Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Favorite Photograph

This post was composed for the 4th Edition of Smile For The Camera ~ A Carnival of Images

When the theme for this edition of Smile For The Camera was announced, I knew within five seconds which photo I would select. This image of Anna McPhillps Austin taken around 1923 has always made an impression on me.

I've posted the tragic story of Anna before on this blog but I think the story is one that can endure another telling.

Anna T. McPhillips was born on October 27, 1889[1] in the small town of Lowville in Lewis County, New York where my great-grandfather John Ralph Austin was born. My great-grandfather's brother, Maurice Ira Austin would eventually marry Annie, as she was known, on February 20, 1912 in New York City [2] .

Annie and Maurice (pronounced as Morris) had two children, both born in The Bronx, New York: Dorothy Marie Austin born on April 29, 1913[3] and Eugene J. Austin born on January 10, 1917[4].

Annie died suddenly on May 8, 1925 as a result of an automobile accident in which she was struck by a car. A short article in the Utica Observer Dispatch, dated May 10, 1925 states "The telegram simply stated that Mrs. Austin had been struck by an automobile, of which the driver had doubtless lost control, jumped the curb." [5]

I have spent much of the day trying to find more information about the accident itself and I've been questioning myself as to the "why" and the "how" it relates to this photo. I love the sense of mystery involved, not being able to fully see Annie's face. I also think that the cloche hat, the 1920's style dress with no waistline, the beaded necklace all add to the charm of the image.

I was hoping that at least a small article as to the circumstances of the accident would have appeared in at least one of the New York papers, but all I could find was an article dated May 8, 1925 describing a runaway automobile in the Bronx that injured four people.

I am almost certain that this accident is the same one that killed Anna McPhillips Austin but there are some items in the article which cause doubt: a) the article was published May 8, 1925 the same day that Annie died. The article states that the accident occurred at 163rd Street and Third Avenue "last night" meaning May 7. 1925; b) Annie could have been struck on May 7 and died the next day but there is no mention of her, or even of an unidentified woman in the article - only four persons who were ". . .all attended by an ambulance surgeon and went home;" and c) could Annie have been pinned by one of the automobiles struck by the runaway car and this was discovered after the reporter had left the scene?[6]

I have an email into my 2nd cousin once removed who is the grandson of Annie and I've asked him to provide any details he can concerning the accident.

Sometimes when I look at the photo of Annie in that dress with that hat, I wonder if I would have had the chance to meet her as a child, what influences she would have had on the family and more. But due to her brief life I have very few details as to who Anna T. McPhillips Austin really was.


[1] Putman, George W., Genealogy of David Putman and His Descendants, (Private publication, 1916), p. 49.

[2] NY City Health Department, NY City Grooms Index, 1908 - 1936, ( accessed on August 8, 2008 citing Manhattan Marriage Certificate #5305. Note: Anna McPhillips listed as Anna McPhelips.

[3] Moore, Edith Austin, A Genealogy of the Descendants of Robert Austin of Kingstown, R.I., (St. Petersburg, FL: 1951), p. 320.

[4] Id.

[5] "Killed In New York," ( accessed on August 8, 2008 citing Utica Observer Dispatch, May 10, 1925, page 5.

[6] "Wild Auto Runs Upon Sidewalk, Injuring 5; Hits Another Car, Saving Safety Zone Crowd," ( accessed on August 8. 2008 citing New York Times, May 8, 1925.

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