The Dollhouse of Nadine Earles

by Frank E. Bittinger

I remember being entranced many years ago by an article I was reading about a dollhouse built by a loving father for his little girl. In fact, the article had such a profound effect on me I cut it out and kept it pressed between the pages of a big, thick book for safe-keeping, taking it out to reread every so often. The article remained pressed between the pages of that book for nigh unto twenty years.

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Image of Nadine Dollhouse grave, Lanett, Alabama via Flikr

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After I’d bought my home in my late twenties, I eventually got around to doing what I’d always wanted to do–frame the article to hang in my office/library in my house. The picture hung on the wall from then up until 28 May 2008 when an arson fire destroyed my home along with my possessions.

Miraculously, after all the debris had been cleared away and contractors had worked on the house enough for me to move back home, I started finding some things around the house I knew had been destroyed in fire, finding them in places such as in the new upper cabinets in the kitchen, under the cushions on the new sofa, in the new bathroom medicine cabinet. I still to this day believe the ghosts tried to save things they knew held great sentimental value to me and brought them back to me, but that’s a whole different story for another day.

One of the items that made its way back to me was the framed article about little Nadine Earles and her dollhouse that had hung on the wall of a room that had been completely gutted by fire. The frame and glass were somehow intact. The article itself had a few water stains on it and it’s yellowed, but other than that it was in perfect condition. This is the framed article. It is doubly valuable to me because it is something from my childhood and because it somehow managed to find its way back to me after the fire.

Like Rosalia Lombardo, I also wrote a little bit about Nadine Earles in my book Angels of the Mourning Light.

The place is Lanett, Alabama. The year is 1933. Four year-old Nadine Earles has been hinting she wants a dollhouse for Christmas. In November, she was diagnosed with diphtheria. Her parents, Julian Comer Earles and Alma Earles, hoping to make her feel better, gave her early Christmas gifts of a doll and a tea set. But what Nadine really wanted was her dollhouse, which, unbeknownst to her, her father had already begun to build on the property.

Her father told her she would have to wait until Christmas, to which Nadine replied, in the true fashion of an expectant child, “Me want it now.”

Unfortunately, little Nadine would never get to play in her dollhouse. Weakened from the respiratory tract infection, she contracted pneumonia and died the week before Christmas, on 18 December.

Nadine Earles was laid to rest on Christmas Eve 1933.

Her favorite wanted to fulfill his promise to his little girl. He had the partially-built dollhouse moved to the cemetery. By the Spring of 1934 little Nadine finally had her dollhouse. Nadine’s dollhouse was built over her grave so she would always have it. And each year on birthdays and holidays her parents would place gifts they’d bought for their daughter inside the dollhouse. They even held Nadine’s fifth birthday there, celebrating with cake and ice cream.
Inscribed on the headstone inside:
“Our Darling Little Girl, Sweetest In The World
April 3rd, 1929 – December 18th, 1933
Little Nadine Earles
In Heaven We Hope To Meet”

Along with Nadine’s demand:

“Me want it now”

Visitors can still visit the cemetery and see it for themselves. Over the years different people and organizations have taken it upon themselves to see to the upkeep on Nadine’s dollhouse, cleaning, painting, fixing, and even decorating for holidays and occasions. Visitors come by, some stop to talk to Nadine, others leave notes and cards in the dollhouse’s mailbox.

Her mother and father are now buried in the little yard that surrounds the dollhouse, not far at all from their beloved little girl. Instead of a macabre tale, it’s a demonstration of the profound love a parent possesses for their child.

I have always wanted to visit Rosalia Lombardo in Palermo, Sicily, and Nadine Earles in Lanett, Alabama. Perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to do just that.

 

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