A heart for service paved the way for Annie Wheeler to become the "Angel of Santiago." But before her fame, Annie Wheeler made a name for herself throughout Lawrence County for her adventurousness and devotion to family. However, her most endearing quality was her hopeful spirit, the one that led her around the world.
"Big Mama" Thornton & "Hound Dog"
Elvis Presley may have made "Hound Dog" a household name, but the origins of the song are rooted deep in Alabama.
"Hound Dog" belonged originally to a rhythm and blues singer, named Willie Mae Thornton, who, at the time of Elvis's recording, was making her living on what Black entertainers called "The Chitlin' Circuit." She had a big voice and suitably imperious manners, all of which had given rise to a nickname that had quickly supplanted her given name. On her rendition of "Hound Dog," released as a 78 rpm record, she was billed as "Big Mama" Thornton.
"Big Mama's" version of "Hound Dog," recorded for Peacock Records on a hot August day in 1952 in Los Angeles, was the crowning achievement in the career of a singer who left her mark on rock and blues history. "Hound Dog" quickly climbed to No. 1 on the 1953 all-Black rhythm and blues charts and became a 500,000-plus seller. It also became by far the biggest success in Willie Mae Thornton's career.
The Giggling Granny
Some reporters dubbed her “The Giggling Granny.” Others in the media gave her the nickname “The Jolly Widow.” Her given name was Nancy Hazle, and she was probably Alabama's most prolific female serial killer. History knows her as Nannie Doss.
Hazle's parents were hard-scrabble farmers that eked out an existence from the rural countryside of Blue Mountain, just north of Anniston. James Hazle, the hot-tempered, allegedly abusive man that helped rear her, most probably was not Nancy's biological father.
Born in 1906, she was going by "Nannie" by the time she was five, according to her CourtTV Crime Library profile. She and her younger siblings received only sporadic schooling, as James frequently used them to work the fields. At seven, Nannie suffered a head injury that plagued her for life and, she said, eventually contributed to her murderous impulses.
When a ship filled with several hundred German immigrants landed in colonial Mobile in 1721, the port was little more than a backwater military garrison. The first and former capital of French Louisiana now served primarily as a portal to the colony's interior. Starvation, disease, natural disasters, and the threat of attack by local tribes made daily life for the five hundred or so civilians who resided in the insect-and snake-infested swampland an uphill struggle. The village was hardly the locale to attract a member of European royalty. But among those German immigrants was a young woman claiming to be Princess Charlotte Christina Sophia of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, daughter of a duke, sister-in-law to the Holy Roman Emperor, and wife of Tsarevich Alexis Petrovich, the son of Russia's emperor Peter I.
Striding confidently down Main Street of Roanoke, Alabama, in the early 1920s, a cape flowing loosely around her, a hymn-singing parrot perched on her shoulder, Ella Gautt Smith must have cut quite an imposing figure. Most states denied patents to women until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, yet Ella Smith accumulated eleven of them before her death in 1932. Though most of her patents were issued for innovative doll designs, a few of them described unrelated inventions whose exact uses remain a mystery, such as a washable beach shoe, a "baby navel band," and a "support for the obese."
From the Vault
Read complete classic articles and departments featured in Alabama Heritage magazine in the past 35 years of publishing. You'll find in-depth features along with quirky and fun departments that cover the people, places, and events that make our state great!