Evergreen House displays presidential odds and ends

February 13, 1993|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

Now on display at Baltimore's Evergreen House, George Washington's lower denture, stained, worn, slightly crooked, makes a homely and fascinating relic of democracy. Imagine the first president grimacing from an ill-fitting set of false teeth while plotting battle strategy, executing a survey map or determining policy for his new-born country.

The denture, on loan from the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, is part of a presidential memorabilia exhibit highlighting the book and manuscript collections of Evergreen House, once the home of John Work Garrett.

As a way of recognizing Presidents' Month, Garrett librarian and curator Judith Gardner-Flint has assembled an eclectic assortment of printed material and artifacts pertaining to Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and a handful of other presidents.

Washington correspondence includes a letter in excellent script to a relative outlining the dire conditions of the Continental armies under his command, as well as his suggestions for repairs to Mount Vernon, his Virginia estate.

Washington's farewell address, in which he declined to run for a third term and warned "against permanent alliance with foreign powers," is included in the exhibit. There are numerous funeral orations for the first president and several biographies, including Parson Weems' "The History of the Life and Death Virtues and Exploits of George Washington," published in Philadelphia in 1800. A later edition of Weems' biography included first mention of the cherry tree legend.

A 1773 survey map by Washington is included, as is his 1798 letter to the secretary of war recommending his nephew for an appointment.

The denture, one of several Washington endured after his teeth decayed, was made of ivory by Dr. John Greenwood in 1795. The lower denture was originally a solid piece of ivory which the dentist later sawed into blocks that more closely resembled teeth. It is possible that the artificial teeth were one of two sets repaired by Dr. Greenwood, who noted that one set in particular "was very black, occasioned either by your soaking them in port wine, or by your drinking it."

According to Dr. Ben Swanson, dental museum director, the upper denture was stolen for the gold it contained, while on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution.

An 1862 battlefield portrait by Mathew Brady, doctored to show John W. Garrett (grandfather of Evergreen's owner) standing near Lincoln and Gen. George McClellan, sets the unconventional tone for the

small assortment of Lincoln memorabilia on display.

Lincoln sought out Garrett as well. In a letter written from the White House during the Civil War, the president asks a favor of Garrett, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. "We shall soon all be in the dark here, unless you can bring coal to make gas," Lincoln wrote. Coal delivery was not to interfere with transportation of Union troops, the president stressed.

The exhibit jumps to other presidents and kin, including Woodrow Wilson's daughter Jessie, who accepted an invitation from Alice Warder Garrett to spend part of her honeymoon at Evergreen House and

to use the Garrett car. By traveling incognito, "We will avoid in that way so much trying publicity," she wrote.

In a section relating to Franklin Roosevelt, there is a curt letter to John Work Garrett, a Republican, accepting his resignation as ambassador to Italy. And here, the perennial topic of presidential wives and their clout emerges with a huge anti-FDR button that proclaims, "We Don't Want Eleanor Either."

PRESIDENTS EXHIBIT

Where: Evergreen House, 4545 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. (Closed Feb. 15) Through March 31

Admission: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and groups, $2.50 for students 12 and up, free for children under 12

Call: (410) 516-0341

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