Homeowners renovate their homes for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s solely to increase your property value, for others, it’s primarily to add a personal touch to a home you plan to grow your family in, and sometimes it’s simply to restore the original beauty of an older home.
When Ericka and John Karner decided to remodel their San Francisco home last year, they were expecting to remove some interior walls, old building materials, and perhaps replace the windows and give their home a face lift. When they began the reconstruction, they had no idea they were about to restore a lot more than their home—but a priceless piece of history as well.
Last year, their contractor was digging up a hole in a slab floor in the backyard when he made an unusual and mysterious discovery.
He found an airtight 37-inch tall, 3-feet-long metal casket with two glass viewing windows. In it lay a perfectly preserved little girl in a long white lace dress, with curly long blonde hair woven with lavender twigs, on her chest was a cross made of flowers—her small hand still clutching a rose her parents had placed in her palm.
“There was a lot of emotion as a mom” Ericka Karner told KTVU. The couple, who have two young daughters of their own, were disturbed by the discovery. “That could be my little girl,” John Karner said that was his first thought when they found the toddler who, they later learned, had been buried underneath their home for 140 years.
Elissa Davey, genealogist and founder of Garden of Innocence—an organization that provides dignified burials for abandoned and unidentified children—heard about the little girl in the casket and he took it upon herself to investigate her story. Davey nicknamed the girl Miranda Eve and laid her to rest in Colma’s Green Lawn Cemetery with a headstone that read “The Child Loved Around The World.”
“We just fell in love with her and wanted her to have her name back. She deserved that,” Davey told ABC7 News.
It took an entire year before Davey found out who she really was. After 11 months of dedicated efforts and careful investigations of historical records, old maps of the city, and newspaper clippings of the 1800’s, she got her answer. Edith Howard Cook was 2 years, 10 months, and 15 days old when she passed away 140 years ago on October 13, 1876.
She was the first child of a wealthy and well known San Francisco family, Horatio Nelson and Edith Scooffy Cook. Researchers determined the cause of death through studying the toddler’s strands of blonde hair: Marasmus—a severe form of malnutrition.
They also discovered through DNA testing that Edith had one surviving relative, an 82-year-old grand nephew named Peter Cook. The elderly man from Marin County was said he was smiling from ear to ear upon learning it was 99.9% certain he was related to little Edith.
“I found a relative that I didn’t even know existed,” Peter told KPIX-TV also saying “The sadness in this is the little girl didn’t live to be 3 years old.” Peter attended Edith’s June 10 ceremony, where a new headstone bearing her real name and photograph, according to Inside Edition.
The Karner’s found out that their Lone Mountain neighborhood of San Fransisco, used to be the Odd Fellows Cemetery over a century ago, and their home on Rossi Street, near the University of San Francisco, used to be the Cook family plot where little Edith had been buried 140 years ago.
When San Francisco outlawed new interments in 1900, Odd Fellows Cemetery, and eventually along with 30 others in the city, was exhumed in 1929 to Colma, California–which became home to approximately 1.5 million deceased Californians thereafter.
But somehow this little girl’s coffin was overlooked only to be found by the Kramers. She has since been given a proper burial at Greenlawn Memorial Park last year, which will be her last and final resting place.
“It breaks your heart but then you’re so happy that you get to give her her name back because a human being deserves a name,” said Davey.
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Watch the KTVU report below.