In May of last year, construction workers made a startling discovery when they came across a small metal casket underneath a San Francisco home containing a 19th-century girl.
The young girl’s body was perfectly preserved within the casket and non-profit organization, Garden of Innocence, has been spending the last year trying to identify her.
After extensive investigating, Garden of Innocence was able to determine that the child was named Edith Howard Cook and died just six weeks before her third birthday on October 13th, 1876.
The construction site was formerly the Odd Fellows Cemetery, but the workers did not anticipate unearthing a body as it was believed that the bodies were all moved to Colma in the 1920s.
For whatever reason, Edith’s remains were left behind, and the mystery of who she was and why her casket was never moved stumped locals and researchers alike.
While the body prompted more questions than answers, considering how perfectly preserved it was, some clues were able to give Garden of Innocence a better idea of who Edith was.
According to the Garden of Innocence report, Edith was found wearing a white christening dress with ankle-high boots and purple flowers woven into her hair. The burial, including roses and eucalyptus leaves placed inside of the coffin, showed the girl came from a well-off family.
“All the hair was still there,” Kevin Boylan, a construction worker, told KTVU. “The nails were there. There were flowers — roses, still on the child’s body. It was a sight to see.”
Elissa Davey, the founder of the Garden of Innocence Project, was determined to identify this girl. While still searching for answers, the team held a reburial service under the name Miranda Eve with a headstone that read: “Miranda Eve. The Child Loved Around The World. ‘If no one grieves, no one will remember.’”
Michael Dunn, from Garden of Innocence, stated, “She was forgotten and overlooked for more than 100 years, that ends today.”
Researchers searched endlessly to identify the little girl’s remains, but it all came together when they found a map of the old cemetery at a University of California, Berkeley library.
The researchers used the map to correlate where the remains were found and discovered her parents, Horatio Cook and Edith Scooffy, had once been buried there as well.
Having a family’s name to work with helped the team drastically and sent them on a search for any living descendants. Eventually, researchers found Marin County resident Peter Cook who volunteered his DNA for testing.
DNA from the girl was taken from her hair and proved to be a match for Peter Cook. It was determined that Cook was Edith’s grandnephew.
UC Davis Professor Jelmer Eerkens helped test the DNA and stated, “It’s likely she was sick with some disease and at some point, her immune system couldn’t combat the disease and probably went into a coma and passed away.”
Upon the coffin’s discovery, the seal was broken which caused Edith’s body to begin deteriorating and researchers would have to act fast. Davey managed to accumulate the funds necessary to store Edith’s remains in a mortuary refrigerator in Fresno.
“That girl was somebody’s child,” Davey told Daily Mail. “We had to pick her up. Just by looking at the way they dressed her, their sorrow was great. We will love her too.”
The Garden of Innocence has been helping bury the bodies of unidentified children in California for nearly 20 years. “We have become a place where people find closure,” Davey says about their services.
The collaborative efforts of Garden of Innocence and the researchers who helped identify Edith Howard Cook paid off. It resulted in the remembrance of a once forgotten little girl.