Sink your teeth into George Washington’s Mount Vernon
I visited the site of George Washington’s plantation in Virginia back in May and, as our American friends like to say, I’m still processing it.
George Washington is arguably the most famous of the founding fathers and as such holds an almost mythical place in the American psyche.
There were times during my visit that I felt I was caught in the middle of some bizarre 18th Century cult of personality.
No one claimed George made the blind see or the crippled walk, but it seems he did pretty much everything else.
To be fair, I wasn’t inured to the myths, even growing up on the other side of the world in Australia.
I’d always been led to believe that GW had teeth made from wood, whittled by the big man himself from the branch of a cherry tree.
Turns out they were fashioned out of human and cow teeth and elephant ivory.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Human teeth. Taken from living slaves. Or enslaved people, as is the preferred nomenclature these days.
His last pair of dentures are displayed in the museum at Mount Vernon with no shortage of reverence, inside a glass display case and bathed in light.
I’d been excited to see his teeth when I thought they were made of wood. But now I was left feeling distinctly unsettled.
That’s not to say the plight of the enslaved people who worked the plantation is completely ignored.
A team of archaeologists are excavating the slave burial area and marking the boundaries of previously unmarked graves with string.
Visitors have taken to placing shells and pebbles on the graves, some painted, some with messages.
It turned out to be the most powerful and affecting part of my visit.