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The Girl with No Name

It’s unusual to be buried twice. When there’s a hundred-and-forty-five years between the burials, that’s even more unusual. And when the name, family and origins of the deceased person are completely unknown, that’s almost certainly unique.

But all of the above has happened in a strange and moving story from California. At the beginning of May this year, a group of workmen were renovating a garage in San Francisco. As they were digging up the ground, their shovels struck something hard. It turned out to be a tiny coffin made of lead and bronze.

Inside the coffin there was the well-preserved body of a small girl aged about three. Someone had buried her with love and attention nearly a century-and-a-half ago. She was wearing a white cotton dress with lace trimmings. Lavender had been folded into her curly golden hair and placed on her chest as a cross. There were eucalyptus leaves tucked around her and she had been sprinkled with rose petals. To judge from her metal coffin, the  fabric of her dress and the care of her burial, she was from a rich family.

But who is she? Nobody has been able to find out. There were no clues in the coffin and no traces of a headstone, but it wasn’t hard to find out why the coffin was there. That part of San Francisco is called Richmond District and as the nineteenth century drew to an end it was home to several cemeteries. But the city was growing fast and the need for new houses was becoming more urgent. The authorities decided to move the graves elsewhere, so that the former cemeteries could be turned over to housing. But some of the graves were missed and this girl’s was obviously among them, perhaps because it was so small. The land once occupied by the cemetery was built over and the tiny lead-and-bronze coffin lay there unsuspected, decade after decade.

In May 2016 it came back to the light. But what was going to happen to it? The owner of the garage, Ericka Kraner, was told that because the coffin had been discovered on her property, it was now her responsibility to re-bury it. However, there were problems. Without a name, the authorities couldn’t issue a death certificate. Without a death certificate, Ericka Kraner couldn’t get a burial permit for a public cemetery.

Then a woman called Elissa Davey came to her aid. She runs an organization called Garden of Innocence, which holds funerals for children who have died without a family or without identification.  The golden-haired girl could be buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Colma, California. And in the absence of her real name, she was given a new one for the occasion: Miranda Eve.

The funeral was held on Saturday June 4th 2016 and there were a hundred and thirty people in attendance. They had heard the story and been touched by the sadness and mystery of the girl with no name. Now she is at rest again, but there is a chance that the mystery of her identity will be solved by science. Some strands of hair were taken from her head before she was sealed into a new coffin and perhaps DNA testing will be able to trace living relatives.

In the hope that this will be successful and that her real name will be discovered, space has been left on her gravestone to record it. This is a moving story, a sad mystery from a vanished age, and it proves once again how important the rituals of burial are to human beings. All of those who worked so hard to ensure that the little girl had a proper new burial were complete strangers to her, but that didn’t matter. They rightly felt that she was owed respect and a decent resting place in a safe place, and that is exactly what they have given her.