Final resting place found for girl who died in 19th century SF

little girl

 

May 29, 2016 – sfgate.com – mirror.co.uk – Construction workers have stumbled on the mysterious 145-year-old coffin of a little girl – still clutching a red rose.

They had been remodeling a garden when they discovered the lead and bronze coffin buried underneath a concrete garage .

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The find, underneath the San Francisco home of Ericka Karner, is believed to be the resting place of a three-year-old girl who’s preserved skin and long blonde hair can still be seen through the windows of the coffin.

coffin

The lead and bronze 3½ foot-long coffin had two windows in it, revealing the perfectly preserved body of a blond girl in a white dress holding a rose, said homeowner Ericka Karner.

The girl is thought to be one of thousands of people buried in the city’s Odd Fellows Cemetery, which was active for 30 years before it was forced to shut in 1890.

Burying the dead was taken very seriously by early Odd Fellows, and most lodges purchased land and established cemeteries as one of their first activities in a new town or city.

In many areas all phases of burial (sometimes including services now provided by undertakers) were provided by Odd Fellows in the earlier days. Cemeteries were often open to the public, and plots were sold for a few dollars each.

In 1901, San Francisco’s Cemeteries were barred from burying any more people within the city limits ( cremated remains are still allowed and welcomed at The Columbarium).

This essentially doomed San Francisco’s Cemeteries, without adding “residents’ the cemeteries lacked the finances (and the incentive) for upkeep and over the next 30 years, fell into disrepair.

moving bodies

Redevelopment of the site meant about 180,000 bodies were moved to another burial plot in the 1920s – but the little girl, found buried in a long white dress and with lavender flowers in her hair – was left behind.

stone

By the late 1930’s, popular opinion had swayed in favor of the removal of the cemeteries. The Masonic and Odd Fellows Cemeteries were the first to go, with removals going to Colma’s Woodlawn and Greenlawn cemeteries, respectively.

The Catholic Calvary Cemetery was closed in 1937 and moved to Woodlawn. Laurel Hill was the last to go, the dead being moved to Cypress lawn in 1939 and 40. Many of the Laurel Hill monuments remain on the site up until at least 1946.

Descendants of the dead were contacted for removal of their loved ones, but these efforts were not always successful. When there was no one to contact, the dead were moved to mass graves at the new locations. ( Some of which are now faced with their own encroaching development.

sea wall

After shutting down San Francisco shut down cemeteries within the city limits and moved the bodies to Colma, leaving behind a plethora of tombstones. Leftover stones were used as construction material for various things, including a makeshift sea wall.

There were no markings on the coffin, which was lined with purple velvet, and no way of identifying the girl discovered on May 9, who is now being called Miranda – a name chosen by Karner’s two daughters.

Karner initially found herself in a bind after the medical examiner’s office told her the body was her responsibility and local undertakers and archaeology companies gave her quotes for taking care of the remains that ranged from $7,000 to $22,000. But that changed when organizations and companies from across the state heard her story and donations started pouring in.

Elissa Davey, the founder of the Garden of Innocence charity, who for two decades has buried the bodies of unidentified children in California, offered to help Karner find a place to rebury the girl.

Last week, Davey helped arrange for the body to be picked up and temporarily stored in a mortuary refrigerator in Fresno.

Now, Davey said, everything from the burial plot to the headstone to the new casket has been planned and paid for. Davey even has a burial service scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. at the girl’s new resting place in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma.

This was all made possible by companies and organizations that reached out and offered their services, Davey said.

The Odd Fellows, along with Greenlawn Memorial Park, took care of securing the burial plot. Davey’s sister’s cabinet company, Allstar Custom Cabinets, is taking care of a new casket. A California granite company is donating an etched headstone. Santa Cruz Memorial is helping with the mortuary tasks and permits. And Christy Vault Co. is donating the vault.

A volunteer minister from San Diego will officiate the service.

As of now, Davey said all she needs to get the girl moved with a “proper service” are flowers for the ceremony and some cash to cover a few other costs.

Credit sfgate.com – mirror.co.uk
Mary Greeley News