Anna Anderson: Sad Tragedy in Clinton Orphanage

The Laurens Advertiser [SC] 20 May 1903

I read about Anna Theresa Anderson’s unfortunate death in the laundry room of a South Carolina orphanage while researching a different orphanage tragedy. The details of her life are few and far between, but there were accounts of her death in various 1903 newspapers. Descriptions of the accident was quite graphic. “Anna Anderson, aged 15, a native of Sweden, and a protege of Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, the wealthy Chicago lady, was accidentally killed this morning by the explosion of a piece of laundry machinery. She was almost completely disemboweled, besides having the right arm almost severed from the body.

The Pickens Sentinal-Journal 28 May 1903

The piece of steel broke both her arms and dreadfully mangled her body. The child died a few minutes after the accident.

The Watchman & Southron 27 May 1903

 “When one of the girls was passing by the wringer in the steam laundry it suddenly went to pieces with the noise of a pistol explosion. Miss Anna Anderson was struck by a flying piece and was dead within 20 minutes.

Thanks to Find a Grave, I learned that Anna was buried in Clinton Cemetery in Clinton, South Carolina. There’s no picture of a headstone*, but the person who created the memorial made a note that the inscription read, “Born in Konsor, Sweden.” From there we have Anna’s birthdate as well, April 27, 1887.

The big piece of the puzzle stems from how and when Anna and her sister, listed on the 1900 Census as Hedvig ended up in South Carolina’s Thornwell Orphanage after being born in Sweden.

Based on these newspaper clippings, they’d been pupils at the orphanage for “a number of years”, so there are still many unanswered questions about Anna’s early life.

Anna was well-liked by the other children in the orphanage and apparently a talented musician, playing the organ in the Presbyterian-affiliated institution’s chapel services. Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, mentioned in one of the articles, was Nettie Fowler McCormick. Her husband was the inventor of the horse-drawn reaper and built his fortune with the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. One of Nettie’s philanthropic endeavors was supporting the Thornwell Orphanage, explaining the link between the wealthy Chicago woman and the Swedish-born orphan. 

With musical talent and a connection to a prominent woman, Anna could have gone on to become a great musician, or at least found a way to get past the hurdle of orphanage life.

UPDATE (3/10/14):
I submitted a photo request through Find a Grave when I originally wrote this post and today one of the volunteers added her headstone.

photo courtesy of Charles Hawkins, Find a Grave volunteer

The inscription from “Away” by James Whitcomb Riley reads:

“I cannot say and I will not say
That she is dead, she is just away.
With a cheery smile and a wave of hand
She has wandered into an unknone
[unknown] land;
And left us dreaming how very fair
Its needs must be, since she lingers there.”

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