Graveyard Shift
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Terrifying Glass Coffin Discovered In Someone's Backyard Reveals San Francisco's Morbid History

Updated April 3, 2019 855.5k views13 items

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.

  • Edith Cook's Body And Clothes Were Preserved In The Air-Tight Casket

    Edith Cook's Body And Clothes Were Preserved In The Air-Tight Casket
    Photo: 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 Housing

    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.

  • During The Relocation, Unclaimed Gravestones Were Re-purposed

    When officials relocated the graves from San Francisco to Colma, unclaimed and broken headstones were re-purposed. While the plots were moved at no cost to families, the headstones were not, causing many markers to be left behind. Reportedly, the City and County Department of Public Works restructured the abandoned stones into seawalls and gutters around San Francisco. Grave markers still occasionally wash up on the beaches.

    In 2012, visitors discovered the intact marble tombstone of Delia Presby Oliver on Ocean Beach. She passed in 1890, and her gravestone was used in a makeshift seawall when the city piled tombstones and rocks on the beach in an attempt to prevent erosion.

  • The Search For The Child's Identity Took Researchers An Estimated 3,000 Hours

    Tracking the identity of anyone is challenging, but discovering the identity of an infant child in a 140-year-old lost casket is particularly difficult. According to the LA Times, Davey and her team of three spent an estimated 3,000 hours conducting research and driving the efforts to illuminate who "Miranda Eve" was, and why she was in the Karners' backyard. 

    They began by finding a map of Odd Fellows Cemetery and comparing it with records of the neighborhood built where it used to stand. Next, the team used the internet to locate open records of births and deaths, and they were ultimately able to trace Edith H. Cook's family tree.