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Mystery solved: Identity of the girl in forgotten casket finally revealed

When you conduct a house renovation, you wish and hope that the contractor doesn’t come across anything unexpected and weird. Still, it’s common to find water damage, wires that need to be replaced, or other unpleasant things like termites when walls or floors are being ripped up.

But when a family in San Francisco heard what construction workers found while remodeling their home, they got a big shock.

They found a bronze casket just big enough to fit a small child in under their house. The coffin found under the house was from the 19th century. It was completely airtight and the girl’s body was preserved incredibly well inside. Through the glass, you could see her face, curly blond hair and see that she was holding a bouquet of red roses in her hands.

 

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A casket containing the body of a girl was found buried beneath a San Francisco home.

(a)Shocked and curious, the family wondered who this little girl in the coffin was—and now a year later, the truth has been uncovered and the mystery was solved.

Ericka Karner lives in the house where the girl was found, and she contacted both the police and Garden of Innocence and organization that gives funerals to dead unidentified and abandoned children.

It turned out that the land that Ericka’s house had been built on used to be a cemetery, the Odd Fellows Cemetery until the 1930s. Then, the land was redeveloped as a residential area and all the graves were moved. But the little girl’s casket had been forgotten.

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Garden of Innocence called the girl Miranda Eve and reburied her in another cemetery. But they still didn’t know who she was. So they kept searching for the girl’s identity.(a)

Who was the girl?

Edith Howard Cook was born in San Francisco on Nov. 28, 1873.

The daughter of Horatio Nelson Cook and Edith Scooffy Cook, she died of marasmus — a form of severe undernourishment — on Oct. 13, 1876, said Jelmer Eerkens, an archaeologist at UC Davis who analyzed Edith’s hair.

Marasmus is characterized by a severe deficiency in nutrients, particularly protein, and can be brought on by viral, bacterial or parasitic infections.(a)

Chemical isotopes showed that in Edith’s last months, she essentially wasted away from malnutrition, he said. There was no evidence that doctors tried to use treatments popular at the time, such as morphine, mercury or cocaine.

The girl’s DNA revealed that part of her lineage traced back to the British Isles.

She was found entombed in an airtight casket that was 37 inches tall. Her curly locks were laced with sprigs of lavender. A rosary and eucalyptus seeds were placed on her chest.

(a)Who was Edith’s family?

Though Edith wasn’t around to see it, her family became part of the “jet set” crowd in San Francisco in the early 20th century, Phillips said.

When Edith was born, the Cooks were rising to prominence. Her father was the grandly named Horatio Nelson Cook, son of an English sea captain. At just 17, Cook founded a tannery and leather manufacturing business. He called it H.N. Cook Belting Company, and it was an instant success. He won contracts to supply San Francisco with fire buckets, leather goods, and hoses. Ten years later, the 1870 census lists Horatio’s personal wealth at $4,000.

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That same year, 27-year-old Horatio married 19-year-old Edith Scooffy, the daughter of well-heeled Greek immigrant family. The pair were quite the duo, regulars in the Chronicle’s society stories, and Horatio was soon appointed the Greek consul in San Francisco. The Cooks made their home at 635 Sutter St., today the White Horse Restaurant and Pub near Union Square.(a)

Two years after Edith’s death, another daughter was born, the soon-to-be-famed Ethel Cook. She was called the most beautiful woman in America by a Russian nobleman — and it’s little wonder she was the most talked-about young lady in the city.

The news clipping described Ethel Cook as the “reigning bell of San Francisco,” who once was “made famous by Grand Duke Boris of Russia, who drank a toast with champagne out of one of her slippers at a banquet and declared that she was the most beautiful American woman he had ever seen.” (a)

Researcher traced Edith’s family back to the 1600s and then up to modern times. He found someone he believed to be a living grandson of Milton Cook, Edith’s older brother.

But the descendant, Peter Cook, 82, didn’t know his family tree on his father’s side back more than a generation. Some of the names Phillips mentioned sounded familiar, but there wasn’t enough to confirm that Peter Cook was related to Edith Cook, who would have been his great-aunt.

Today, the family continues to thrive, according to Peter Cook.

(a)The legacy of the Cook family in the Bay Area is still existing, however. H.N. Cook Belting Company still exists; today, it’s the Hoffmeyer Company, a business that manufactures industrial equipment like conveyor belts.

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The Last Farewell

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Now that Edith’s real name was known, Garden of Innocence decided to hold another funeral for her and give her a proper gravestone complete with her name and picture.

A few weeks ago, the staff from Garden of Innocence met with Peter Cook and bid the final farewell to little Edith.

The story of Edith was really fascinating and it is very touching to know that there are people who are willing to exert efforts just to give proper resting place and ceremony to an unknown child.(a)

Now that the mystery is solved, Edith can finally rest in peace.

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For other stories, Family Covers Relative with Money on Coffin

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