Anna Wilson’s past is a mystery. We only know of her life after she arrived in Omaha, and it’s filled with inconsistencies.
She was known as the “Queen of the Underworld”, and Dan Allen made sure that she was treated with respect. She was naïve enough to drink too much champagne at a fancy dress ball in 1875 and be robbed of her diamonds. Dan got the gems back, and the guilty party went to jail for it.
Her 25-room mansion at 902 Douglas Street in Omaha she gave to the City to use as a hospital, but they refused the gift because of her past profession. Instead, she charged them a monthly rent to use it, which the City agreed to; a picture of her mansion as the City Emergency Hospital is below. It was razed in the 1940's.
However shady her nickname was, Anna had class and a big heart. Her businesses made her a lot of money, and at her death in 1911 she had nearly $250,000. She bequeathed her entire fortune to the hospitals and charities of the City of Omaha, and also Prospect Hill. She was buried next to Dan Allen, under the ledger stone in the picture below.
Daniel Allen and Anna Wilson’s ledger stone. She had them bury her under 9 feet of concrete, so that the “respectable” members of the community wouldn’t try to move her body from Prospect Hill.
Each year, Prospect Hill Preservation Society has a Memorial Day program, and in 1999 they honored Anna and her generosity to the cemetery and to the city. The address, given by James Fogarty, reads:
Anna Wilson (1835-1911)
We stand here today on Prospect Hill to remember a woman whose house was not a home, but whose rare business ability, large heart and great charity remain an inspiration to us all.
Anna Wilson lived most of her life in the last century. By 1886, her initial career choice provided sufficient funds for her to build a 25-room mansion on Douglas Street, between 9th and 10th. She lived there until she left what was known as "the District" and moved to a fine home at 2018 Wirt Street.
As Anna’s life was drawing to a close in 1911, she donated the mansion--land and all--to the City of Omaha for use as an emergency hospital. She asked only $125.00 a month rent until her death. Anna, who was 76-years-old at the time, was said to be worth upwards of a million dollars, and claimed she didn’t have one relative in the world. When asked about her gift to the city, she said she wanted to help humanity.
The venerable strip of ground between the Missouri River and Downtown remains as progressive today as when Anna did business there 110 years ago: The ASARCO move, a new performing arts center & arena, riverfront trails. Who knows what may happen next? But Anna recognized it’s value back then. She was no fool when it came to investing.
The Reverend Charles Savidge in his tribute to Miss Wilson in 1911, said that half her fortune was made in the last ten years of her life from the purchase and sale of real estate. Reverend Savidge added that it was a consolation to know this much of it was clear so that she could give it to charity.
Nonetheless, many of the comments by press and public following her gift to the City were unkind and hurt her deeply.
Other citizens, many of them prominent, knew only the Angel of Mercy--not a woman of easy virtue. It is that Angel of Mercy we honor today.
Following Anna’s death, on each Memorial Day, a wreath was laid at this very spot by Mrs. Thomas L. Kimball because of Anna’s generosity over the years toward the Creche Home for Children.
Mrs. Kimball’s son, Thomas R. Kimball, continued the tradition. Thomas was the prominent architect whose buildings include St. Cecilia's Cathedral, the old Public Library, and Burlington Station. After his death in 1934, the tradition stopped--and yet--over the years there have been many reports of flowers left here on Memorial Day.
The Prospect Hill Preservation Society resurrected the formal tradition some years back. It’s what brings us to this spot today. And so, with the Society’s Brass Ensemble, we pay tribute to one of Omaha’s pioneers, who, despite a colorful past, had a pure heart at the end of life, and made a significant contribution to early downtown development.