Lizzie Martin

By Amy Grant and Michael Schreiber

Over 160 years ago, the Martin family lost their youngest daughter Lizzie to a mysterious and debilitating illness. Although her gravestone still stands in the Gloria Dei churchyard, years of weathering have made the inscription difficult to decipher. But, if you look closely, the withered words will come into focus, revealing heartbreaking details about her final days. While other families were celebrating the 1857 holiday season, Lizzie’s family was mourning her death.  

The epitaph on Lizzie’s stone reads as follows:

When Christmas bells rang out their chimes
And holly boughs, and sprigs of thyme
Where hung on many a wall,
Our Lizzie in her beauty’s prime, 

Lay in our darken’d hall.
No Yule log burned upon the hearth
We sang no song of Christmas mirth!

With hearts bow’d down—with spirit riven
We gave our darling’s soul to Heaven
Our gift to Christ the Lord. 

Lizzie was only 20 years old at her death. She had probably caught the eye of many a young man, but remained unmarried at her death and was still living at home with her parents.

Lizzie’s parents, Thomas and Harriet Martin, were married in England and emigrated to Philadelphia when they were in their early thirties, together with their children. Lizzie was born soon afterward. Lizzie’s father was a sign painter by trade. Some years after arriving in Philadelphia, he began to buy and sell houses as a sideline, and soon became a real estate broker exclusively.

Apparently, the Martin family would often live in one of the houses that Thomas had recently purchased while he fixed it up for re-sale. Then, he would “flip” the building to a new owner, and the family would move on. For that reason, the Martins rarely lived at one address for very long —though they generally remained in the far southern districts of the city or in the adjacent suburb of Southwark.

Around a year before Lizzie’s death, the family moved into 318 Lombard Street, across the street from Thomas Martin’s real estate office on the northwest corner of Third and Lombard. It was in the “darkened hall” of the Lombard Street home on a Saturday afternoon, Dec. 26, Boxing Day, that mourners paid their last respects to Lizzie before her body was carried to the Gloria Dei churchyard. She had died the day before Christmas at 4 in the morning, no doubt having suffered agonizing pain for some days.

Two years after Lizzie died, the disease that likely caused her demise was recognized as a unique ailment. English physician Samuel Wilks (1824-1911) determined that some patients diagnosed with dysentery were in fact suffering from “simple ulcerative colitis.” He discovered an “inflammation of the distal part of the ileum and the colon” during an autopsy of a woman “who died after a short illness of bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain.” Seventy-two years passed before this finding was confirmed by other scientists. 

Despite intense study of ulcerative colitis in recent years, a cause has yet to be identified and there is “no known cure.” However, “treatment can greatly reduce signs and symptoms of the disease and even bring about long-term remission.” 

Conservation Assessment

Memento of
Lizzie
the affectionate daughter
of
Thomas and Harriet Martin
Born March 16th 1837
Died Decembr 24 1857


When Christmas bells rang out their chimes

And holly boughs, and sprigs of thyme
Where hung on many a wall,
Our Lizzie in her beauty’s prime,
Lay in our darken’d hall.
No Yule log burned upon the hearth
We sang no song of Christmas mirth!
With hearts bow’d down - with spirit riven
We gave our darling’s soul to Heaven
Our gift to Christ the Lord.

Type of Marker: Bedstead
Material: Marble

Evaluation
Historic Integrity: Intact
Structural Integrity: Good
Material Integrity: Good
Legible Inscription: Poor

Marker Details
Inventory Number: 53
Historic Number: 443
Ledger Book Number: 92
Cemetery Section: 4
Orientation: East
Marker Height/Length (in): 24
Marker Width (in): 22
Marker Thickness/Depth (in): 1.5
Footstone Height (in): 13
Footstone Width (in): 22
Footstone Thickness (in): 1.5

Prior to Restoration

Issues: Biogrowth, blistering, broken/fragmented, sugaring, sunken, vegetation
Comments: Top of headstone is broken
Recommended Treatment: Cleaning w/biocide, consolidation, fill cracks/blisters, patching, pinning and gluing, raising, removing old pins
Degree of Bioturbation: 1/4 sunken