Many people are curious about the stern-looking statue of a man staring towards downtown Monroe from his perch in the Old Monroe City Cemetery. In his hand is clutched a scroll with a copy of a marriage license inscribed on it. This statue guards the tomb of two of Monroe's most talked about characters. Sidney and Annie Saunders.
Sidney was born in Mississippi in the year 1846 to James and Sarah Saunders. When he was very young, he and his family moved to Morehouse Parish where he grew to manhood. The Civil War saw him serve as a Private in Company B, Third Louisiana Infantry. He was slightly wounded at the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war, Sidney settled down in the booming town of Monroe. He soon became a wealthy saloonkeeper and grocer. Local talk said that he made his money from gambling and brothels. Rumors increased when Sidney arrived in town with a "wife" on his arm. Her name was Annie E. Livingston.
Annie was born in Morehouse Parish around the year 1852 to the union of Alfred N. and Catherine Livingston. It is possible that Sidney and Annie grew up together in Morehouse Parish and this is probably how they met. When Annie came to Monroe claiming to be Sidney's wife, rumors flew that she was of mixed race and that she was a prostitute Sidney picked up. They ignored the gossip.
The couple did face many hardships. A son, Willie St. John, was born to them in 1874 before their marriage. Willie died at the age of twelve in May 1886. Two years after Willie's death, on August 10, 1888, a fire was discovered inside one of Sidney's buildings at old Five Points. Eight buildings were destroyed and ten to fifteen thousand dollars in damages was done. Fingers began pointing at Sidney. The citizens of Monroe accused him of setting the fire to collect insurance money. He was put on trial, but a continuance was given on the basis that Sidney was unable mentally and physically to stand trial. Sidney was constantly afraid of being lynched and was worried about his problems. On January 22, 1889, he bought a plot at the Monroe City Cemetery. February 1st around 4 a.m., neighbors heard Annie screaming. Sidney was found with a bullet wound in the back of his head. The death was quietly ruled a suicide.
Death did not stop the rumors. Sidney was worth almost $83,000 and his brothers and sisters demanded proof Annie was married to him. A courier was sent north and proof was brought back. Annie was given property in Texarkana and about $7,250 in cash and notes. The rest was divided among the siblings. Annie wasn't quite through with Monroe though.
Because Annie had been so degraded and reviled among society, she used most of the inheritance to build Sidney and her son a lasting tomb and monument. Placed on top of the tomb was a statue of Sidney. In the statue's left hand he holds a scroll. Engraved upon the scroll was a copy of their marriage license. His gaze stares towards downtown Monroe where the elite had gossiped behind their fans. It was a slap in the face of the society that had shunned them.
Annie moved the bodies of her husband and child 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. William became mayor of Texarkana and Annie was first lady. She led a comfortable life in Arkansas. On 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, for eighty years the little family has rested undisturbed. Rumors remain however. The biggest question people have had over the years is "Were they married?"
In 2001, researchers with the Ouachita Parish Public Library found a copy of Sidney and Annie Saunders' marriage register in the records of the city of St. Louis, MO. The record is word for word what is carved into the tomb monument, stating they were married there March 25, 1875. 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?
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.
Trembling and alone I tread
Life's dreary strand
Beset by envy, strife, and jealousy
But 'mid it all, God and love of thee,
Has staid my hand
To raise this marble to thy memory.
My husband, may God in mercy pardon me
If when here I come to weep and pray
All my soul and thought shall be of thee.
And wrapt in thee my idol from the maker stray.
Farewell, this monument is not my last adieu,
Till in heaven we meet no more to separate,
I say in Heaven
For where'er you are, our boy and you
There is my Heaven
For that alone your faithful, loving wife,
Prays, watches and waits.
Sidney W. Saunders
Is it in Heaven
A crime to love too well?
To bear too tender
Or too firm a heart?
NOTE: Right Column is blank where Annie's information should be.
Willie St. John
Son of S.W. and A. Saunders
Died May 13, 1886
Willie my beloved treasure
My bright beautiful loving jewel.
Mama's weary heavy heart
Is yearning to be at rest with thee.
Oh! Art thou my precious angel
Longing to be with me
Your lonely unhappy mother?