A 19th century Darien girl’s headstone went missing. Years later, it turned up in a Milford cemetery.

DARIEN — After months of searching and intermunicipal outreach, the lost headstone of a 19th century Darien girl has been reunited with her remains in the Noroton River Cemetery.

Emma F. Bingham died Sept. 24, 1863, at 3 years and 2 days old. “A bud on earth, To bloom in Heaven,” her headstone reads.

“That inscription kills me,” said Rob Hulick, watching as the stone was placed in the ground last week.

For months, Hulick has been working to bring Emma’s headstone home after it was discovered in the Milford Cemetery with no record of how or why it came to be there.

Emma’s headstone was one of 40 found in the cemetery’s storage in September by the Friends of the Milford Cemetery Association, a volunteer nonprofit group that restores the cemetery’s markers worn down by time and the elements.

While many of the stones that need repairs come in broken or illegible, the group’s chair Jennifer Lugus found that Emma’s headstone “cleaned up very nicely,” displaying a clear name, age, family members and even a visible dirt line indicating it was fully intact since being removed from the ground.

Unlike the other stored headstones, Lugus said she was surprised to find no record of Emma in the cemetery —  or in Milford at all.

Through the Charles R. Hale Collection — a 1934 record of 2,000 Connecticut cemeteries — she found that Emma’s reported resting place was actually 30 miles away in Darien.

Lugus said that it was the first time in her experience that a headstone was found in another town, especially in such good condition.

“It looks like somebody just pulled it out,” she said. “I don't have any idea how it got to us, but we'd certainly like to get her back to where she belongs.”

Lugus reached out to Hulick from the Darien Monuments and Ceremonies commission about the discovery and potential relocation of Emma’s headstone.

Hulick said he expected repatriation to be a “straightforward” job. However, the lack of reliable records threw a wrench in the situation — no one was certain where Emma's body was.

According to state statute, no grave marker can be removed without the consent of the owner of the burial rights — such as a descendent — or burial ground authority and an order of the probate court for the district where the burial lot is located. 

How that would apply to Emma, who did not appear to have any living descendents and could have been in at least one of two cemeteries, was unclear.

Hulick enlisted the help of Karen Polett from the Darien chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and together, they went through all the available records to try to find where Emma may have been buried.

Polett said she was used to people reaching out about lost headstones, sometimes receiving phone calls about an undiscovered plot in a backyard or a group of stones belonging to Civil War soldiers found in someone’s garage. 

Locating a 3-year-old was a unique and heart-wrenching situation, she said.

“She’s a baby, which is of course poignant and dear,” she said. “I was just glad to see her stone was restored.”

A survey created by Polett’s friend Marianne Sheldon in 1988 turned out to be a key source in the search. Though Emma’s name and headstone were missing from the map, Polett could narrow down a location by identifying those who were likely buried around her. 

The big break came when Polett spotted a headstone for Harvey Slawson, what Hale records show was Emma’s closest neighbor, in the corner of a photograph of the Noroton River burial ground. 

Polett went looking near Slawson and there, hidden in the trees, was a small marble stone Sheldon had labeled E.E.B. which was, in fact, E.F.B.

It was the confirmation they needed.

“That’s her footstone, E.F.B.,” Hulick said. “We really found her.” 

Though one mystery has been solved, much of Emma’s story, both before and after her death, remains unknown.

The Hale Collection listed Emma’s headstone in Darien in 1934, but it was missing by 1988, leaving a more than 50 year window as to when her headstone was moved.

Emma was buried close to several other children, all similar ages. But while the other children were laid to rest alongside their family, Emma was buried alone.

According to 1865 Census records, two years after Emma's death, Edward and Nora A. Bingham — Emma's parents — lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

The couple relocated to Bridgeport as of 1870. They are both buried in that city's Mountain Grove Cemetery. Of their two sons, both born after their sister’s death, one is reportedly buried in Bridgeport and the other in Stratford.

“I think everyone hopes in their mind that when they have a resting place, they have a resting place dedicated to family and they’re kept together,” Hulick said. “To hear that they’re scattered like that, it felt like a little bit of a call to do something to make sure that they were where they were intended to be.”

Lugus listed Emma’s headstone on the website Find a Grave in the hope she has any family left looking for her.

On March 7, Emma’s headstone was taken out of the Milford Cemetery shed, where it was stored for safekeeping, and brought down to what is now officially her final resting place.

Representatives from Darien and Milford, including Hulick, Polett and Lugus, watched on as Emma’s headstone was placed back into the earth. Polett promised to bring the girl a rose on her next visit. 

Her stone was planted facing the water, just slightly to the left of her burial spot, white marble gleaming in the sunlight for the first time in years. 

“This is perfect for her,” Lugus said. “It’s good when you can find someone who’s lost.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Karen Polett's name.