California · Graves

A toddler’s death and remarkable preservation

October 13, 1873
San Francisco, California
Edith Howard Cook dies of marasmus

Edith died a month shy of her 3rd birthday from marasmus, a severe malnutrition brought on by a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection. Her hair was adorned with lavender, a rosary and eucalyptus seeds placed on her chest, and she was buried in an ornate, airtight metal coffin with glass windows.

Over the years, the cemetery which held her body was turned into a neighborhood and a house was unknowingly built over her. During construction, workers found her unmarked casket in a slab of concrete. The coffin itself was a strange find, but looking through the glass they saw Edith, remarkably preserved during the nearly century and a half since her death.

As there were no markings to identify her, she was reburied in another cemetery while a team comprised of “scientists, amateur sleuths and history buffs” worked to find the toddler’s name. Using maps of the old cemetery, they narrowed down the possibilities, then used DNA to positively match her with a suspected living relative. Her body still rests in her original casket which was placed in a slightly larger wooden coffin before reburial at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma.

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