For approximately fifty years after the Civil War, a popular way to memorialize young children who had passed was a figure resting in a half shell. Prior to 1900, twenty-two percent of all children in the United States died before their first birthday.
The shell can represent a pilgrimage, spiritual protection, and innocence. Using those meetings, it makes sense this became a symbol for child graves.
Wealthier families would employ sculptors to make one that represented their child. Poor families, who wanted their children memorialized, adopted the shell as a way to mark graves when Sears Roebuck offered them in their catalog.
Here is a great academic article about these monuments by Annette Stott.
If you’ve ever visited St. James Episcopal Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia, you were likely looking for the final resting place of JonBenét Ramsey. Another reason is to visit the supposedly haunted grave of Mary Meinert (1863-1898).
The striking marker of the mother holding her two babies stands out in the cemetery. At night, people claim they can hear the cries of a weeping woman, who they believe is Mary. Some say that if you get close enough that you can see the tears on her face. Others claim to hear a young child crying for their mommy or that the twin babies switch positions in her arms. On Halloween night, you can circle the marker three times and ask, “Mary, Mary, how did your children die?” and she will appear.
According to her obituary, Mary left behind six children, two of them being twin girls that were only four weeks old. By the 1900 census, Henry Meinert is listed as a widow with four children. I am unable to determine when the two twin girls passed away. The mother died of a lung ailment, but it was likely a birth complication.
Obituary from the Marietta Journal‘ on May 26th 1898 (page 1)
The Death Angel Darkens a home
Death has again invaded the happy home in Marietta and took a pure and good wife and a loving devoted mother. Mrs. Marion Meinert wife our esteemed fellow citizen Mr. Henry Meinert. The sad event occurred last Saturday morning about 11:30 o’clock. The deceased had been sick some four weeks, her lungs being involved.
She was one of the most patient, lovable women in Marietta. She had a heart that sympathized with suffering humanity and one who did more charitable work in visiting the poor and sick ministering unto their need that did Mrs. Meinert. She was a truly a disciple of Christ and went about doing good.
She was in her 34th year of her age at the time of her death. She leaves behind her husband and six children, of that number were twin girls four weeks old.
The funeral services were conducted at the family residence on last Sunday afternoon at 4 o’clock, Rev J.H. Patton officiating. There was a number of our citizens present.
The casket was literally covered with flowers, some arrange in beautiful designs, offerings of friends. The internment took place in the Episcopal cemetery. We tender our sincere sympathy to the bereaved husband, children, relatives in this their sad hour of their grief.
Located in the Marietta City Cemetery, this memorial for Mary Annie Gartrell (1853-1906) was erected by her sister Lucy. The grieving sister visited her sister’s grave twice a week, often on foot and in black, for the next 48 years. She became known as the “Lady in Black.”