NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Monday April 12th 2021

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Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetary

By Sue Hunter Weir

186th in a Series

Annie Erwin: She Loved Not Wisely

Annie Erwin is one of the more intriguing stories in the cemetery although it’s hard to judge how much of it is true. The source of much of the information about her was an unnamed man who claimed to have been told about Annie by her former lover.  This unnamed man, in turn, shared that story with the press. His third-hand account was picked up by the Chicago Tribune on October 21, 1866, two weeks after Annie died. 

Pollinator alert! Spring is just around the corner. Watch for the cemetery’s
annual opening (weather permitting) around April 15th. The
marker in the forefront of the photo belongs to Magnus Norquist (1822-
1901) and his wife Kiasa (1822-1910).
PHOTO BY: TIM MCCALL

According to Annie’s lover she was born in England where her family had become members of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Annie appeared to be losing faith in her religion so her family sent her to the United States with another Mormon family which was headed to Salt Lake City.  Annie reportedly told her lover that when she reached Utah she was “compelled to marry a hoary-headed old saint, who had already seven wives.” Since newspapers at the time were openly hostile to Mormons it’s hard to judge how accurate that characterization was but Annie decided to leave Salt Lake City and “being a woman of remarkable intelligence and shrewdness” planned an escape.

There were army troops stationed in the area and Annie, dressed in a soldier’s uniform, returned to the Midwest in the company of one of the soldiers. They stayed together for a while but eventually parted. Following that, Annie became “the mistress of a fast young man, engaged in the mercantile business, but [he] proved a little too fast…”

It was believed that it was while she was living in Logansport, Indiana, that she met Louis Cohen, a traveling salesman for a tobacco company.  He is the one who shared Annie’s story with the man who reported it to the press.

Annie and Cohen moved to Minneapolis where she initially stayed at the First National Hotel.  The couple eventually set up housekeeping in St. Paul.  Cohen spent much of his time on the road but returned to Annie throughout the spring and summer. Eventually he tired of her. One version of the story said that he was already married to a wealthy, older woman whose powerful friends did not take kindly to Cohen’s treatment of her and had threatened him. He wrote Annie a note saying that he was going to New York and abruptly left town.

Abandoned by her lover, Annie returned to Minneapolis and tried to register at the First National Hotel again but they turned her away, most likely because of her relationship with Cohen. Instead, she registered at the American Hotel. It was there, on the afternoon of October 8, 1866, Annie overdosed on laudanum and strychnine.

Before she died, Annie wrote several letters. She wrote one to the proprietor of the hotel where she was staying, telling him that if he sent a bill to David Thomas in Chicago (perhaps her father or family friend), that he would pay it.  Once it was paid she asked that he forward her trunk to Thomas.  She wrote to her father, brothers and sisters asking for their forgiveness for the “rash act” that she was about to commit and asked him to “pray for your unhappy child.”

Her last letter was written to Louis Cohen, the lover who abandoned her: “Louis, farewell. You have broken my heart. I loved not wisely, but too well…”

In the letter that she had written to the hotel’s proprietor, Annie had asked him to bury her in the clothes that she had and with “as little expense as possible.”  She was buried in the cemetery’s paupers’ section, the first of 46 women buried in the cemetery who are known to have committed suicide.

The Cedar Avenue (west side) of the fence under construction about
Look for restoration of the stone pillars along Cedar Avenue and
Lake Street to begin soon.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS ARCHIVES

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