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?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Elias W. "Eli" Mealy (January 13, 1833 - February 5, 1908)

E.W. Mealy was one of Monroe's most well-known photographers well before Griffin came along.  He was the man to see if you wanted a "likeness" done. 

Copied from the 1893 Worlds Fair Edition of the Monroe Evening News found in the Special Collections Department, Ouachita Parish Public Library:

Typography is well named "the art preservative" and photography might with equal justice be called "the art creative," for how like creation is the evolution of a finished photograph?
Photography is also one of the fine arts, still ALL photographers are not ARTISTS. However, the citizens of Monroe can flatter themselves with the fact that in E.W. Mealy they have a photographer who is also an artist. His work speaks for him.
Born in Richmond, Va., fifty-nine years ago, he spent some of the best years of his life fighting for the Lost Cause, as a member of the Sixteenth Mississippi Volunteers. [He was in Company A, Summit Rifles, raised in Pike County, MS]
Coming to Monroe in 1867 [His first ad appeared in the Ouachita Telegraph June 13, 1867] he went into the photographic and fancy goods business. His good work in his line soon won for him a fine trade, while "the perfect fitness" of the combination of the making of artistic work and the sale of fancy goods seemed like an inspiration. As a matter of course business prospered with him, and in a few years he was able to build a business house suited to his wants, and one, by the way, an ornament to the city and that would be a credit to a city double the size of ours. This property to-day is valued at $20,000, and his last year's business represented a value of $8000.
This is one of the institutions of Monroe which entitle her to the name of the Parlor City.
The markets of the world are represented here, not only in the finished artistic products, but also in the tools and materials necessary in the several kinds of art work. In the line of pictures the artistic chromo, the fine engraving and the more costly oil painting adorn the walls, and everything at prices suited alike to the purse of the banker or the common laborer.
Mr. Mealy is always alive to the material interests of the town he calls home, and is ever ready to assist with his counsel or his money any enterprise looking to the building up of the Queen of the Ouachita valley.
Prominent in business, he occupies a similar position in religious, fraternal and social circles. A member of the Presbyterian church, he assists in its work in the character of deacon. As an ex-Confederate soldier, with tender and thrilling memories of the days that "tried men's souls," he is a member of Henry W. Allen camp of United Confederate Veterans; and as a believer in world-wide fraternity, is a Knight of Pythias.

He married Henrietta Howe in Ouachita Parish October 15, 1868. They had no children.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

We are now on Facebook!

Friends of the Old City Cemetery now has a Facebook page, so join us! You can post your pictures, stories and questions on our wall or start a discussion thread.  Just search for us and join the fun!

John H. Day: Battle of the Little Bighorn Survivor

Not much is known about John H. Day in his early years.  We find a likely candidate for him on the 1860 Warren County, Indiana census:  John Day, eight years old, living in the household of Archibald Johnson, born in Ohio.  We next hear from him on September 23, 1873.  On this date, John H. Day, shoemaker from Warren County, IN, born March, 1851 enlists as a private in George Armstrong Custer’s famed Seventh Cavalry, Company H.  Day would have a date with destiny less than three years later on the rough landscape of Montana.  On June 25th, just before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer divided his men into three battalions.  Day’s Company fell under the command of Frederick Benteen.  Each battalion was sent out to scout for the Indian encampment.
            Summoned by Custer to “Bring pacs”, Benteen stumbled across Marcus Reno’s battalion under heavy fire from the Sioux on a bluff overlooking the Little Bighorn River.   Just as they were surrounded, gunfire was heard to the north and the Sioux broke off to join the fight.  It was Custer’s last stand.  Benteen decided to stay and reinforce Reno’s battered troops instead of marching on to help Custer as ordered.  Later, after defeating Custer, the Sioux, joined by the Northern Cheyenne, returned to fight Reno and Benteen.  The fight continued until dark and resumed the next day.  Many men earned Medal of Honor awards during the fight for getting water from the river to wounded men under heavy fire.  Day’s Company H was credited by Reno with helping hold off a severe attack that day.  All seemed hopeless.  Relief was coming, however.  General Alfred Terry was approaching with reinforcements from the north and the Sioux and Cheyenne retreated.  At the end of the battle, 52% of the Seventh Cavalry troops were dead.  The horrors Day and his fellow soldiers must have seen would be beyond imagination.
            Almost ten years later, Day appears in Ouachita Parish.  He marries a local widow, Eliza Parks and settles down in the bustling town of Monroe. Day and his wife lead a poor but quiet life.  Then the arson fires began.  For several months in the first half of 1894, mysterious fires had occurred in Monroe.  People clamored for a suspect.  On Wednesday, June 14th, three fires occurred in different parts of the town at different times: some during the day, some at night.  A bundle of kindling was found at each place where the fires occurred.  The pine was secured together with a wire.  A bloodhound was set on the trail.  After running around for a while, the dog led them right to Day’s gate.  His house was searched and a similar bundle of pine, tied with wire was found.  Day’s clothes were covered in whitewash and cobwebs.  The authorities claimed it was from crawling under houses that were fired.  That was evidence enough.  Day was arrested and put in jail.  Late that night, a crowd of men got the keys to the jail from the policeman on duty and Day was drug out.  The next day, his body was found hanging from a tree near one of the burned houses. 
Monroe newspapers do not survive from this time period, but papers from surrounding parishes do.  For the most part, they agreed that Day’s lynching was justified.  Homer’s Guardian-Journal even crowed, “Lynch law is always to be deplored, but no community can tolerate fire bugs.”  There was one newspaper that dissented from the rest.  The Lake Providence Banner-Democrat devoted almost an entire column to the lynching entitled “Judge Lynch at Monroe”.  Their remarks were scathing.  “The taking of human life on circumstantial evidence of this kind by unauthorized parties is murder, consequently totally unjustifiable and the lynchers should be prosecuted.”  The article went on to say, “Of course, as usual no one knows the lynchers, but, we presume, everybody can spell their names.”  “She claims to be the “Parlor City,” but her annals would read more like those of a frontier town.”  The Banner-Democrat warned in the last paragraph, “Let lynching like that of Monroe go unpunished, and you may as well license it for other supposed offenses:  allow lynching for arson and where will you draw the line?”
Day’s Widow Eliza never remarried and died at the age of 58 on February 19, 1901.  She was buried in Monroe’s Old City Cemetery. 
What happened to Day’s body will never be known.  His memory and deeds are long forgotten, no photos of him are known to exist.  It is unlikely that the people who lynched him ever knew he served with Custer.  It is quite ironic that he would survive the horrors of the Little Bighorn only to die at the hands of local citizens he had sworn to protect as an army private.  Part of that wrong was recently rectified.  Due to the efforts of a local reinactor, Day now has a military marker next to his wife.  Rest in peace, John H. Day.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Welcome to our new blog!

It is our goal to educate our readers and promote the history of Monroe's Old City Cemetery.  Monroe's Founding Fathers (and Mothers!) rest inside this small space and we are dedicated to preserving their stories.  From time to time you will find tales of the cemetery's "residents", get updates on what the society is doing and anything else that strikes our fancy!  We hope you enjoy our postings and let us know what you think!