I left Greenville, Ala. in the afternoon, hoping to make it to Atlanta before it got too late. Then I remembered there was an Alabama cemetery near the state line I’d always wanted to stop at and wondered if it was anywhere close. Looking on my phone, I realized that I could chart my route to go right by it and hopefully, have enough daylight to photograph it.
I was looking for a cemetery with a life-size dollhouse.
I’d read about this place for years, wondering what it looked like in person and the grave of the child it was built for almost 100 years ago.
The Short Life of Nadine Earles
Born to parents Julian Comer Earles and Alma Moody Earles on April 3, 1929, Roselind Nadine Earles and her family lived in Lanett, Ala. Lanett is located close to the Alabama/Georgia border near West Point, once a major railroad hub. Huge West Point Lake is nearby, which still attracts fishermen and boaters from around the South.
Nadine didn’t have an easy life. Born with a cleft palate, she became accustomed to visiting doctors from an early age. Nadine passed the time in waiting rooms playing with her beloved dolls. It wasn’t as easy then to have the condition corrected. Alma, her mother, worked with her on speech therapy for hours. Her little brother, Comer, was born in 1931.
In summer 1933, Julian and Alma took Nadine to Atlanta for the first of two surgeries to correct her mouth. A second surgery was planned in November. Nadine knew exactly what she wanted for Christmas. A life-size dollhouse in her backyard. Julian purchased the materials, hoping to get started on it in his down time from work.
“Me Want It Now”
The Earles were preparing for Nadine’s next surgery when she became ill. At first, doctors thought it might be measles but eventually diagnosed diphtheria. A vaccine was developed in the 1920s but was just starting to become more widespread in the 1930s. Because of the contagious nature of diphtheria, the Earles home was roped off and the family put in quarantine.
With spare time on his hands, Julian tried to build the dollhouse but the noise bothered Nadine so he stopped. For an early Christmas gift, they gave her a life-size doll and tea set. But the little girl hadn’t forgotten her request. Growing weaker, she reportedly turned to her parents and said,
“Me want it now.”
Nadine died on Dec. 18, 1933 and she was buried at Lanett’s Oakwood Cemetery. Julian felt terrible that he hadn’t fulfilled his daughter’s last wish. He dismantled what he had begun on her dollhouse and took it over to the cemetery with the goal of having it built over Nadine’s grave.
According to Anna Earles, the wife of Nadine’s brother Comer, Julian hired two contractors to finish the dollhouse. While he didn’t do the work himself, he supervised it closely. It was completed several months later.
When I was at Oakwood Cemetery, the sun was going down and I did not get a good picture of Nadine’s little box grave marker that the dollhouse was built over. I found this photo of it online. So just to be clear for those wondering, Nadine is NOT inside the dollhouse or above ground. Her marker is inside of it but she is buried UNDER the dollhouse.
Her grave marker says:
Our Darling Little Girl
Sweetest In The World
Little Nadine Earles
April 3, 1929
Dec 18, 1933
In heaven we hope to meet
“Me want it now”
Julian and Alma had a another scare during this time. Their little son, Comer, developed a kidney ailment and nearly died. But thankfully, he survived.
After the dollhouse was completed, Julian and Alma filled it with toys and dolls in Nadine’s memory. On birthdays and holidays, they would bring more gifts to place inside the dollhouse. Nadine’s fifth birthday party was even held there. I believe the postcard below is a photo of that event.
Life went on. Julian and Alma had another child, Jimmy, in 1935. Every Christmas, toys would come to the dollhouse and old ones would be removed. People came to visit and leave their own gifts sometimes.
Comer married Anne in 1959. By that time, Julian and Alma had divorced. Alma remarried but Anne remained close to both her and Julian. She said Alma rarely spoke of Nadine’s death because it had been so hard on her. Julian never remarried and as the years passed, more and more he would go visit “Honey”, his pet name for Nadine. According to Anne, shortly before he died, he told her he was going to be with Honey.
Julian died on Feb. 25, 1976 at age 66. He is buried beside the dollhouse. I did not get a good photo of his grave so I apologize for the poor quality of it.
It was also Alma’s wish, Anne said, to also be buried next to Nadine and she asked her daughter-in-law to make sure that happened. After Alma died on Jan. 28, 1981, she joined Nadine and Julian in the Earles plot. Thankfully, I took a better picture of her grave marker. Comer died in 2003 and Jimmy passed away in 2018. I could not trace Anna past the 1987 newspaper interview she gave about Nadine.
Different people and organizations took the responsibility of looking after Nadine’s dollhouse by cleaning it, painting it, and even decorating it during holidays. I’m not sure who is caring for it now. Curious visitors like me drop by to visit. Some leave notes and cards in the dollhouse’s mailbox, which I didn’t even notice until after I looked at my pictures.
The sun was going down as I prepared to leave Nadine’s dollhouse. Cars were going by the cemetery and I could hear a dog barking as people were ending their day. Life was moving along. But standing there, I felt as if I was back in 1933 for a moment. When a little girl asked for the one thing she wanted more than ever.
“Me want it now.”