The Oddities in the News Page
This month's Oddity:
Little Lost Girl's 145-year-old coffin found in the ground underneath a San Francisco home
The original coffin
Erika Karner, the homeowner
Row-house home in the Richmond District of San Francisco underneath where the Little Lost Girl was found
The new casket, specially made for the Little Lost Girl...who was renamed Miranda Eve. This one looks similar to the original coffin, except it has no windows.
Little girl, rose still in hand, found in coffin beneath SF home
San Francisco Gate, June 4, 2016 -- She has long blond hair, she is holding a red rose and she has been dead for 145 years.
Nobody knows her name or how she died. She lay under a San Francisco home’s concrete garage floor for decades until two weeks ago, when workers doing remodeling struck her lead-and-bronze coffin with their shovels.
And so begins a tale of death, love, San Francisco history and the staying power of a coffin maker who knew what he was doing.
On May 9, workers at the home in the Lone Mountain neighborhood in the Richmond District discovered the casket and called authorities.
The unidentified girl, who appeared to be about 3, is believed to be one of about 30,000 people who were buried at the old Odd Fellows Cemetery in San Francisco. The bodies were moved to a common burial plot in Colma around 1920, after all the city’s graveyards were ordered closed to make way for the living.
Somehow, the workers in charge of moving the Odd Fellows occupants left this girl behind.
Flowers in hair
She was from a family of means, as indicated by the high-end coffin and by the fancy sealing job by the undertaker that preserved her skin and hair and her burial flowers. She looks, through the two glass windows of the coffin, like a young girl and not like the 145-year-old remains of one.
Clutched in her right hand is the rose. Weaved in her curly blond hair are lavender flowers. Placed over her heart is a cross made of more lavender. Lying beside her are eucalyptus leaves.
“She’s wearing a long white dress,” said Elissa Davey, the founder of the Garden of Innocence charity that, for two decades, has buried the bodies of unidentified children in California. Davey estimates that the girl died about 145 years ago because the cemetery was active from 1860 to 1890.
The owner of the home, Ericka Karner, quickly found herself in a bind. The medical examiner’s office told her the body was her responsibility, even though the error that left the coffin beneath her garage was not. The body was now on private property, and the private property was hers.
An investigator for the medical examiner’s office confirmed its staff had been summoned following the discovery but did not take custody of the remains.
Karner said she called one Colma undertaker and was quoted a price of $7,000. She called an East Bay archaeological company that handles historic artifacts and was quoted a price of $22,000.
“It didn’t seem right,” said Karner, who markets cookies for a living and whose family has lived in the home since 1976. “I understand if a tree is on your property, that’s your responsibility. But this is different. The city decided to move all these bodies 100 years ago, and they should stand behind their decision.”
But Karner said she wanted to do the right thing, seeing as how the girl “was part of our family now.” She said the medical examiner’s office had broken the meticulously sealed casket to examine the body and that “time was beginning to be a factor,” though a medical examiner’s spokesman said that only the covers over the coffin’s windows had been removed.
In desperation, with the coffin lying above ground in her backyard, Karner called authorities at City Hall. They put her in touch with Davey.
“That girl was somebody’s child,” Davey said. “You have to do the right thing.”
Davey contacted the Odd Fellows, who agreed to supply the necessary funds. And then Davey, who works out of her office near San Diego, arranged for the body to be picked up and stored, temporarily, in a mortuary refrigerator in Fresno.
“We had to pick her up,” said Davey, whose organization has arranged for the burials of 327 unidentified children at 11 cemeteries and other plots of land throughout California. “If people find out she’s lying at a construction site with no one around at night, you can bet somebody is going to steal her. People into the macabre. Into witchcraft. I wanted her out of there.”
Davey hired her niece to construct a second coffin, made of maple, large enough to hold the body and the original coffin.
“I don’t want her disturbed any more,” Davey said. “She’s been disturbed enough.”
Next week, Davey will come to San Francisco for a meeting with representatives of the Odd Fellows to arrange for a reburial for the girl, who has tentatively been given the name of Miranda.
“She’ll go home with the love of the community,” said Davey. “That’s all we want.”
UPDATE: Little Lost Girl was found on May 9, 2016
She was re-buried on June 5, 2016
The Little Lost Girl was re-named Miranda Eve and was re-buried on June 5 in the Colma Cemetery
WHAT IS THE COLMA CEMETERY?
Wyatt Earp is buried there
Above: Jeani Rector at Wyatt Earp's tombstone
A San Francisco woman named Leticia wrote:
I live here in San Francisco and wanted to write to you about the city of Colma. It is often called the "city of the dead" due to the fact that it has many cemeteries, which include a Jewish cemetery, Chinese cemetery, pet cemetery, and so forth. It is known that this town has more dead people than living. The reason there are so many cemeteries is because in San Francisco it is "not allowed" to bury people. Some kind of ordinance that passed in the early 1900's I think. You should check it out. –Leticia
Welcome to Necropolis!
Incorporated in 1924, the city of Colma actually has a lot more dead resident (an estimated two million) than it does living (around 1,200). There are seventeen cemeteries within the city’s two square miles, which account for approximately 73% of the total acreage of the town. Some of bone yards contain some fairly noteworthy former folks, such as denim pioneer Levi Strauss, publishing potentate William Randolph Hearst and Tombstone gunslinger Wyatt Earp.
So just how did this city end up with so many dead occupants? According to Colma’s official web site, www.colma.ca.gov/briefhis.html:
A California State Law was passed in the late 1800's, State Penal Code 297 stated - prohibited any burials anywhere except an established cemetery such as one by a city or county, church, ethnic group or military. You could no longer bury a body on the homestead or along the wagon trail.
San Francisco had many cemeteries established by the time gold was discovered. Hundreds of thousands arrived bringing diseases, followed by deaths and filled their cemeteries to capacity.
The San Francisco City Fathers passed Bill #54 & Ordinance #25 on 3-26-1900 stating that no further burials will be allowed in the City & County of San Francisco. With no further burials, they became a place of neglect and vandalism. They then became a health hazard.
Colma became the chosen area for cemeteries…
On Jan. 14, 1914 Removal notices were sent to all cemeteries, branding them as “A public nuisance and a menace and detriment to the health and welfare of city dwellers.” There were many delays to this order as the cemeteries and some citizens fought to have it revoked. By Nov. of 1937 the legal battles were over and bodies not removed were now ordered to be removed.
Colma Cemeteries now inherited hundreds of thousands of additional bodies.
This all led to the incorporation of the cemetery area that became known as Lawndale on August 5, 1924. The Associated Cemeteries, made up of supervisors from each were concerned that what happened in S.F. could happen again. To protect the cemeteries they became organized and incorporated. They wanted the name Memorial Park but there was already a Memorial Park in our county. We kept Lawndale until the United States Postal Service informed us there was a Lawndale in Southern Calif. We went back to the name of Colma. This was on Nov. 17, 1941.
Colma’s living-to-dead ratio of residents has earned the city some morbid monikers, such as “City of Souls,” and “City of the Silent.” Ironically, or perhaps due to a little graveyard humor on the part of the local chamber of commerce, the city’s official slogan is actually, “It’s great to be alive in Colma.” Most of the city’s occupants wouldn’t know anything about that, though.
See this entire Colma post HERE