Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide

From Death Mask to Life Saver: The Macabre Tale of L’Inconnue da la Seine.


When I was a freshman in science class at myhigh school I was required to study CPR. We were lucky in the fact that the school board had paid for some pretty sophisticated CPR dummies. No only could you practice life saving techniques, you could see how the repertory and cardiac system worked. I remembered how in awe I was at the miracle that is the human body.


The teacher explained that the dummy’s name was Rescue Annie. It struck me odd that the dummy had a sex at all. I supposed it was to get a person who needed to preform CPR comfortable with the possibility of pressing on a female victims breasts. I thought that the face was amazingly realistic. But would not say it was anything resembling attractive because of its plastic nature. I had no idea that its face was based on a real, dead human being.

The face that most CPR dummies are based on is known as L’Inconnue da la Seine, which translates as the unknown woman of the Seine. Sometime in the late 1880’s her lifeless body was pulled from Paris Seine River. She had drowned and t heir was no sign of a struggle, so it was believed she probably committed suicide.


She was probably about sixteen years old and still beautiful even after her death. A pathologist was so taken by her beauty that he made her a death mask. This was more a work art than an attempt to identify the unknown drowning victim. The macabre origin of the mask, took hold within a large portion of the early twentieth century French bohemian movement. They began using it as the centerpiece in many of their morbid art demonstrations.

The L’Iconnue was considered the height of beauty for several decades of the more macabre set in early twentieth century Europe. Actress Elisabeth Bergner, is said to have based her appearance of the drowned woman. Many considered her the It girl for sexuality until her position was usurped by Greta Garbo. It is said that the mysterious woman’s appearance influenced pre-war German girls on idea on what beauty was.

EB 2

Elisabeth Bergner,

In the 1950’s Austrian-Czech Peter Safar and American James Elam created Resusi Annie for a Dutch Toy company. They based her face on the L’Inconnue da la Seine. There is a rumor that Safar based the mannequin’s face on his dead daughter. While it is true that he had a daughter pass away from severe asthma, she was only eleven years old and not an adult, and died after Annie was created so she could not be the source of dolls face.

It has been said that as the inspiration for Annie L’Iconnue possess the most kissed lips in the world. It is fitting that a woman who died of drowning as saved thousands of lives. Also there has to be an awesome horror story about the death mask I just need to write it. I can only guess that a girl who probably took her life because of depression, never could have guessed how many lives she would have touched in death.


One comment on “From Death Mask to Life Saver: The Macabre Tale of L’Inconnue da la Seine.

  1. Parlor of Horror
    October 19, 2015

    Hey Dave, I;m really enjoying your high quality subject matter in your posts. Another excellent article.

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This entry was posted on October 18, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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