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Girl in coffin discovered under San Francisco home identified

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Real estate mystery of misplaced two-year-old from Odd Fellows cemetery solved one year later

A year ago, the owner of a home near the corner of Stanyan and Golden Gate Avenue received the shock of a lifetime when contractors renovating the space unearthed a 140-year-old metal coffin in the backyard.

Evidently the city was not as fastidious relocating the tenants of the former Odd Fellows cemetery on Stanyan as they should have been back in the 1930s. The remarkably well-preserved body of a young girl remained visible through the coffin windows.

The city wouldn’t claim the remains, saying that they were now the legal responsibility of homeowner Ericka Karner. So the Garden of Innocence Project, a Southern California-based charity, buried the unidentified girl in Colma a few weeks later.

But the mystery remained as to the identity of this anonymous child.

"I was up until four in the morning looking at maps trying to identify the old plot,” Garden of Innocence founder and San Diego realtor Elissa Davey told Curbed SF at the time.

Now Davey says via a press release that, after nearly a year of digging (pardon the term), she and a team of volunteers have their answer:

Her name was Edith Howard Cook, the second born child and first born daughter of Horatio Nelson and Edith Scooffy Cook. She died on October 13, 1876, at age of two years, ten months and 15 days, and was buried in family plot in the Yerba Buena section of the Odd Fellows Cemetery on October 15, 1876.

Born to a native San Franciscan mother and a father from Delaware living at 635 Sutter Street, Edith Cook died of “marasmus,” a slightly opaque diagnosis that generally indicates malnourishment.

Davey with a copy of the cemetery plan at SF Library.
Courtesy GOI

GOI spokesperson Erica Hernandez says that the group does not usually commit much time or resources to this kind of research, but this was a special case.

“The people who moved these burials were super disrespectful, just threw the bodies in and who knows what they did with the stones?” Hernandez told Curbed SF. “Anger [at that] had a lot to do” with the amount of work that went into finding the proper ID.

The break in the case was the original 1865 cemetery plan, on file at the Bancroft Library, “which provided a scalable map used to create the overlays which identified the section of the cemetery corresponding to the Karner’s backyard.”

Researchers also matched Edith’s DNA to that of her living great-grandnephew, who lives in Marin County.

A second memorial service with the proper inscription on the stone is set for June 10 at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma, nearly a year and a week after the first.