Today is Mary Phagan’s Birthday; Mother Tells of Party She Planned


Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian

Sunday, June 1st, 1913

Parents Intended to Give Child Happy Surprise—Now They Will Strew Flowers on Her Grave in Marietta Churchyard.


This will be the saddest Sunday with Mary Phagan’s family since that fatal Sunday just five weeks ago when the little girl’s body was found hidden away in the basement of the National Pencil factory.

For to-day is Mary’s birthday, and it had been planned by her mother and stepfather, Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Coleman, that they would give her a party. If she had lived it would have been celebrated last night in her little home on Lindsay Street, where she had spent the past fifteen months of her life.

Instead of that, there is a shadow over the household, and she was spoken of with an ache in the throat and tears. Where last night would have been so happy for Mary, there was silence, and to-day the family expects to go to Marietta to weep above the little mound where she rests and lay flowers on the grave.

Was to Have Been a Surprise.

Mary’s birthday party, Mrs. Coleman said, was to have been a surprise, and as she told of it Saturday morning over the ironing-board—spoke of her other childish birthdays, the things Mary said and did, and all the tender little recollections of her a mother’s heart holds dear—her voice choked with sobs so that she could scarcely speak.

“It would have been the child’s first party,” she said simply. “The poor little thing never had had much in her life—she had to work so hard. It was Mr. Coleman’s idea. He thought it would be nice for her. He was like a father to her, anyway, and the only one she had ever known. Her own father died before she was born.

“We were going to have about twenty-five of the young folks and serve them ice cream and cake and fruit—and now—“

The mother’s lips twitched and her hands trembled as she straightened out the white waist and ran the iron across it.

Mother Broken-Hearted.

“Seems just like I can’t get over it,” she said. “I can hold up pretty well for a while, and then it seems I just have to cry it all out. I know that all the tears in the world won’t help things, but I just don’t seem able to do anything else.

“I just dread supper to-night. Poor little Mary—Mr. Coleman was going to give her a bracelet for her birthday—she had wanted one so lnog [sic]—as far back as I can remember.”

She said that Mary had always been so happy over her birthdays, and she never forgot one of them, even those when she was a little girl.

“I used to cook a little something extra for her,” Mrs. Coleman said, “and she would be satisfied, for she was always easy to please—the least little thing made her happy; and we’d have such a good time together.”

Most of her life Mary had lived in the country, her mother said, and she had always worked, for Mrs. Phagan was a widow and there were four children besides Mary. The family had first lived six miles from Marietta on a farm, and then later in Alabama, till they moved here a few months ago, when Mrs. Phagan married Mr. Coleman.

“I will never forget Mary’s birthday three years ago,” Mrs. Coleman said. “Her sister Ollie gave her a little locket with a little bit of a heart on it. It was pretty, and Mary took a spell over it and wore it all the time till she bought another one day just before she got killed. I think the child paid a dollar or two for it, but, just like she was about everything she had, she thought it was the nicest thing in the world. She never envied other girls.”

Longs for Slain Child.

Mrs. Coleman dropped down in the chair, her hands listless in her lap.

“You don’t know,” she cried to the reporter. “It seems to get lonesomer and lonesomer without Mary.”

It was a few minutes before she could speak again, and then it was to tell of how the days went without the child. It seemed, she said, like she just couldn’t remember that Mary was dead. Sometimes when she would be cooking in the kitchen she would be expecting her, and two or three mornings she had called her when it was time for her to get up.

“It’s so quiet in the house,” she said. “Mary was always laughing and talking, telling what she had done and what she was going to do and all that. Me and the children are just like we’re dead without her. Mary always used to carry my picture in her locket—she was a good child to me.

“I remember so well how she looked the day she was born. It was the first day of June she came. She had right black curly hair, and the same smile she grew up with. I never will forget that smile. I used to see it the last thing every morning when she went to work. I never could to see her going off to the car without I watched her. Especially cold mornings, when I thought she might have to wait. I used to stand out there in the street with my arms hugged up almost freezing till I saw her get on. I couldn’t be satisfied without I did that, seemed like.”

Slain Girl’s Last Week.

And then Mrs. Coleman told of the last week before Mary had been killed. The child had mentioned her birthday several times. She was not at work in the factory and had helped around the house. She had baked her first biscuit one day as a surprise to her mother.

“I was always so proud of the child—maybe I was too proud,” Mrs. Coleman. “I used to look at her when she was a little playful girl before she had to go to work out, and I used to think I was the happiest mother in the world. She wasn’t much more than a playful little girl when she got killed. I’ll show you just what size she was. Wait.”

And she went into the other room and brought back a short blue dress with white embroidered collar and cuffs.

“Mary always looked well, no matter what she had on,” she declared with moist eyes, as she held up the dress and took in its tender curves that would never again hold the little body. “The neighbors used to say if she put on a toe sack she’d look just like a morning glory.”

Mrs. Coleman said she hoped some day to erect a stone over Mary’s grave. They were too poor to do it now, though, and they would have to wait, she said. What they would get she did not know—but something simple and sweet—like Mary was.

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Atlanta Georgian, June 1st 1913, “Today is Mary Phagan’s Birthday; Mother Tells of Party She Planned,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)