Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 18, 2015 10:03:09 GMT -5
Playhouse for the Dead
Lanett, a small town of around 7,000 in eastern Alabama, has little to offer tourists, with the exception of its cemetery, which boasts one of the most-visited grave sites in the South. The resting place of Nadine Earles, who died December 18, 1933, is technically a mausoleum, but it was built, and is described as, a “playhouse,” because that’s what it is. The only difference between most children’s playhouses and this one is that it houses a tomb.
Nadine, the daughter of Julian and Alma Earles, was born April 3, 1929, but she wasn’t the perfect child her parents had hoped she would be, having been born with a harelip, or cleft palate. Although her parents took her to various physicians and speech therapists and she had undergone surgery, because of her deformity and speech difficulties, the little girl spent most of her time alone, playing with her dolls.
In the fall of 1933, her father purchased materials to build his daughter a playhouse, which he hoped to have finished by Christmas. In November of that year, Nadine was scheduled for a second surgical procedure when she came down with diphtheria, an acute bacterial disease that causes inflammation of the throat and hinders breathing and swallowing. The condition is highly contagious, which necessitated placing the Earles home under quarantine and the entire block on which they lived was roped off to all except those who lived there. While Nadine was ill and Julian Earles was forbidden to leave the house for work because of the quarantine, he busied himself building the playhouse his daughter wanted for Christmas. However, the sawing and hammering outside bothered the feverish child and he decided to wait until she was better. In the meantime, her parents gave Nadine some of her Christmas gifts early in hopes of making her feel better, but on Monday, December 18, the deadly disease claimed her.
However, his daughter’s untimely death did not deter her father and shortly after her burial, he disassembled the playhouse in the yard with the intention of rebuilding it at Nadine’s grave site in Oakwood Cemetery. The only difference would be that now, instead of a place for his little girl to play with her dolls and other toys, it would serve as her sepulcher. Because structures in cemeteries must be of a more permanent nature and a wooden structure was considered insufficient, Earles hired a contractor and the tiny house was reconstructed of brick and concrete.
Just before April 3 (1934), which would have been Nadine’s 5th birthday, a party was held at her playhouse in the graveyard where a group of 25 children in party finery enjoyed cake and ice cream in honor of their dead friend. A photograph (above) of this celebration is displayed in an oval frame in the window of the playhouse.
Today marks the 82nd anniversary of Nadine Earle’s death and her playhouse still stands, meticulously maintained by family members and cemetery workers and decorated each Christmas in remembrance of the Christmas the little girl never had. Inside is the raised tomb of the child, surrounded by dolls and other toys, and to this day, visitors leave small gifts on the steps. Just outside are the graves of Julian and Alma Earles, who joined their daughter in death in 1976 and 1981, respectively.
Sources: Oakwood Cemetery of Lanette, Ala.; Douglas Keister; and Find-a-Grave.