Month: October 2014

RESURRECTING GHOSTS: The Life, Death, and After-Life of Gold-Tooth Annie

Scan“She didn’t have no feet, or legs, even. She was just there in the air.” Jack “Slowday” on the ghost of Gold-Tooth Annie–Paducah Sun, July 16, 1933. 

Yeah, Paducah’s got ghosts.

Our city’s infected with them, and they come back to haunt us again and again, especially this time of year, with their unseen voices, bodiless footsteps, and flickering lights. These ghosts goosebump our skin and send those inexplicable chills crawling up our necks. You can hardly turn a corner without running into a ghost in this town…or at least the story of one: Stella, who gazes out the windows of C.C. Cohen’s/Shandies; Devil Winston, hung for murder and still swinging around the site of the gallows; Della Barnes who rises shoulders above her beheaded statue at Oak Grove Cemetery; and the cloud of spirits which fogs the halls and stairwells at Fisher Mansion.

Heck, Paducah is so overflowing with ghosts that I’ve got a couple of my own. Two ghost girls live in my house…truly. They whisper and giggle and sometimes play their transistor radio in the walls. Just the other night one of them plopped down on my bed, while in the kitchen, the other tapped a beat on my oven hood. They even have a ghost dog that walks back and forth passed my bed, toenails clicking on the hardwood.

We have so many ghosts floating around Paducah that it’s not surprising that we’d lose track of one every now and then. So today we resurrect one of our ghosts and bring you the truthful tale of one such disremembered phantom, the spirit of a woman who was quite popular during her life and even, for a while, after her death. She’s since been forgotten…until now: Gold-Tooth Annie.

–The Life of Gold-Tooth Annie–
The early life of Annie is a bit hazy and our research a bit transparent. Her death certificate states she was born around 1887 in the town of Allensville in Todd County, Kentucky to parents Robert Johnson and Mandy Effings. The next few years, however, are a mystery. Did she go to school? Did she have brothers and sisters? We’re not sure. No birth certificates or census records have been found yet. Nor do we know when and how she got to Paducah. But she did get here, and her first found appearance in the Paducah Sun came in November 1901 in a brief article about a skirmish in a saloon with a drunk named Will Huston who, full of mean whiskey, “knocked ‘Gold Tooth Annie’ down, and created great excitement, defying the police and everyone else in a loud voice.”

Yes, if you do the math and subtract the years, you’ll deduce that Annie was only 15 or 16 years old at the time. Not only was she finding herself in the midst of bar fights, she was also already so known by the nickname “Gold Tooth” that the paper didn’t list her last name. No word either as to why or how she got the nickname, though one must imagine that her gilded tooth was a prominent feature.

As a teenager, Annie was already on her way to local infamy. In subsequent years, the city directories listed her official career as a ‘domestic’ or ‘laundress,’ but given her frequent mentions in the papers as a patron of bars and gambling halls, it’s safe to say there was a lot more to it. In the interest of decorum, let’s just say Annie was popular with the fellows.

A later article would state that Gold Tooth Annie’s police record was so long that it “runs into antiquity.” Despite her lengthy rap sheets, however, it seems she was beloved throughout town. She was once entrusted upon by a dying man to dig up the fortune he’d buried under his house and distribute the wealth among his kin. She was also credited in one article with saving the life of a man who tried to overdose on morphine. Annie was also a lover of birds, and at one point had a menagerie of 20 canaries in varying colors.

She was a character, for sure, with a heart that matched her gold tooth. The police even loved her. Her offenses were never more than breach of peace or a bout with ‘immorality,’ and while she was perpetually indebted to the court, the police “trusted her fines time and again and she never failed to liquidate her debts.”

–The Death of Gold-Tooth Annie–
Gold-Tooth Annie was a larger than life figure, and as big as she lived her life, her death was also tragically spectacular. After all, one does not become a ghost if one dies naturally and peacefully.

Annie’s moniker in the paper was always “Gold Tooth.” She was rarely attributed a last name. We conjecture that in her early years in Paducah she went by the last name Johnson, the name of her

Annie's Death Certificate.

Annie’s Death Certificate.

father. Around 1910, there are a couple references to her full name being Annie Tolliver, though it’s unclear as to whether this was an alias or the result of a marriage. Around 1915, we are sure that she married a bricklayer named Joe Cannon and assumed his last name. Together they moved into a house at 1010 Boyd’s Alley (around where The Brickhouse is today). That location is important for it’s not only the site where she lived out her days, but also the site where she died, and then later seen as a spirit.

The marriage to Joe Cannon does not seem to last long. Now living with a man named James Moody, Annie’s name once again appeared in the paper on November 2, 1918, this time because of fire at her house on Boyd’s Alley. The couple inside, Annie and Moody, were almost burned alive, not because they were asleep, but because they were so drunk and argumentative that they couldn’t decide whether it was better to escape the blaze through the front door or the back door.

Annie’s volatile relationship with James Moody continued over the next few years with the police having to intervene often in their “innumerable quarrels.” But on September 13, 1927, those years of fighting came to a tragic end. Having heard the screams coming from Boyd’s Alley, neighbors called the Paducah police who rushed to the scene to find “Gold Tooth Annie” lying on the gravel, bleeding from a “number of deep slashes across her breast, hips and back,” the result of a knife fight with Moody.

Moody was arrested, and Annie was taken to the hospital. The stabbing occurred at 2:15 in the afternoon, and Annie died at 10:45 that night, having never regained consciousness. Though a person of questionable moral character, she was so well-known and well-liked throughout town that her death made the front page of the two local papers under the headlines, “Gold Tooth Annie Is Fatally Cut,” and “Gold Tooth Annie Slain By Her Husband.” She was 40 years old.

–The After Life of Gold-Tooth Annie–
Under the name Annie Cannon, Gold Tooth was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery. For most people, that would be the end of the story. But not for Annie. Never one back down, so it seemed, Annie couldn’t even be held back by something as measly as death.

Flash forward six years to July 16, 1933. A well-known character about town called “Jack Slowday” burst into city hall at two in the morning. His teeth clattered and his eyes were unusually large for he claimed to have just seen Gold Tooth Annie at the corner of 9th and Finley streets. Said Slowday to Judge Holman and the police, “There was that woman. She coming out from between two houses. I stooped way down low and peering close like. No sah. I couldn’t be that wrong. She didn’t have no feet, or legs, even. She was just there in the air. She comes a little towar’ me, and I got colder and colder. All dressed in white she was, with black hair, white eyes and a gold tooth. Aw lawdy!”

The police suggested that Slowday take them to the spot where Annie was sighted. Said Slowday, “For all you got I wouldn’t go out there tonight.”

“Then how’ll we catch her?” said the police.

Slowday responded with a shrug. “I’s no p’liceman.”

Somewhere between the sighting of the ghost and the and city hall, Slowday lost his left shoe. Perhaps his shoe is still there for Slowday could not be convinced to return. And perhaps Gold-Tooth Annie is still there too. The wording of the article about the sighting of her ghost made it sound as if she’d haunted the area before. And maybe she haunts it still, so next time you’re in the vicinity of Boyd and 9th Streets in the dead of night and see a small gold light in the distance, don’t dismiss it as a firefly or the glare from a passing headlight. Maybe, just maybe, that glint is coming from the golden smile of Annie.

To learn more about Annie or any of our other area ghosts, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

THIS DAY IN LITERARY HISTORY, OCTOBER 1 — Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert


“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.” – Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert’s daily writing routine was, in a word, tortuous. He worked meticulously, crafting each word and phrase with such painstaking precision that a single page sometimes took a week finish. He woke late in the day, usually around 10 a.m., though he wouldn’t sit down at his large, round writing table until 1 p.m, he would often write into the wee hours of the morning, past 1 a.m. In 1852, while working on his first (and arguably greatest) novel, Madame Bovary, he wrote to Louise Colet, a fellow writer and occasional mistress: “Sometimes I wonder why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brain doesn’t melt away. I am leading an austere life, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a find of permanent frenzy, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but never abates.”

Flaubert began work on Madame Bovary in 1851. It is the story of Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife, who strives to escape the dullness of her normal existence by living beyond her means and engaging in adulterous affairs, if only to briefly experience the pleasures of high society: wealth, passion, beauty. Because of his fastidiousness, Flaubert only managed, at most, a few paragraphs a day. The novel took five years to complete and the first installment was published on this day, October 1, 1856 in “Revue de Paris.”

Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert

His agonizing, late-night writing routine was an indication of how harsh a critic he was of his own work. Occasionally, he expressed those feelings in writing, saying of great work, “There are times when I could be physically sick, the stuff’s so low.” However, most critics and fellow writers disagree with Flaubert’s assessment, and Madame Bovary is often cited as a ‘perfect’ work of fiction. Henry James said, “Madame Bovary has a perfection that not only stamps it, but that makes it stand almost alone; it holds itself with such a supreme unapproachable assurance as both excites and defies judgment.”

Madame Bovary is available in several formats at the McCracken County Public Library: book, ebook, and audio. Other works by Flaubert are also available as well as a brilliant book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, which details the routines and habits of 161 creative folks, Gustave Flaubert among them.

To learn more about great books, visit us at the Local and Family History Depart…or heck… visit any of our fine departments at the McCracken County Public Library. We’ll help you find a masterpiece.

–Matt Jaeger

THE PULL OF PORK IN PADUCAH: A Vastly Incomplete and Scatterbrained History of Barbecue from the Beginning of Time to Western Kentucky


Folks have been barbecuing in Western Kentucky since there have been folks in Western Kentucky which makes the tracing of any specific origin of barbecuing in our region as futile as trying to trace down the history of human beings hunting for food or harnessing fire. Barbecuing (or some form of cooking over a fire) is humanity’s oldest form of cooking, so one can imagine that just as soon as early man learned to cultivate a spark that they were dry rubbing their wooly mammoth ribs and drooling over the tantalizing sounds of sizzle and spit. Such was the case in our region—a fire combined with meat equals barbecue.

(Interesting side note: In the annals of recorded history, wooly mammoth meat has actually appeared on a menu. In 1951, at the 47th annual meeting of the Explorer’s Club at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, the dinner menu included Pacific spider crab, green turtle soup, bison steaks, cheese straws, and a morsel of mammoth meat. No word on what it tasted like, though we doubt it resembled chicken.)

We turn then to the origin of the word itself—barbecue—the mere utterance of which usually triggers a phantosmia, an olfactory hallucination, of smoke and roasting fat. The etymology of the word takes us to ancient Taino peoples of the Caribbean whose word “barabicu,” meaning a sacred fire pit, was borrowed by Spanish explorers in the 16th century and brought back to Europe as the word “barbacoa,” which ultimately denoted a cooking method of roasting meat on a wooden structure over a firepit. The word then arrived with the Spanish on the shores of the New World, in the future southeastern United States, and became barbecue, with all its variant spellings: barbeque, BBQ, bar-b-q, and the lesser used, but increasingly fashionable, “Barbie Queue.”

(Interesting side note: The Barbie doll has her own barbecue playset. “Barbie BBQ Time” comes complete with a doll in a fetching pink and aquamarine midriff, a grill, two chairs, hot dogs, and iced tea.)

How about the pig then? Of course, barbecue isn’t restricted to any particular genus and species. One could barbecue a skink if one took the notion. Mammal, fowl, reptile, amphibian…they’re all fair game (pun intended). However, when talking about Western Kentucky barbecue, and southern US barbecue in general, we’re talking primarily about pork. Funny, though, that the pig is no way native to North America. Besides the dog, the pig is the oldest animal known to be domesticated, and archaeological records suggest that their domestication began in Near East countries (Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, etc.) around 11,000 BC. Perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy that would make Memphis, TN one of the BBQ capitals of the United States. Yet, if one were truly looking for the BBQ capital of the US one would have to look at Tampa, Florida. Hard to believe, but it looks like Tampa is the city of origin for pork in the United States for in 1539, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto first landed there, his first stop on our shores having come from Cuba. He brought pigs with him, the first known pigs in the New World, and some of them escaped. Thanks, de Soto!

(Interesting side note: Speaking of grills and Hernando de Soto, the grille emblem on the Chrysler Desoto often featured a profile of the explorer along with a winged bird. The kind of bird is unknown, but if it was, it could likely be barbecued.)

So, when did the pig, and thus pork barbecue, get to our area? Well, that’s tough to narrow down, though it’s pretty certain that the native Chickasaw tribes who first inhabited this region were not farming pigs. For protein, they relied on the indigenous species in the forests and rivers. In fact, even up until the early 1800’s, it doesn’t appear as if pigs had been introduced to Western Kentucky (at least not widely). This is evidenced further by the journals of Lewis and Clark (yes, that William Clark who ultimately named and platted out the town of Paducah). Lewis and Clark scrupulously recorded not only the types of animals they killed and consumed on their 2 1/2 year journey, but the number: 1001 deer, 375 elk, 227 bison, 62 antelope, 35 bighorned sheep, 43 grizzly bears, 23 black bears, 113 beaver, 16 otter, 104 geese, 46 grouse, 9 turkeys, 48 plovers, 18 wolves, 190 Indian dogs, and 12 horses. Not once is pig mentioned.

(Interesting side note: During lean times, Lewis and Clark supplemented their diet with “portable soup,” an early version of the bouillon cube. Lewis brought 193 pounds of the stuff on the journey, having purchased it in from a chef named Francois Baillet in Philidelphia for $289.50.)

So answer the darn question already…where does Western Kentucky barbecue come from? Pig farming in Western Kentucky certainly fell in sync with other types of farming in the region, though even into the late 19th century, beef was a preferred meat over pork. At the same time, in some of the earliest editions of the Paducah Sun we have, church picnics and family gatherings were often referred to as “barbecues,” but who knows what they were actually eating at those functions. The earliest reference we can find to barbecue that resembles Western Kentucky barbecue as we know it today, comes from a May 8, 1902 edition of the Sun. W. M. Phillips, later called “ the barbecue man” in Paducah, took out an ad that said, “This is to let the public know that I have opened my Barbecue, open air. My wagon will be at Fourth and Broad streets. I have four kinds of meat: I have both Pig and Hog, Sheep and Mutton. I barbecue over pit, not in stove. I will try to accommodate you, as I always do. I give you the worth of your money—if you don’t want too much.”

(Interesting side note: Mr. Phillips would also deliver barbecue to your home—pork for 25 cents a pound, mutton for 30).

The rest of our Western Kentucky’s barbecue history is, well…history. Help us fill in the gaps from here. Do have a memory of barbecue in Paducah—an amusing anecdote, a favorite old joint, an unheralded pitmaster? Let us know.

And forgive the frenetic nature of this particular post. I am, after all, at work during the BBQ festival.

For more information about deliciousness, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger