She is said to be the most kissed woman in the world, and I'm sure most people have put their mouth to a Resusci Anne mannequin at least once in an attempt to learn life-saving skills in CPR. I recently renewed my Open Water Lifeguard Award and Outdoor First Aid and discovered on both these courses a little bit more about the story behind Resusci Anne.
Her face always made me shudder a bit, slightly creepy with a blissed-out look, it was when I voiced this that I found out her face was apparently taken from an unknown woman who had drowned, pulled out The Seine in the late 19th Century. A 'Jane Doe' no-one knew who she was. Tragic... It was bounced around that there were rumours she was pulled out The Seine in the red light district and it was a murder. So I thought I'd have a search around and find out more.
L'inconnue, the unknown woman of the Seine was put on public display in Paris, this was normal at the time, any unknown corpses were displayed behind glass for all to see, in the hope someone would recognise them. Visiting the grisly display was in hugely popular and despite onlookers being taken with the enigmatic smile of L'inconnue no-one could identify her. Many speculated about who she was, and most stories point to her suicide as she had no marks on her body. A worker at the morgue was so taken by her that he had a mask of her face made and it wasn't long before she became the muse of painters, photographers, poets of the time, the mask was the 'must-have' item to adorn your walls in trendy late 19th Century Europe.
So how did she come to be the face of the CPR mannequin? Norwegian Toy manufacturer Asmund Laerdal saved the life of his own young son in 1955, by dragging him out of a frozen lake and clearing his airway just in time. He had already been manufacturing a best selling doll in Norway called the 'Anne doll', with real hair and eyelids that closed, when he was asked to create a training doll to assist with teaching the newly invented CPR technique for saving a life. Of course, he jumped at the chance having saved his own son's life.
Creating a lifesize version of Anne, able to be used for both chest compressions and give oxygen through her mouth he needed to give her a face and recalled a mask he has seen on the wall of his family home, which was of course L'innconnue. Laerdal felt a female face would be less threatening for most people and that was it, the unknown woman of the Seine became the face of Resusci Anne!
Rescue/Resusci Anne has gone worldwide and has undoubtedly saved many, many lives. The line from Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal single 'Annie are you ok? Are you ok, Annie?' is with reference to her. She is subject to many different stories, some artist spoof's that have almost become the truth and some say she was never drowned, nor even a mask of a dead woman. That said, it's still a great story, one that has and will continue to save lives and I'm not sure I will shudder next time I renew my qualifications, but maybe give her back an enigmatic smile!