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145-year-old casket with preserved toddler found beneath San Francisco home

145-year-old casket with preserved toddler found beneath San Francisco home
Construction workers inspect a casket found beneath a San Francisco home May 9. (Courtesy of Ericka Karner)

Construction crews in San Francisco made a macabre discovery earlier this month when they unearthed a child's coffin beneath a garage being renovated, the homeowner said.

The lead and bronze 3½ foot-long coffin had two windows in it, revealing the perfectly preserved body of a blond girl in a white dress holding a rose, said homeowner Ericka Karner.

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"I was shocked on one hand, obviously, because there's a small child's casket underneath the home," said Karner, who with her husband and children are staying with family in Idaho while renovations continue. "But I wasn't necessarily super surprised, because I knew the history of the area."

Karner's family lives in the city's Richmond District, which in the late 1800s contained a number of cemeteries. In the early 20th century, the city identified the area for development and moved thousands of graves south to Colma.

The girl's casket, left behind at the time, was found May 9.

"Being a mom, that's unfathomable and sad that a little child could be left behind like that," Karner said.

She said the city did not accept responsibility for the body but put her in contact with an organization that could help.

Elissa Davey of the Garden of Innocence, an organization that buries abandoned children, secured most of the funds needed to move and rebury the casket elsewhere. Davey estimated that the girl was about 3 years old when she died, based on her size, and had been buried for some 145 years. The body is surrounded by eucalyptus leaves.

The girl's identity is unknown, and cemetery records might have been destroyed or lost.

"We'll find a way to rebury her. What's happened is not right and we'll make it right," Davey said.

As for the home, construction continues, and Karner, her husband and two daughters plan to return soon, she said.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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