One woman's memories of the Andrew Johnson

Secret History

by Jack Neely

The daily news can stir surprising memories. When the county began discussing the prospect of selling the Andrew Johnson Building on Gay Street, it evoked more personal reverie than the typical big-dollar real-estate proposal. It's been an office building since the 1980s, and today is occupied by Knox County Schools administrative offices and a few other businesses and agencies. Older Knoxvillians remembered the building mainly for what it was for half a century: the city's premier hotel.

The reader who called with the most unusual memories of the AJ was Patricia Cash. I interviewed her for a feature story in this paper about six months ago; she shared her memories of working as a prostitute in downtown Knoxville in the late '60s and early '70s.

â“The Andrew Johnson was considered a classy place,â” she says. â“You didn't go up there if you were just a streetwalker,â” she says. â“You went up there if you were a call girl . The Andrew Johnson was the only thing that was here that had any style or class at all.â”

The bellhops connected her with clients; she says Andrew Johnson clients sometimes offered as much as $250, a plush fee in the '60s.

Appearance was important, especially to a prostitute who, everyone agreed, looked just like Dolly Parton. It was her drawing card, her asset, and she took care with how she presented herself. She contrasts her experiences with those of modern prostitutes she knows of.

â“You see a prostitute today, and her hair is scraggly; they look like they've been dragged through a knothole sideways,â” she says. â“Of course, nowadays, all men want is blowjobs, anyway.â”

It wasn't like that in the days in the Andrew Johnson, when she sometimes serviced professionals, politicians, football stars, men well regarded in the broad world as gentlemen.

She preferred working the Andrew Johnson to some of the lesser hostelries, but the memory that stands out is not one of her best. A prominent Chattanooga judge in a certain room was offering a premium price for the services of a call girl. Two other call girls had turned him down, but it sounded like a good deal to Patricia.

He greeted her at the door to his room, dressed in unusual black-leather trusses that made her think it was a chastity belt. She looked around, and was startled to see a woman emerging from the bathroom in a corset and nylons. â“Don't get scared,â” she said. â“I'm his wife.â”

She handed Patricia a cat-of-nine-tails and told her to tie him down to the bed and whip him. After she did, the couple swapped places, and the man told her to whip his wife. She did, but too gently to please the man. He insisted she whip her harder. She never did the job quite hard enough to please him. But at one point, the woman began crying, and said, â“Tell her to stop.â”

â“I was thinking, â‘This A-hole makes decisions about people's lives? He decides whether somebody goes to jail or not?'â”

Then the man and woman grew amorous toward each other, and got in bed. â“You can leave, if you want to,â” the judge told Patricia.  

She responded, â“You don't have to tell me twice.â”

The last six months have not been easy on Patricia. Acquaintances have given her some grief for telling her story to Metro Pulse . She says some of her harshest critics weren't even born when she turned her last trick. It's as if talking about the realities of her life was the equivalent of transgressing all over again. It all doesn't seem quite fair to her.

â“Women want to think, once a whore, always a whore,â” she says. But she's now a woman of 60, a cancer survivor, a churchgoing woman. â“Me and the Man Upstairs talked about it. If God forgave me enough for my soul to get well, I don't think anybody else could judge me.

â“I know there's a lot of women who've done things they won't admit to, that not many would have the guts to tell.â”

She thinks she's still getting more than her share of the onus for what she and men did with each other, even three decades after she retired for good. The men who demanded certain favors were able, at some point, to put all that behind them. It was Patricia's life.

â“It wasn't important that I was a prostitute. What was important was why it was that way. With me, it was my way of childhood,â” she says. She grew up on the West Coast, in pretty awful circumstances. â“It was something done to me, something that was expected of me as a kid.â” Most prostitutes she's known, she says, were sexually abused as children.

â“I know it was wrong,â” she says. â“But we didn't take what we were doing as all that bad. I think it should be legalized.

â“I think it saved a lot of marriages. It was better than men going out picking women up on the street.â”

She also suspects that some of the men she knew who harbored rape fantasies might have been stalking real victims if prostitutes had not been available. Men who demanded services that shocked career prostitutes often lived lives of outward respectability.

Of one client, whom she describes as a prominent insurance man who went by a regal nickname, she says, â“He liked for you to be like a little girl, and he was raping you.â” Patricia didn't like it, but she suspects that if she didn't attend to the man's demands, he might be raping a real child. â“A lot of men go to prostitutes to fulfill fantasies of things that happened when they were abused as children. If it wasn't for some of these girls doing this, there would be a lot more abused little girls now.â”

The life didn't do her any long-term good. â“The bad things that happened to me are tattooed on my brain,â” she says. Though she later got some experience with other professions, like driving trucks, today Patricia ekes out a living on minimal disability checks. She's unimpressed with government agencies like Child and Family Services. â“They treat you like you were taking up space by being a human.

  â“When I was a girl I wanted to be a mother, I wanted to have a family, I wanted to have children.â” None of that ever happened. â“I know that's not very â‘productive,' but that's what I wanted.â”

She's earnest about publishing a book about her experiences. â“I know the cancer will come back for the third time,â” she says. â“I want to sell this book, and then live in peace for the rest of my life.â”

She suffers from emotional disorders, including multiple-personality disorder. Each personality has her own name, and her own ways of pleasing men. And each has different memories. Many of her memories remain sealed away most of the time. Sometimes hearing the name of an old hotel on a television news show can bring them back.

She still loves the Andrew Johnson Building. â“I wouldn't mind going in and decorating it,â” she says. â“I always wanted to be an interior decorator. I wouldn't ask for a whole lot.â”


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