|Birth: ||Oct., 1918, USA|
|Death: ||Sep. 6, 1919|
By Ralph Blumenthal
The New York Times
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The graves do not take up much room in the Baby Rest section of Rose Hill cemetery, where ages on the markers are measured in months and sentiments are achingly simple: "Our Doll Baby," "Our Little Man," "Our Girl."
Among them, a small new stone was laid Thursday. It bore only a nickname and imprecise details: "Unknown Baby Girl, Victim of 1919 Storm."
Finally, 85 years after a stealthy September hurricane obliterated much of this coastal city, claiming as many as 1,000 lives, the infant of about 11 months known as "Snookems" was receiving her long overdue memorial, a last testament to one of the nation's worst disasters.
The delay was strange, but her little-known story is far stranger.
Her body, along with hundreds of others, had been left at a funeral home, where her mother supposedly promised to return to claim it but never did. Whether out of hope that the mother would return or carelessness or callousness, the child, who was black, remained unburied for 70 years, her preserved body laid out in a yellow pinafore in a crepe-lined casket at the Maxwell P. Dunne funeral home in Corpus Christi, seen by only a handful of people who learned the secret.
One was James Skrobarcek, a local lawyer who had been allowed a viewing of the mummified body with his Cub Scout troop in the 1950s and was instrumental in finally getting the headstone. Another was a girl at the time whose father had worked at the funeral home. But even they and the funeral home seemed to forget about it over the years.
A surprising discovery
In 1982 Ronald Alonzo was working at Maxwell P. Dunne, which was founded in 1908 and was the only undertaker in town at the time of the hurricane.
"I was in the preparation room cleaning on top of the cabinets and found a baby casket," Alonzo said last week. "I moved it to clean and then opened it, and there was the baby."
Astonished, he said, he reported his find to the office. "They told me the baby had been lost in the storm — her name was Snookems," he said. "I said 'OK,' and put it back."
"I don't know why they decided to keep the baby," said Alonzo, who now owns the business. He said the condition of the body left him unsure of the baby's race. But by 1990, he said, "we all agreed it was pretty much a good idea to bury it; there was no need for it to be here."
Rose Hill Memorial Park — where hundreds of victims of the storm were buried in a mass grave under a boulder placed by the American Red Cross "in memory of the unidentified dead who lost their lives in the storm of Sept. 14, 1919" — donated a plot in the children's section, and the baby was laid to rest on March 26, 1990. But there was no marker.
Skrobarcek, now 55, said that for decades he had lost the memory of his 1957 or 1958 Cub Scout trip. But last year's anniversary of the hurricane, he said, suddenly brought the baby to mind.
The coffin, he now remembered, had been brought out from the back and set down on a maroon velvet settee past which the riveted young scouts filed by respectfully. The child was in a yellow pinafore, he said, "her skin like hard leather." He remembered realizing she was black, he said, "and I came away with a greater sense of humanity."
Laying "Snookems" to rest
Skrobarcek said he went to Alonzo to check his recollections and found other confirmation in a cemetery burial record.
Another longtime resident, Rita Gunter, 72, a retired kindergarten teacher, recalled seeing the baby — and even being given it to hold by her father, a funeral-home employee — as a 12-year-old in 1944. Gunter recalled the baby being kept for a time in a drawer and said the nickname came from a popular 1930s Fanny Brice radio character, "Baby Snooks," that the funeral home later condensed to "Snookems."
Alonzo, after talking with Skrobarcek, donated the stone that was laid Thursday (with a date initially inscribed incorrectly).
Skrobarcek's findings have drawn high interest at the Corpus Christi library, where a vast archive on the storm contains no reference to the baby. The original typed death lists testify to the democracy of the carnage: "male unknown, stiff black hair can't tell if white or colored; body of child about 2 years old, red sack, white undershirt, diaper pinned with extra-large safety pin."
Unknown baby girl victim of 1919 storm
Rose Hill Memorial Park
Created by: Ron
Record added: Jul 05, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 28063643
Added: Jan. 15, 2014
Rest in peace sweet child|
Added: Apr. 24, 2009