Terrifying Glass Coffin Discovered In Someone's Backyard Reveals San Francisco's Morbid History
When a 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco, the death toll was substantial. Too many bodies buried within the city created health concerns, so most of the tombs were relocated to make way for development. However, it turns out workers missed a few. While many people find bizarre objects buried in their backyards, most of the time the items have simply been abandoned by previous owners, but occasionally, they have a spookier history.
In 2016, a construction crew working in the backyard of John and Ericka Karner's San Francisco house unearthed a coffin made of glass and cast iron. Inside, the homeowners discovered the well-preserved body of a child. Karner's children nicknamed the unknown little girl "Miranda Eve" until genealogists - in conjunction with the non-profit Garden of Innocence - determined that the body was that of 2-year-old Edith H. Cook, who died from an illness in 1876. The tiny glass coffin was left behind when her family's burial plot was moved to the city of Colma in the 1930s. Using hair samples, volunteers worked tirelessly to find Miranda Eve's living relatives, later identifying one man as her grand-nephew. Since the mass relocation, locals have unwittingly uncovered hundreds more of forgotten graves.
Researchers Discovered The Girl's Identity Using DNAPhoto: Courtsey Photo - Elissa Davey / via LA Times / Fair Use
In 2016, John and Erika Karner hired construction workers to remodel their Lone Mountain home in San Francisco - and the workers unknowingly excavated a tiny coffin. The Karners contacted the Office of Public Administration, who turned to genealogist Elissa Davey. Davey operates the non-profit Garden of Innocence, a project which aims to bury unidentified children. Davey and her team used preserved strands of the unknown girl's hair to perform a DNA test and determine her identity.
They discovered that the deceased child is Edith Howard Cook, the daughter of Horatio Nelson and Edith Scooffy Cook. Edith passed on October 13, 1876, at 2 years, 10 months, and 15 days old. Davey compared old plot maps of Odd Fellows Cemetery from the 1800s with current scaled street maps to determine which plot the coffin belonged to. She found evidence of the Cook family plot, where Edith's mother and father were laid to rest.
Edith Has One Living RelativePhoto: Courtesy Photo - Elissa Davey / via LA Times / Fair Use
After discovering Edith's identity, Davey teamed up with Jelmer Eerkens, an anthropologist at the University of California. The two tracked down Edith Cook's grand-nephew, Peter Cook, via genealogical records. He is her only known living relative. Peter had never heard of Edith, so they swabbed his saliva to guarantee it was a match. Miraculously, they confirmed that Edith Cook was Peter's great-aunt.
This discovery came as a surprise to Peter, whose father passed when he was only 3 years old. As a result, he didn't know much about that side of his family.
Edith Cook Died Of A Disease Called Marasmus
Through more research, Garden of Innocence tracked down Edith's funeral records. According to the report, young Edith suffered from marasmus, a form of severe malnutrition common in the 1800s. The illness can be caused by viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections and prevents the absorption of nutrients. Eerkens speculates that Edith contracted another disease that her weakened, undernourished immune system couldn't fight.
Public records indicate that Edith also had a brother and sister, both who lived into adulthood.
The Karner Family's Backyard Used To Be A CemeteryPhoto: KTVU / via YouTube / Fair Use
In trying to figure out how little Edith Cook ended up in the backyard of the Karner family's Richmond District residence, Davey discovered that the San Francisco neighborhood used to be a cemetery. People were buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery between 1865 and 1902 and later transferred to Colma, California, during the 1930s.
Edith was accidentally left behind in her family's plot during the massive relocation.
Edith Cook's Body And Clothes Were Preserved In The Air-Tight CasketPhoto: Courtesy Photo - Elissa Davey / via Garden of Innocence / Fair Use
According to those who spearheaded the Edith Cook investigation, the 140-year-old body was unaffected from the elements. When researchers opened the coffin, they could easily discern the lavender placed in Edith's blonde hair as well as her white christening dress. She had been extraordinarily well-preserved due to the air-tight casket. Funerary boxes made of glass and cast iron were popular in the 1800s among wealthy families.
The little window on top, used for viewings, is unusual by modern standards. However, at the time of Edith's passing, such decor was common.
Graves Were Moved From San Francisco To Colma To Free Up Space For HousingPhoto: Tom Hilton/Flickr / via SFWeekly / CC BY-ND 2.0
Hundreds of thousands of graves were moved from San Francisco to Colma in the 1930s because city developers saw housing potential on those plots of land. According to researchers, all the work was performed manually, as excavating technology did not yet exist. As a result, some bodies were simply missed. The former graves are now permanently stationed in the Greenlawn Cemetery of Colma.
According to Garden of Innocence, at least three more unidentified bodies have been uncovered in what was the Odd Fellows Cemetery. These discoveries came after Edith's exhumation and identification in 2016.