Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Sad Tale of Sidney and Annie Saunders

Many people have asked about the stern looking statue in the cemetery that faces old downtown with a scroll in his hand.  Who was he?  Well sit back and get ready for a long tale involving gossip, prostitution, arson and maybe…murder.
          Sidney W. Saunders was born in Mississippi in 1846 to the union of James and Sarah Saunders.  When he was very young, his parents moved him and his siblings to Morehouse Parish Louisiana.  By the 1860 census, Sidney and his six brothers and sisters were orphans.
          After serving as a Private in Company B., Third Louisiana Infantry during the Civil War, Sidney settled down in the booming town of Monroe.  He soon became a wealthy grocer and saloonkeeper.  Rumors flew that he made his money gambling, which was socially unacceptable at the time.  Sidney was considered low-classed and most of the town looked down on him.  The rumors increased when Sidney came back from a trip in 1875 with a “wife” on his arm.  Her name was Annie E. Livingston.
          Annie was born to the union of Alfred N. and Catherine Livingston in Morehouse Parish around the year 1852.  Annie’s father died in the 1850’s and her mother remarried to a man named J.C. Wright.  It is possible that Annie and Sidney grew up together in Morehouse Parish.  This is probably how they met.  The people of Monroe, however, whispered that she was just a prostitute Sidney picked up.  Town gossip also said she was of mixed race.  Sidney and Annie ignored the talk.
          Sidney and Annie had a son together named Willie St. John Saunders. The 1850 Morehouse Parish census shows a thirteen year-old boy living with Annie’s parents named William St. John, born in Ireland.  What relation this person was to Annie is left to speculation.  It is obvious though that she regarded him highly enough to name her son after him.  Willie was born around the year 1874, before their alleged marriage.  Rumors have said that Sidney never acknowledged the child as his.  The 1880 Ouachita Parish census seems to strengthen that position, since Sidney is listed as being single and Annie and Willie are living with her mother Kate Wright.  Annie is also listed as a Wright. 
          The Monroe Bulletin of May 19, 1886 carried the following article:  “Willie St. John Saunders, son of Mr. and Mrs. S.W. Saunders, died suddenly at his father’s residence in this city Thursday night, aged twelve years.”  It is unknown why Willie died.  A year later, the paper announced that Mr. and Mrs. S.W. Saunders had left on a pleasure trip to California.  It was probably to take her mind off of the anniversary of Willie’s death.
          Two years after Willie’s death, on August 10, 1888 a fire was discovered inside one of Saunders’ buildings at old Five Points.  It eventually destroyed eight buildings and did about ten to fifteen thousand dollars in damage.  The citizens of Monroe decided that Sidney set the fire to collect insurance money.  He was put on trial, but his lawyers received a continuance on the grounds that Sidney was unable mentally and physically to stand trial.  In the same issue of the Ouachita Telegraph that has a transcript of the trial, there is a list of proceedings from a meeting of concerned Monroe citizens.  On August 14, 1888, citizens gathered at Lemie & Simon’s Hall.  Chaired by Fred Endom, the group’s resolutions urged the Monroe police force to “…rigidly enforce the laws in accordance with their oaths of office without fear or favor…” and investigate the fires thoroughly.  In other words, convict Saunders, or they would do it themselves.  Judge Richardson, the trial judge and Mr. Hudson, the prosecutor, defended their actions and claimed they were doing all they could. 
          Sidney was constantly afraid of being lynched for the fire and was deeply troubled by his problems.  On January 22, 1889, Sidney bought a lot in the Monroe City Cemetery from Mayor A.J. Herring for fifty dollars.  On February 1, neighbors heard Annie screaming and came running.  Sidney was found in his room with a bullet wound to the back of the head.  Physicians were called, but were unable to do anything.  Sidney died a few minutes later.  The death was quietly ruled a suicide.  Was it murder?  Suicide?  Was Sidney planning his suicide or preparing for any eventuality when he bought the cemetery lot?  Did someone who lost his business in the big fire decide to get even?  Did Annie finally have enough of Sidney’s treatment and decide to once and for all be free?  Can a person bent on suicide shoot themselves in the back of the head?  That is all left to speculation unfortunately.    A hint of what Annie’s thoughts were are written on her husband’s monument:  “Sidney, I could have well forgiven that last seemingly cruel act of thine, for you wanted me with you in heaven, had you with your life taken mine.” 
          Rumors that Sidney and Annie were never married were still active among the Monroe society.  When Sidney’s brothers and sisters demanded proof of their marriage, Annie was so distraught that they understood her to say they were married in New Orleans.  When the marriage license was not found there, the siblings swooped on the inheritance and completely cut her out.  Sidney’s inheritance was worth almost $83,000, which was a princely sum in 1889.  Annie came out of her grief long enough to fight back.  She claimed they had married in St. Louis, MO, sent a courier north to retrieve the license and eventually won her case.  Annie’s part of the inheritance was property in Texarkana and about $7,250 in cash and notes.  The total was a little less than ten percent of the inheritance.  The rest was divided among the siblings.  She wasn’t through with Monroe though.
          Because Annie had been so degraded and reviled among society, she used most of the inheritance to build Sidney a lasting tomb and monument in the City Cemetery.  On top of the tomb is a statue of Sidney.  It isn’t an exact likeness though.  The model was a man named Mr. Wingold, an employee of the monument company.  In the statue’s left hand he holds a scroll.  Engraved upon the scroll was a copy of their marriage license.  His gaze stares fixedly on what was then the prominent side of Monroe.  It was basically a slap in the face of the society that shunned them.  The citizens of Monroe were not impressed.  Martha Frances Surghnor said of the monument in her diary, “Sid Saunders the ‘fire bug’ has a monument that would almost do for a U.S. President, but it will only ‘perfect his infamy.’”
          Annie moved the bodies of her husband and son to the tomb.  Sidney’s desk and chair, a sewing machine and her son’s velocipede (a type of tricycle) were also moved to the tomb.  According to her obituary, she even hung curtains!  Rumors said she would go to the tomb daily to cry, pray, read her bible and sew. 
          Annie eventually moved to Texarkana, AR where she married William C. Hardin in 1891.  William became mayor of Texarkana, TX from 1896-1900 and Annie was first lady.  In 1911 William deserted Annie and secretly divorced her.  He died around the year 1925.  The Hardin family fought Annie over the inheritance saying they had been divorced!  She fought the Hardins and successfully had the divorce annulled two weeks before her death.  On Sunday, November 21, 1926 at her home in Texarkana, TX, Annie Hardin got too close to an open gas stove and her clothes caught on fire.  Her body was brought back to Monroe and placed in the Saunders tomb.  There is no inscription for Annie on the monument.  She is most certainly there, however.  At the request of family members in 1985, the tomb was opened and drained.  Found inside were pieces of a sewing machine, a red wagon and three coffins:  two adults and one child.
          Even in modern times, the question remained.  Were Sidney and Annie really married in St. Louis?  In 2001, researchers with the Ouachita Parish Public Library found a copy of Sidney and Annie’s Marriage Register in the records of the city of St. Louis, MO.  The record is word for word what is engraved on the scroll on Sidney’s monument, stating they had been married on March 25, 1875 in St. Louis.  The certified register now hangs in a frame on a shelf of the Genealogy Department.  The discovery of the register should have ended the rumors but there is still room for speculation.  The register was not filed and recorded until April 24, 1889, fourteen years after the marriage and almost three months after Sidney’s suicide; right in the middle of Annie’s fight with Sidney’s siblings.  Coincidence?

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