AP History Notes

Posts Tagged ‘teeth’

Daily History Picture: Gas Chambers

Allegedly the walls of the gas chamber at Auschwitz. not been able to confirm…

Grave robber steals teeth of Brahms, Strauss

Brahms' grave, Viennese Central CemeteryA Czech man known only as “OJ” (the initials of his first and last name) filmed himself purportedly breaking into the tombs of Romantic composer Johannes Brahms and Waltz King Johann Strauss, Jr. in the Viennese Central Cemetery to steal their teeth for a dental museum he either already owns or wants to open. In the film, he picks up a skull and removes a tooth with a pair of pliers, then walks past grave after grave undisturbed. He uploaded the video to his website along with pictures of an open grave and of Brahms’ dental prosthesis.

None of the stories link to the website, but one of the early articles written about this story in the Austrian press quotes OJ complimenting the quality of Brahms’ dentures: “The prosthesis is a bunch of excellent work, made of rubber and porcelain. It must have been a contemporary Viennese dentist ….” Don’t worry, though. He assures us that “this project is charitable and noble. I did not want to get the teeth of the composer into the wrong hands.”

In other quotes from the website, OJ claims to have robbed hundreds of graves for 14 years, leaving him with a massive collection of 400 artificial limbs and hundreds of human skulls. How exactly the prosthetic limbs and skulls are supposed to fit into his vision of a museum of dentistry is not clear. The only reference to a museum of dentistry in Prague that I could find on the Internet was in a novel, so who knows what’s delusion and what’s fact.

Strauss' grave, Viennese Central CemeteryThe timeline is also perplexing. OJ says that he first broke into Brahms’ and Strauss’ graves in 2002, noting that the contents had already been plundered before by other relic hunters before him. In 2008, cemetery officials reported that some graves had been meddled with. As a result, OJ was apparently investigated by Vienna prosecutors for “disturbing the peace of the dead” but they dropped the case because the statute of limitations had run out.

After the press picked up on the video and ran with the story, police took a new look at the Viennese Central Cemetery. Strauss’ and Brahms’ graves were reopened and their respective teeth and dentures were indeed missing. The police also found evidence of other graves having been disturbed well within the statute of limitations, thus allowing the authorities to reopen the investigation. Thomas Vecsey of the state prosecutor’s office says that they are contemplating charging OJ with burglary, disturbing the peace of the dead and other related crimes.

First they have to find him, though. The Federal Criminal Police Office, a national police force similar to the United States’ FBI, is on the case.


Washington’s Teeth

You can find the museum of dental history online and they currently have an exhibit on Washington up! You can learn about his teeth there as well as Colonial dentistry:
There are entries in his diary about his teeth. One example is “Monday, 18 January (1790) Still indisposed with an aching tooth, and swelled and inflamed gum”.

During his life, Washington had nine different dentists. Even his physician extracted teeth for him. His dentists made him many sets of false teeth. Many of his dentures were uncomfortable. One dentist was able to make teeth for Washington that were comfortable. He became his favorite dentist. His name was John Greenwood.

John Greenwood would make four sets of teeth for George Washington and none of them would be made from wood. They were carved from hippopotamus ivory and elephant ivory. Sometimes the teeth were set in gold. His dentures had gold springs to hold the upper and lower teeth together.

Washington was not able to travel to New York where John Greenwood had his office because of his responsibilities as a general and then as President. Instead, he had to send his teeth through the mail to be repaired or adjusted. Sometimes he fixed his own dentures. He wrote letters to John Greenwood describing his problem and asking for the right tools to fix them. He requested files to adjust his teeth, scrapers to clean them, and pincers to fasten the wires. Once he even asked for material to make an impression of his mouth for new dentures.

By the time Washington was inaugurated as the first President in 1789, he had only one natural tooth left in his mouth. He wore dentures made by John Greenwood during his presidency. He was elected to a second term as President, but delivered a very short two paragraph inaugural address, probably because his mouth was bothering him.

I was reading a biography of Washington at my dental appointment today…this post seemed appropriate…I told the hygienist was I trying to be positive – my teeth are better than Washington’s!

The Truth About George Washington’s False Teeth

A subject that has long fascinated Americans of every age is that of George Washington and his false teeth. Standing at over six feet tall with a lean, muscular body, George Washington embodied physical toughness and rugged strength. He successfully fought off many illnesses in his life, but one area of his physique that showed serious wear and vulnerability was his mouth. Washington had terrible dental health.

Tooth decay was, of course, a serious problem prior to modern era advances in dentistry. Not surprisingly, Washington fell victim to this malady. Unfortunately for Washington, it was a particularly painful and debilitating struggle. In his magisterial biography Washington, Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Ron Chernow writes that Washington’s problems were “so severe as to be incapacitating and affected his life in numberless ways.”

Over the years, Washington lost one tooth after another. By the time he became President of the United States, he had a single tooth of his own remaining. To compensate for this, Washington required dentures. Contrary to popular belief, Washington’s false teeth were not wooden. According to Chernow, Washington’s dentures consisted of “natural teeth, inserted into a framework of hippopotamus ivory and anchored on Washington’s one surviving tooth.” Chernow says that the myth of Washington’s false teeth being made of wood stems from the “gradual staining of hairline fractures in the ivory that made it resemble a wood grain.”

Washington’s dentures painfully distorted his mouth and facial features. The need to so often set his jaws a certain way and tightly close his mouth probably enhanced his tendency to keep a tight rein on his words and emotions. That he lived with pain and discomfort every day undoubtedly bolstered his work ethic, sense of discipline, and dogged persistence. I will leave it to psychologists to more fully explore the ramifications and consequences of George Washington’s false teeth, but it’s safe to say that they did have an impact on him and thus, at least indirectly, on our nation as well.

The Viking with Filed Teeth

Archaeologists are currently examining fifty four bodies found in a mass burial pit in 2009, in Dorset. The bodies date to between AD970 and 1025, and probably contain soldiers, as they appear to have seen vicious combat. However, one of the bodies has stood out, because its teeth had been deliberately filed while he was alive. The archaeologists aren’t sure why this man had these grooves in his teeth, but suggest it might have been to scare opponents or show status. The BBC has some photos and quotes.

George Washington’s Teeth, Yet Again

There are only two more years to visit Mount Vernon and see the teeth that Boston native John Greenwood carved for George Washington out of hippopotamus bone!

The webpage says:

On loan from The New York Academy of Medicine, the denture was the first of several dentures that John Greenwood made for Washington and is dated 1789, the year that Washington took his oath of office in New York City. The denture is engraved with: Under jaw. This is Great Washington’s teeth by J. Greenwood. First one made by J. Greenwood, Year 1789.

Carved from hippopotamus ivory, the denture contains real human teeth fixed in the ivory by means of brass screws. The denture, which was anchored on the one remaining tooth in Washington’s mouth, has a hole which fit snugly around the tooth and probably contributed to the loosening and eventual loss of that tooth.

The Mount Vernon website notes that there is no extra cost to see these teeth.

Presidential Teeth

Dentists were on my mind today (not because of anything fun I assure you), so I looked up the dental history of the presidents.

This picture of Woodrow Wilson shows his bad teeth. According to the site, this could have contributed to his stroke.

Washington’s false teeth are well documented, but Adams refused them:

When Adams lost his teeth, he refused to wear false ones. As a result, he had a lisp when speaking. In later years Adams had trouble speaking. After encountering a fellow senior citizen in 1811, Adams wrote: “He is above 80. I cannot speak, and he cannot hear. Yet we converse”.

The other bit that amused me was this on Lincoln:
A dentist broke off part of Lincoln’s jaw bone while pulling a tooth — without anesthesia [2c]. The extraction may have taken place in Louisville, KY in Sept. 1841.

It has been said that Lincoln was afraid of dentists (see episode above for a good reason why he might have been). In 1862 Lincoln developed a severe toothache and consulted Dr. G. S. Wolf, who had an office near the White House. As Wolf prepared to pull the tooth, Lincoln asked him to wait. Lincoln “took a container of chloroform from his pocket, inhaled it deeply, and sleepily gave the signal for the dentist to proceed”.

George W Bush released dental records that you can check out online as well from 1973.