CW: Child Death
Scattered across American cemeteries are a handful of fascinating, poignant and unusual graves, commemorating the short lives of little girls whose parents wanted to memorialise them a little more unusually in death. Sitting like miniature residences between the headstones, these doll’s house graves are a striking example of non-traditional funerary art and changing ideas of grief, innocence, personalisation and burial. While there are several across America, I present a cross section of some fascinating and truly curious examples.
[Image via Mom0ja, Atlas Obscura User]
Nadine Earles (1929-1933)
In Oakwood Cemetery, Lanett, Alabama, the grave of five year old Nadine Earles (d.1933) is marked by a substantial brick doll’s house (realistically the size of a Wendy house or play house) that could function as a scaled-down replica of a modest, twee bungalow. Complete with awnings, post-box and flower boxes, the little house is maintained by the city, who add lights and wreaths to the grave in winter, and keep the house looking its best.
[Image via Confessions of a Funeral Director]
[Party at the Dollhouse – Image via Alabama Pioneers]
Nadine Earles died the week before Christmas in 1933. She asked her father for a dollhouse for Christmas, but she died before it was ever completed. In its place, her parents decided that the little girl would still get her dollhouse and installed it after her burial. The original dollhouse rotted over time, and was so replaced by a brick likeness to ensure its longevity. Nadine’s parents maintained the grave themselves for the years after her death, looking after the structure and keeping the little shack stacked with new toys, including a host of toy dolls and playthings. Curiously, inside the house, what appears to be a toy bed is in fact her headstone.
Nadine’s little house sits in the family plot, where her parents, Julian and Alma, now reside beside her.
[Image via AL.com]
Dorothy Marie Harvey (1926 – 1931)
Dorothy is buried in Medina, Tennessee but was never a resident. As her family travelled upstate to find work, Dorothy became ill and died of measles, leaving the family with little choice but to bury her in an unfamiliar town and move on with their journey. To support the poor and grieving family, the townsfolk banded together and had the young child buried with a headstone and eventually, a small dollhouse to keep her company.
[The original dollhouse. Image via cultofweird]
Sadly, as with so many unusual memorials, the original house was destroyed by vandals many years ago, with few pictures remaining of its original incarnation. However, since its destruction, a larger house has been installed over the grave and is still in situ. Occasionally, passing mourners and tourists leave gifts of toys and dolls by her grave, and the local legend persists that on some days, if you peek through the windows of her house, you can see little Dorothy herself.
[Images via findagrave.com]
[Image via cultofweird]
Vivian Mae Allison ( 1894 – 1899)
Much like the tragic tale of Nadine Earles, six-year-old Vivian Mae had been hoping for a dollhouse for Christmas, but died just short of the day itself. After building the house, it was installed over her grave in Connersville, Indiana, where her father kept it fully stocked with personal trinkets and toys in her memory.
[image via findagrave.com]
After years of upkeep by her parents and sister, the grave eventually fell into serious disrepair with ‘vandals almost succeeding in ripping it from the gravesite.’Thankfully, as with so many of these graves, the local community rallied round to preserve Vivian’s house, seeing her as a beloved resident and not just a local curiosity.
The group of volunteers fully refurbished the house, but also laid new foundations and immovable concreted bolts, making any future vandalism attempts futile.
[Image via agraveinterest]
Lova Cline (1902-1908)
Twenty-Five miles away from Vivian, a similar dollhouse grave can be found in Arlington, Indiana. Lova Cline had a tragic and short life. Born with an unknown neurological illness, she was unable to move unassisted and had few pleasures in life, save for the dollhouse made by her father and filled with toys by her mother. The house itself was enormous, being five foot tall, with large viewing windows, so the small girl could gaze inside, even if she couldn’t actively play with the toys herself.
[Interior view. Via Tom “Homer” W – findagrave]
After her death in 1908, the house was moved to Lova’s grave, so that she could always enjoy her favourite toy. Here it remained until the death of her mother, at the event of which her father asked that it be destroyed. Unwilling to damage the child’s memorial, the cemetery caretaker or gravedigger disinterred the child and moved her remains and house beside her mother, who had been buried in a different cemetery. Due to the publicity of Vivian’s dollhouse, it can be inferred that Lova’s parents were inspired by the story and were able to take solace in a similar memorial.
[Image via Emily B – findagrave]
So many of these beautiful graves have suffered extreme vandalism over the years, but their constant restoration is a credit to cemetery volunteers, who in doing so, preserve an unsung American funerary and mourning tradition.
Dollhouse graves pique our interest in varying ways, not least as a curiosity. After all, how many of us have seen tiny houses in places of burial? They are also incredibly emotional sites, being a lasting memorial not just to the child, but to the extreme outpouring of grief from parents. These little houses become representative of a universal ‘everydaughter’, a child in their playroom for all eternity.
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