George Washington's Home, Grave, and False Teeth
Mount Vernon, Virginia
Mount Vernon's grounds are large and well-manicured. The home is impeccably restored and maintained. Down a path are the graves of George Washington, the nation's first President, and his wife.
But none of this stuff really matters. It's just what you politely survey on your way to see the teeth: a full set of Washington's dentures.
The teeth reside at the modern Donald W Reynolds Museum and Education Center, a huge complex with all sorts of artwork, artifacts and dioramas. The Donald and Nancy de Laski Gallery is home to "A Leader's Smile." At the center is a large glass display case containing the dentures, allowing a 360 degree view. A time line of "Washington's dental agonies" runs along the gallery walls. As you are reminded, Washington's falsies were not made of wood, but of a mishmash of cow's teeth, human teeth and elephant teeth set in lead.
George Washington, the world's most famous wearer of falsies, left dentifrice in many places. If he slept there, he probably forgot his teeth there. Bits of bogus bicuspid can be found at The National Museum of Dentistry and in other collections. The false teeth are what we remember most about him. That, and that he never lied, and that he probably had XXY chromosomes, which rendered him sterile.
The dentures are a big draw; a crowd milled around the case when we visited. So big a draw, in fact, that visitors are not allowed to take photographs. You have to buy postcards... or refrigerator magnets.
The magnets are a great souvenir, absolutely unique to the site, and grisly but accurate. They look like the wax hillbilly teeth you get at Halloween. Hard to imagine Washington wearing them at elegant state dinners. Easy to imagine Washington hiding behind a door, waiting to pop out and scare his stepchildren. Who wouldn't want one of these on the refrigerator, staring back at you when it's time to eat?
Mount Vernon is not a National Monument (his birthplace, 80 miles south, is). Instead, upkeep has for many years fallen to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. So you can hardly blame them for earning some money with the denture image. And you certainly have to give them props for selling that refrigerator magnet.
The teeth are not currently viewable at Mount Vernon; they are part of a traveling museum exhibition through 2013.