Anna Tranberg Coen: A Life In Photographs

The life of Anna Tranberg Coen is simultaneously so fascinating and yet so painfully under-reported. Today, I will be attempting to stitch together the few pieces we have remaining from the rich tapestry of her life in a way that is deserving of such an incredible woman.

Anna taking a mirror selfie ca. 1912

Anna Tranberg Coen was born on June 3, 1891 in Gravelville, MN as Anna Olsson to Olaf and Selma Olsson. She was adopted at 11 months old by Edward Tranberg and his wife Johanna, who had immigrated from Norway in 1885. Anna would marry Melvin Coen, a World War I veteran, on March 26, 1925. Their only child, a daughter named Virginia Louise Coen, was born a year later on November 24, 1926.

Melvin and Anna on their wedding day, March 26, 1925. Hand-colored by Anna.

Anna was most notable for her appointment to caretaker of Pine Grove Park in 1922, replacing the former caretaker Samuel Hammerbeck. At the time she was considered the only female park caretaker in the country, though other newspaper articles claim that she was the only woman in the world with that title.

During her time at the park she took care of elk, deer, a great horned owl, and a buffalo named Peter. She kept this position until 1924, when she was replaced by Fred Radke. For more history on Pine Grove Park, check out the article former Museum Preservationist Ann Marie Johnson wrote here.

Little Falls Herald, November 10, 1922
Scrapbook page showing the St. Paul Dispatch, January 6, 1924, from the Anna Tranberg Coen Collection

You may have noticed the number of photos in this article to make up for the lack of information. We are incredibly lucky that within our collections at the museum, we have two photo albums filled to the brim by Anna. She was an avid photographer, and even advertised her services as an amateur photographer in the Little Falls Herald. Her photographs document her life extensively, even more than what we have written down on paper.

We see her family, her friends, her dozens of pets, both exotic and common (all listed by name). We watch her daughter grow up. We get insight into her life as the caretaker of Pine Grove Park. Her photography is intimate, yet there is undeniable skill in their execution. We’ve used many of her photos for our social media posts for that exact reason.

One of Anna’s hobbies was hand-coloring her photographs, seemingly with a combination of watercolors and colored pencils. They are charming, and add a lovely splash of color to the black backdrop of the photo albums.

Our collection of Anna’s photos end in 1946. Tragedy would follow her after this cutoff. First was the death of her husband Melvin in 1949. Then just a few short years later her daughter would pass away from unspecified causes in 1952 at the age of 25.

Anna would live another 24 years, though in that time she certainly kept herself busy. She was a member of several organizations including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans of World War I, the Morrison County Barracks, the Grey Ladies, the Day Center of Senior Citizens and the First United Church Women’s Rebecca Circle. She served as a musician for almost all of these organizations, and held leadership roles including the president of the VFW for 3 non-consecutive terms and the treasurer of the Grey Ladies.

Anna Tranberg Coen passed away on May 4, 1976 at the age of 84. She left behind a legacy not in words, but in photographs.

Anna Tranberg Coen, ca. 1945

~Grace Duxbury, Museum Manager
Morrison County Historical Society, 2024


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