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
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.