A cautionary tale for San Francisco home renovators: You may find out more about the history of your property than you like.
Ericka Karner is a former San Franciscan who decided to get a little work done on her childhood home. Then, contractors made a startling discovery: The coffin of a young girl who died over 120 years ago.
The site of Karner’s house near Stanyan and Golden Gate Avenue was once an Odd Fellows cemetery. All of the graves were moved away in 1900, when the city evicted San Francisco’s graveyards—that is, all of them but one.
Now it’s something of a real estate puzzle to figure out who the girl (dubbed "Miranda," for lack of an identifier on the coffin) was. "I was up until four in the morning looking at maps," Elissa Davey told Curbed SF.
Davey is the head of a charity called Garden of Innocence, which provides dignified burials for unclaimed children. Miranda will be GOI’s 327th internment since its founding in 1998.
A burial is tentatively set for June 4, probably at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma. (The original plan was to rebury the girl with her family, but Davey eschews the mass grave that most of the Odd Fellows ended up in. "They didn't treat those people right," she says.)
Before then, Davey (a realtor in San Diego, though she says Garden of Innocence takes up almost all of her time these days) would very much like to find out the proper name to put on the marker.
She’s got a map of the former cemeteries at Stanyan and Golden Gate Avenue, but it’s not detailed enough to show what specific plots used to be underneath Karner’s house. "There used to be a crematory right there near that corner," she says, a potentially helpful landmark on old records.
The remains initially proved a headache for Karner. According to the Chronicle, the city wouldn’t claim the casket, legally defined as a proper burial despite the impropriety of it no longer being where it should.
"This kind of thing happens all the time," Peter Sellars, San Francisco historian for the Odd Fellows, told Curbed SF. "I personally know where two burials are on the USF campus that nobody wants to acknowledge." He says the Odd Fellows are committed to helping fund the new internment, estimated at $7,000. "We will bury our own."
If any San Francisco history buffs have an unusually sound command of the layouts of onetime cemeteries, get in touch with Garden of Innocence at their website. In the meantime, donations to help cover that $7,000 bill are appreciated.
- Renovators Uncover Casket [Chronicle]
- Garden of Innocence
- Colma's Mystery Tombstone [Roadside America]
- Why Are There So Many Dead People in Colma? [KQED]