Fraunces Tavern.

Washington's Tooth

Field review by the editors.

New York, New York

The Fraunces Tavern Museum is chock full of what you would expect from a museum of the American Revolution: paintings of guys on horses, mucho muskets, flags, pipes, cannonballs and powder horns. But did you know that the collection also contains a piece of one of George Washington's false teeth?

It seems impossible to fully extinguish the fiction that George Washington had wooden teeth. He didn't. He did, however, suffer from constant dental problems through his adult life, and went through many sets of dentures -- most of them terribly uncomfortable. Painter Gilbert Stuart even stuffed Washington's mouth with cotton when the President posed for a portrait, lest his cheeks look sadly sunken. Washington's dentures were made out of such materials as elephant and walrus tusk; elk, hippo and cow teeth; and even human teeth.

Washington's Tooth.
Locket containing Washington's tooth.

The specimen at the Fraunces Tavern Museum is set into a tiny locket, beneath a miniscule glass dome. Even under magnification, it is hard to know what you are looking at. To our eyes, it resembles a Sea Monkey. The great grandson of Washington's favorite dentist, John Greenwood, generously donated the ragged relic. The tooth is displayed along with a wood fragment from Washington's first coffin (he was later upgraded to a marble one) and a lock of the great leader's hair -- Washington did not wear a wig but instead powdered his own light brown hair.

We have to admit that although we appreciate the delicate artistry of the Fraunces Tavern's jaw-inspired jewelry, our favorite Washington dentures are at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland. Their three examples are spring-loaded beauties perfectly suited to star in an eerie Tim Burton stop-motion animation.

There's also a set of (particularly nightmarish) dentures that have been on display for many years at Mount Vernon in Virginia, along with a one-of-kind refrigerator magnet of George's frightful choppers.


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Washington's Tooth

Fraunces Tavern Museum

54 Pearl St., New York, NY
Fraunces Tavern Museum, Pearl St. at Broad St. By Subway: W/R to Whitehall Street, 4/5 to Bowling Green, or 1 to South Ferry.
M-Sa 12-5 pm. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $10, Seniors/children $5.
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In the region:
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August 9, 2020

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