets a tombstone

Colonel John McKee started his career a busboy and ended it a real-estate mogul millionaire when he died in 1902. Today his fortune helps fatherless, underprivileged young men go to college.

“It’s quite an exceptional story, because when he died 110 years ago, the New York Times reported that he was the wealthiest negro in the United States,” said Robert Stern is the executive secretary of the McKee scholarship committee.

In his will, McKee not only left his money for educational purposes, but also stipulated exactly how he wanted his grave marker to look: his image atop a horse carved in granite.

“But there was no stone erected,” said Stern. “No monument or tombstone.”

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He says it’s a shamfeul oversight.

McKee’s body ended up at Eden Cemetery, an historic African American cemetery in Collingdale, Delaware County.

“We were like: ‘Wow, where’s the headstone?'” said Mina Cockroft, the general manager at Eden.

She says unmarked graves aren’t unusual — with 94,000 interments, the cemetery has thousands without markers.

“If everyone had a headstone, you couldn’t move in here,” Cockroft said.

In the last year, though, the cemetery has made a project of adding markers and monuments to its more famous residents’ resting places.

Researchers discovered the stipulation in McKee’s will, and on Sunday a modest version of McKee’s original vision for his tombstone, paid for by his trust fund, will be dedicated in his honor.

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