One caller said he thought it was Gen. George Patton. An email suggested it was the Gorton's fisherman. Yet another said it was an old Duluth guy named Stanley, nicknamed "Stance," who sold newspapers.

One caller insists the painting in question was of an older man who sold newspapers at First Avenue West at Superior Street who died in his one-room apartment at the Alexander Hotel, where police found $54,000 in his mattress. He didn't recall the man's name.

But when we asked readers to help us identify the subject in an old painting gathering dust here at the News Tribune ("Do you know who this is?" — Page A1 of Thursday's paper), by far the most common answer was Apple Annie, or Apple Mary — depending on who was responding — whose real name was Eleanor Stanley and who hawked papers in Duluth's Bowery for many years.

Julene Boe and her husband, Dale Lucas of Duluth, own a different original painting of Apple Mary or Apple Annie (who apparently also sold apples) painted in 1937 by famed Minnesota artist Birney Quick. Quick painted the woman in 1937, 10 years before Dell Wheeler painted the other Duluth newspaper seller that hung in the News Tribune. (Boe's Apple Annie portrait was owned for many years by Duluth's Priley family.) There are Duluth newspapers in both paintings. The person in Boe's painting was identified as Elizabeth Stanley.

There are some similarities between the people in the two paintings, to be sure. But also some discrepancies, including the subjects' eyes and clothing style. Maybe she had aged between artists? Maybe the artists took liberties?

Both John Parmeter and Dave Beasley, longtime former News Tribune employees, said they vividly recall the painting hanging in the News Tribune office as being identified as Apple Annie. Longtime News Tribune printer Dudley Elliott, who started at the newspaper in 1949, also insists that the News Tribune painting was Apple Annie, although he couldn't recall her real name. Elliott said the woman lived on 11th Avenue, near his house at the time. Indeed, a 1945 Duluth City Directory lists an Eleanor Stanley living at 25 N. 11th Ave. W.

Now let's confuse matters even more. There's a wood carving by famed Duluth artist Oscar Sjogren of a woman who sold newspapers along Fifth Avenue in downtown Duluth whose name was Eleanor Stanley. Sjogren doesn't mention any Apple moniker but referred to her as "The Spirit of Fifth Avenue." Like Apple Annie, this woman was said to come to Duluth from England and spoke with a thick Cockney accent.

Blimey.

An obituary in the Feb. 23, 1956 News Tribune may solve part of the mystery. Eleanor Stanley died at age 83 and had been a newspaper vendor at Fifth Avenue West and Superior Street in the 1920s and 1930s. But there is no photo with the obit and no mention of the nickname Apple Annie. Stanley was indeed born in England and came to Duluth in 1916. She died of natural causes and was buried in Park Hill Cemetery, the obituary noted. She had no known survivors. She apparently stopped her daily newspaper sales in 1936 but occasionally continued to fill in for other vendors. And, as the obituary noted, "of the hundreds of persons who saw her almost daily during her working career, few knew her true name."

So there was indeed an Apple Annie. She was apparently named Eleanor Stanley. And she hawked papers. We know that for sure. What we don't know for sure is if that's truly her portrayed in the News Tribune painting.

It's been noted that an Apple Annie street vendor character was used in Hollywood movies and was the name of a real woman who sold fruit in Times Square in New York in the early 1900s. Apple Mary was the name of a Depression-era comic strip. So are people mixing up their movies with real history? No one knows for sure. (Another street saleswoman nicknamed Apple Annie, Ruth Weidinger of Superior and Washburn, died in 2002 at the age of 91, but she never lived in or sold papers in Duluth.)

So there you have it, clear as mud. And probably as close as we're ever going to get to solving the mystery.