Back around 1990 I first heard the story about Little Nadine Earles, the girl who had a playhouse (dollhouse) built over her grave in Lanett.
Lanett, like Tallassee, was a cotton mill town on the Chattahoochee River. This was a big rival town of the Tallassee Tigers; as I grew up, about the only time I went there was to a football game.
There was a Tallassee woman, Ruby Woodall Butts, who married a man from Lanett and after he died she moved back to Kent and went to church where I did. Ruby lived near Oakwood Cemetery in Lanett and told me the story of Little Nadine.
Little Nadine was about 5 years old in 1933 and Christmas was coming when she came down with diphtheria. She told her daddy to tell Santa Claus she wanted a dollhouse for Christmas and her father, who was quite a carpenter, went out in the back and started building one. Due to the diphtheria, they quarantined the members of the household and her father had to stop building. In the meantime, Little Nadine grew gravely ill and the diphtheria turned into pneumonia. She died on the 18th of December, just seven days before Christmas, and her daddy and mama were heartbroken. They had given the little girl her toys early because they could see death coming on.
“Where is the dollhouse?” she asked.
“It will be here later,” was the heartbroken daddy's reply.
“Me want it now,” was her plea.
Over and over she asked for the play pretties until she died. Her stricken father went to the City of Lanett and requested permission to build a dollhouse and place it next to the grave. Later, there was a pretty brick house with a front porch and shutters, nice glass windows and her original toys inside. At the time I was there, around 1990, there was her tricycle, a doll buggy, some toys and dolls and a picture of Little Nadine over the tiny mantle board showing her wide grin and snaggle tooth. A little mailbox was out front and I filmed all of this for the “Coffeebreak” TV show.
Little Nadine’s mother and father are buried in the same plot only outside the dollhouse. I filmed all of this and we got worlds of comments from the show. One of the women of Lanett now takes it as a responsibility to see there are flowers in the summer and holiday decorations at Christmas and other times of the year. They even light it up at holidays.
If you have never been, go to Oakwood Cemetery and between 14th and 15th Avenue near the gate you will see the dollhouse. The entire plot looks out of place in a graveyard.
While doing research on this story, I found out there were two or three more playhouses at cemeteries. One dates back to the 1800s but it’s nothing as elaborate or famous as the one in Lanett.
Someone from Lanett came into my barber shop and we struck up a conversation about Little Nadine's grave. This person said at one time some thieves broke in and took some of the toys out of the playhouse. I made some phone calls to the City of Lanett and talked to two different people but they would not confirm nor deny these statements.
I do know the picture of Little Nadine no longer is on the mantle. I used to think there was a bed or couch in the playhouse but in truth that is Little Nadine's actual gravesite. On her marker is this inscription:
Our Darling Little Girl
Sweetest in the world
In heaven we hope to meet
Born: April 3, 1929
Died: December 18, 1933
“Me want it now”
Lots of visitors come by the gravesite and I recommend if you like to explore that you take this trip only an hour or so from Tallassee. The gravesite is taken care of by the City of Lanett. If you would like to see pictures of the grave, do what I did — punch in Little Nadine Earle’s dollhouse grave Lanett, Alabama, on your computer and five or six stories, some with pictures, will pop up.