This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas. One plane sealed the fate of thousands. In the National Museum of the United States sits Kennedy's Air Force One and some of the fastest planes on the planet. But how did the "Bockscar" seal the fate of thousands? How did ornate light brackets that would have adorned the walls of the first class Pullman cars of the Great Northern's passenger trains wind up 4000ft up in the Cascade Mountains and what tragic story has the answer? Does the wooden man at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico answer the question, "Do aliens exist?"
This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas.
One plane sealed the fate of thousands. In the National Museum of the United States sits Kennedy's Air Force One and some of the fastest planes on the planet. But how did the "Bockscar" seal the fate of thousands? How did ornate light brackets that would have adorned the walls of the first class Pullman cars of the Great Northern's passenger trains wind up 4000ft up in the Cascade Mountains and what tragic story has the answer? Does the wooden man at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico answer the question, "Do aliens exist?"
For even more Mysteries at the Museum, head to discovery+. Go to discoveryplus.com/mystery to start your 7-day free trial today. Terms apply.
Find episode transcripts here: https://mysteries-at-the-museum.simplecast.com/episodes/prehistoric-monster-bockscar-plane-ufos
NARRATOR: A prehistoric monster holds the clue to an Ice Age puzzle. Strange iron relics that are the last links to a
catastrophic natural disaster.
The people on the train didn't stand a chance.
NARRATOR: A curious wooden figure, the explanation for a 60-year-old mystery or the key to a coverup?
JULIE SHUSTER:We're looking up. Why can't they be looking down at us?
NARRATOR: Across the United States, in the nation's most revered institutions, our celebrated history is on display. Wondrous
treasures from the past, bizarre relics. But behind every amazing artifact is another tale to be told and a secret
waiting to be revealed. These are the Mysteries at the Museum.
Los Angeles, California. In the heart of one of the city's bustling business districts is a unique museum located on
the site of a bizarre natural phenomenon. This is the Page Museum, and these are the world-famous La Brea Tar
TREVOR VALLE:We're called the La Brea Tar Pits, but there's no tar here. It's asphalt. There's crude oil that comes up through
cracks in the earth and, as the lighter material evaporates off, we're left with a black sticky mess.
NARRATOR: A sticky mess that is also an ancient graveyard. Carefully cataloged in the stacks of the Page Museum are over
four million ancient bones that have been recovered from the site. These primordial relics are the last link to the
fantastical creatures that once roamed Southern California and are the source of constant fascination for
paleobiologist Trevor Valle.
TREVOR VALLE:I can't lie. This is the coolest job on the planet. It's like working in a massive jigsaw puzzle.
NARRATOR: A puzzle made up of the remains of all kinds of prehistoric animals found right here, from Colombian mammoths,
creatures that towered over the modern elephant, to dire wolves, vicious dog-like killers that prowled the
prehistoric forest in huge packs. But among the jaws, teeth, and claws, one specimen stands out. The beast that
wielded these nine-inch dagger-like canines was North America's most ferocious predator.
TREVOR VALLE: They can only belong to one of the most disturbingly terrifying animals, a 750-pound eating machine. The
superpredator of the Ice Age? It's smilodon, the saber-toothed cat. We call them saber-toothed cats for a reason,
because smilodon fatalis is the fatal knife tooth.
NARRATOR: Among the largest, heaviest cats that ever lived, saber-toothed cats ruled the Ice Age food chain. Though often
mistaken as a type of tiger, the sabertooth was closer in build to the modern-day lion, with one important
TREVOR VALLE: Most carnivores, like lions, only open their mouth about 65 degrees and right now you have a problem. The teeth
get in the way. But saber-toothed cats can actually open their jaws 120 degrees. The last thing you see is blood
dripping off its canines as you die.
NARRATOR: Hundreds of these razor-sharp teeth have been excavated from the tar pits, but one question has intrigued
scientists, how did they all get here? Why are the remains of so many massive predators located in this particular
site? The answers lie in the bubbling ooze of the La Brea Tar Pits.
Southern California, 10,000 BC, the end of the fourth Ice Age. Massive glaciers are slowly melting across
continental America. The area we now know is Los Angeles is covered in cool, damp forest and fields.
TREVOR VALLE: The climate during the latter half of the Ice Age here was a lot different than it is now. We've got morning breeze
coming in bringing the fog, all of these just big tall trees mixed with grasslands. And then up into the mountains,
we got these massive redwoods.
NARRATOR: And roaming wild through this luscious habitat are the biggest mammals the world has ever seen, with the
superpredator, the saber-toothed cat, at the top of the food chain. But in this ancient ecosystem, there is one
trap even the saber-toothed cat can fall prey to, the La Brea Tar Pits.
TREVOR VALLE:An animal walking by may think it's a pool of water or they just don't see it. They walk right through it. They get
NARRATOR: And the more the trapped animal struggles to free itself, the deeper it sinks.
TREVOR VALLE:If you're trumpeting for help, you're calling the rest of the herd, but you're immediately a target for any
carnivore, and saber-toothed cats would start coming in going, look, lunch. It's chaos on an unparalleled scale.
Saber-toothed cats jumping on the back of it, American lions pacing the side. It's just-- it's a zoo gone bad.
NARRATOR: But once they enter the oily slime, the predators, too, fall victim to the sticky clutches of the La Brea Tar Pit.
TREVOR VALLE: They would start to get stuck like a fly to a flypaper. It would be a horrible death. You could take days to die.
NARRATOR: And when predator and prey finally succumb to the pits, the oil seeps into the dead creature's bones, preserving
them for millennia.
TREVOR VALLE: For every one herbivore we find, we find 7 to 10 carnivores. There are so many bones, so many animals. They're
all packed in here and we end up with a massive collection.
NARRATOR: Though these oil-stained relics are remnants of a traumatic struggle between life and death thousands of years
ago, without them, we would never know of the wondrous ancient creatures that roamed America long before we
While the Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California hold secrets from the end of the last
Ice Age, across the country in Dayton, Ohio, the National Museum of the United States Air Force holds an artifact
that played a key role in ushering in the nuclear age. But how did chance play a role in the single act that sealed
the fate of thousands? The answer coming up on Mysteries at the Museum.
Dayton, Ohio, the birthplace of aviation. It was home to the fathers of manned flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright. In
keeping with its high flying heritage, Dayton is also home to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The museum boasts a stunning display of extraordinary aircraft, from President Kennedy's Air Force One to the
SR-71, one of the fastest planes on the planet. But for the historian Jeff Underwood, one aircraft stands out
beyond all others. It is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber known as Bockscar.
The B-29 bomber is 99 feet long and it has a wingspan of 141 feet. It's a big airplane. It was the culmination of
American military aviation technology in 1944 and '45.
NARRATOR: During World War II, the B-29 specialized in high altitude long-range bombing missions on targets across the
It had the range. It had the bomb load. It had the trained crews necessary to deliver strikeout blows to any enemy
anywhere in the world.
NARRATOR: But among the hundreds of B-29s that ruled the skies during World War II, Bockscar stands alone. In one mission,
this aircraft changed the course of world history forever.
This is the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, the act that ended World War II. But this apocalyptic event
almost never happened. How did fate and circumstance play a part in the flight that altered history?
August 6, 1945. World War II has been raging for six years. In order to bring the conflict to a swift end, the US
deploys the single deadliest weapon ever used. It dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Tens of thousands of people are killed instantly. But despite the devastation to one of its most important cities,
the Japanese military command refuses to yield.
The Japanese government operated under the code that they would not surrender. It was going to take
something truly stupendous to force the military leaders to back down.
NARRATOR: President Truman decides there is no other option. The only way to force the Japanese to surrender is to
detonate another nuclear weapon.
We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war.
NARRATOR: Codenamed Fat Man, this device weighs nearly 10,000 pounds and is 40% more powerful than the one dropped
on Hiroshima. The target is a huge military base near the Japanese city of Kokura. The job of deploying the
weapon is given to the B-29 bomber Bockscar. But before Bockscar's even airborne, the operation is plagued by
The mission ran into problems almost from the very beginning.
NARRATOR: A fuel pump breaks down and the aircraft can only take on just enough fuel to get to the target and back.
Not having this fuel meant the timing had to be perfect. There was no room for error.
NARRATOR: Then, as the bomber gets closer to the target, visibility begins to deteriorate.
As Bockscar approaches Kokura, they see a haze covering the city. The crew had specific orders that they have
to see their target to be able to drop the bomb on it.
NARRATOR: With visibility poor and their fuel running out, the crew must make a critical decision, abort the mission now or
keep flying and drop the bomb on a different target but risk running out of fuel. Determined to complete the
mission, the crew head toward a pre-assigned secondary target, the industrial city of Nagasaki.
They turn toward Nagasaki, looking all the time at the fuel gauges, knowing they're running out of fuel.
NARRATOR: This fateful decision will reshape the history of the world. But as Bockscar approaches the city, a new problem
arises. Nagasaki is also shrouded in clouds.
With their fuel running out, the crew cannot wait for the conditions to clear. It appears the mission is over. But
just at the very last moment, the bombardier sees a break in the clouds.
Lady luck finally throws the dice in his way and he could see the city. The moment is right. The time cannot pass.
They cannot wait.
NARRATOR: Bockscar drops the bomb.
And they look back and they see the rising mushroom cloud. They know they've done their job. The mission is
NARRATOR: When Bockscar touches down, it has just seven gallons of fuel to spare. Six days later, the Japanese surrender.
The crew of Bockscar brought an end to the Second World War.
NARRATOR: But at a tremendous cost. The city of Nagasaki is annihilated. The nuclear age has truly dawned and the world
will never be the same again.
Now, decades since its fateful flight, Bockscar's engines are silent. Its majestic steel and glass body carefully
preserved here in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. This magnificent aircraft stands not
just as an example of aviation engineering at its best, but more importantly, as a solemn remembrance of the
terrible price of war.
Over 600 miles away at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York, there lies a reminder of a very different
period in our history, a relic that hearkens back to an ancient time before written history, whose astonishing
discovery would fuel a debate questioning the very origins of mankind. Next on Mysteries at the Museum.
Nestled in the tranquil countryside of Upstate New York is the tiny village of Cooperstown. This idyllic spot is
home to a unique institution that celebrates our nation's agrarian past, the Cooperstown Farmer's Museum. But
among the plows and pitchforks is a strange artifact that seems totally out of place.
It's about 10 and a half feet long. It's solid stone throughout.
NARRATOR: And it is shaped like a man. But what is this giant? And where did it come from? The tale of this mysterious
monolith begins more than a century ago in the nearby village of Cardiff, New York.
October 16, 1869, a cattle farmer named Stub Newell is preparing his land for the winter. He hires some local
men to dig a well in one of his fields.
They were digging for a little while when all of a sudden, their shovels struck a solid object. As they continued to
dig around the object, they realized that it was a foot.
NARRATOR: Fearing they are about to make a gruesome discovery, the men continue digging. As the excavation deepens, the
limbs of an otherworldly figure slowly come into view. Finally, they unearth what appears to be the body of an
They looked down and beheld what they had uncovered, and very quickly, they realized that they had discovered
NARRATOR: A massive human form perfectly preserved in solid stone.
It gave the men the sense that they were looking at something very old, something that had been there for a
very long time.
NARRATOR: Word of the discovery quickly spreads and soon, crowds start to gather at Stub Newell's farm to behold the
bizarre creature. Sensing an opportunity to make some money, Newell erects a tent over the giant and begins
Within weeks of the giant's discovery, it had very quickly become a major, major news story.
NARRATOR: The press names the remarkable creature after the nearby town of Cardiff, and the Cardiff Giant is born. But the
question on everyone's lips is, what exactly is this thing? And how did it get here? Some believe the giant to be a
prehistoric sculpture that points to the existence of an undiscovered American civilization. Others see the
fossilized remains of a real giant.
Some believe that the giant was once a living, breathing being, and, at some point, it had died, and through
some mysterious act of nature, it had turned to stone.
NARRATOR: Either way, the implications are revolutionary. The very origins of human civilization seem to rest on the identity
of the strange humanoid form.
Americans at that time really measured themselves against their European counterparts, and all of a sudden, the
Cardiff Giant comes upon the scene and it implies an epic and a vast prehistory.
NARRATOR: And this wondrous possibility, that the birthplace of human civilization may not have been ancient Egypt or
Greece but Cardiff, New York. A continuous stream of paying patrons come to Stub Newell's tent to see for
He had people coming from not just all over New York. There were people coming from all up and down the East
NARRATOR: The giant is such a lucrative attraction that it even catches the attention of notorious showman PT Barnum, who
cashes in on the phenomenon by constructing his own giant, charging admission and claiming that his is the
original and Stub Newell's Cardiff Giant is a fake. Little did anyone know how prescient PT Barnum's claim would
turn out to be.
February 10, 1870. A Chicago newspaper receives a letter from a sculptor who claims he was paid to carve the
Cardiff Giant. Could the giant really be a fake? And if so, who could be behind such an outrageous hoax? The
sculptor points the finger at a cunning New York businessman named George Hull, a close relative of Cardiff
farmer Stub Newell.
Hull was very enamored with his own inventiveness. He really believed that someday, his ingenuity would make
him a fortune.
NARRATOR: In 1867, two years before the giant is eventually unearthed, Hull concocts a devious plan. He hires a sculptor to
carve a massive stone man, then he and his co-conspirator Stub Newell bury the giant in secret on Stub's farm.
When the giant is discovered and starts turning a profit, Hull and Newell share the takings, but they are brought
down by their own greed. Hull and Newell failed to pay the sculptor who originally carved the giant and the
sculptor takes his revenge by blowing the plot wide open. With its mystery solved, interest in the giant quickly
At this point, it really became little more than just kind of a sideshow novelty.
NARRATOR: But today, the formidable figure is still on display at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Here it lies
as a testament not to the enigmatic origins of human civilization, but rather to the imagination and cunning of
two con artists who were tripped up by their own avarice. In 1868, Hull and Newell bury their stone giant in a
field in Cardiff, New York.
Over 50 years later on the other side of the country, high in the Cascade Mountains, two very different artifacts
would be unearthed in perplexing circumstances. The story of how they got there remains one of the most
poignant tragedies of the 20th century when we return to Mysteries at the Museum.
Seattle, Washington, once a sleepy fishing village, today, this hub of trade and industry is the Pacific Northwest's
largest city. And at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry, the artifacts on display chronicled the rise of this
metropolis over the last 150 years. But off of the main floor of the museum, buried within its vast archive is a pair
of puzzling objects. Made of molded iron, these two rusting ornaments from the 1890s are remnants of a bygone
era, a time of vast expansion westward, new industry, new wealth. And the catalyst for it all, the Great Northern
These are from one of the Pullman cars. The Pullman cars were kind of the luxury cars on the train, and they
were fairly well-appointed. They had nice fixtures.
NARRATOR: Believed to be light brackets, these ornate iron decorations would have adorned the walls of the first-class
Pullman cars of the Great Northern's passenger trains.
And these probably had some kind of a porcelain or a glass ball around them. In these original state, I would
imagine that these were absolutely gorgeous.
NARRATOR: But what makes these artifacts so unique are not the intricacy of their design, but where they were found. These
two objects were discovered by hikers in a wooden ravine nearly 4,000 feet up in the Cascade Mountains. So how
did they get there? The story lies in one of the greatest train tragedies in American history.
February 22, 1910, Spokane, Washington. A winter storm is gathering over the Pacific Northwest. The overnight
passenger train, the Seattle Express, and a high-priority mail train are en route to Seattle. In the plush first-class
Pullman cars, businessmen and families are resting comfortably, unfazed by the growing storm. But all the while,
the train is chugging steadily towards the Pacific Northwest's most perilous obstacle, the Cascade Mountains.
The Cascade Range is a very tall mountain range. Stevens Pass goes through it at about 4,100 feet.
NARRATOR: Now drifting with snow and blasted by high winds, the mountains are an almost impassable obstacle. But with
one train laden with high-priority mail and another carrying wealthy travelers eager to reach Seattle, the trains
have to press on. Two days later, the trains are stopped dead just outside of the Cascade tunnel near the tiny
railroad town of Wellington. Heavy snow has buried the tracks.
The trains weren't able to move because they were bottlenecked. There were snow slides to the east. There were
slides to the west. They were just stuck.
NARRATOR: Rail crews from Wellington worked tirelessly with steam-driven rotary plows and old-fashioned manual labor to
dig out the trains, but they cannot keep up with the blanketing snow.
They were waging a war against the weather, and they were losing. It was the worst snowstorm in the recorded
history of the Pacific Northwest.
NARRATOR: For the passengers and crew, there was only one option. They must wait out the storm on the snow-laden
mountain. For nearly a week, the anxious and weary train passengers are held hostage by the unending blizzard.
Finally, on the evening of February 28, after six days on the mountain, there is a lull in the storm, allowing the
passengers to make plans to hike down to a neighboring town the following morning. Their ordeal appears to
finally be over.
That night, they had a celebration. They sat up talking and laughing and they went to bed happy because they
thought, finally, this is going to be over.
NARRATOR: But for many of the passengers and crew of the two stranded trains, morning never comes. Overnight, a violent
lightning storm erupts in the peaks above the tracks.
The lightning strike took out the snow on the hill above them and the snow actually came roaring down the hill.
NARRATOR: The stranded trains are sitting in the direct path of a colossal avalanche.
To hear that coming, it would be horrifying.
NARRATOR: The snow slide is a mile and a half wide, gathering momentum and dragging trees, rocks, and debris in its wake.
As soon as that snow let loose on the hillside, the people on the trains didn't stand a chance.
NARRATOR: When the mangled wreckage of the two trains finally settles in a ravine 100 feet below, the scene is of utter
devastation. Of the 125 passengers and crew aboard the two trains, only 24 are found alive.
It is the worst avalanche disaster in terms of human life lost in the history of the United States.
NARRATOR: The tragedy prompts officials to build a new tunnel at a lower elevation, and the tale of the avalanche and the
site of the wreckage fades from memory until the 1960s when hikers stumble upon an eerie scene high in the
Cascade Mountains. Sprouting from the lush green earth not far from a long-abandoned rail tunnel are rusting
remnants of mangled iron. But amid the wreckage, the hikers spot a pair of objects that look surprisingly
unscathed. They are these two weathered lighting brackets. The hikers unearthed them from their mountain
perch and bring them here to the Seattle Museum of History and Industry, where they are carefully preserved,
two ghostly reminders of the lives that were lost when a giant of the Industrial Age succumbed to an even
greater power of nature.
In Roswell, New Mexico, a very different set of remains found in a rancher's field would spark one of the greatest
mysteries America has ever known. Still to come on Mysteries at the Museum.
Roswell, New Mexico. Located on Main Street in this dusty desert town is a museum dedicated to one of the
greatest scientific questions of our times, do aliens exist? Theories abound as to the presence of extraterrestrial
life, and the International UFO Museum and Research Center has numerous displays dealing with many of them.
For Museum Director Julie Shuster, one exhibit, a lifelike figure enclosed in glass, is at the center of the debate.
JULIE SHUSTER:His name is Harold. He is an anthropomorphic dummy. He is made of metal, wood, and leather. When you walk
up to him, you kind of go, what in the world is this?
NARRATOR: And why is he here? What does this wooden man have to do with UFOs? The answer lies in the enduring mystery
of how Roswell, New Mexico became the UFO capital of the USA. And for some, the site is one of the biggest
government coverups in history. July 8, 1947. A rancher named Mac Brazel is tending fences on a remote part of
JULIE SHUSTER:We had a major thunderstorm in the area and ranch foreman Mac Brazel went out after the storm to check sheep
and fences and make sure everything was where it was supposed to be and came across this huge area of metal
debris that wasn't there before. The basic description was metal like nobody had seen before. It was not military.
It was not your typical aluminum foil.
BILL DEWAN: He described the strange metal-like material. He said it couldn't be burned. It couldn't be torn. It maintained its
shape. Also, he described seeing some sort of hieroglyphic-like writing or symbols. He found it very otherworldly.
NARRATOR: Mac reports his find to officials at the local Roswell Air Force Base. The military immediately dispatches a team to
JULIE SHUSTER:When the Air Force went with Mac back out to the ranch, it basically was cordoned off and became a military site.
NARRATOR: A few hours later, the Air Force puts out a press release that shocks the world. They have captured a flying
saucer. But no sooner does the news hit the wire than the Air Force's top brass, Lieutenant General Roger M.
Ramey, orders a bizarre u-turn.
JULIE SHUSTER:The same afternoon of July 8, General Ramey issued a press release saying, no, it was a weather balloon. The
people were mistaken.
NARRATOR: The change of story, quiet speculation, and the incident is forgotten until more than 30 years later. 1978, a UFO
researcher tracks down an ex-Air Force Intelligence officer from Roswell, Major Jesse Marcel. In an interview,
Marcel divulges something extraordinary.
BILL DEWAN: Marcel originally claimed that the debris he recovered was most certainly not the remains of a weather balloon
and that a crashed alien spaceship have been covered up and a story about a crashed weather balloon had been
put in its place.
NARRATOR: The claim immediately revives interest in the events of July 1947 and a slew of locals come forward with their
own astounding reports of unexplained phenomena. Some mention seeing strange glowing lights in the night
sky. One account by an Air Force transport officer on base in Roswell at the time of the incident alleges
JULIE SHUSTER:I'm not sure exactly how much he saw, but he saw there were bodies. They were small, like four-foot tall.
NARRATOR: The officer claims to have seen alien bodies transported onto the base. Over the next 20 years, this testimony
evolves into a series of fantastic theories of alien autopsies, flying saucers, and government coverups, but no one
has conclusive proof one way or the other. Finally, in 1995, pressured by the intense speculation surrounding the
1947 incident, the government responds with an official report. They admit the debris found by Mac Brazel was
not a weather balloon, but was part of a top-secret balloon program intended to detect Soviet nuclear tests called
BILL DEWAN: It's certainly understandable why they would keep it so secret. Obviously, you don't want public knowledge about
your capabilities for listening in on Soviet nuclear testing. So the argument that Project Mogul would be a viable
explanation, to me, it certainly makes sense.
NARRATOR: While Project Mogul did explain the strange silvery objects found by the rancher, it didn't account for the tales of
alien bodies found nearby. Two years later in 1997, the government offers a second explanation. As well as
Project Mogul, in the 1940s, the Air Force was also running test on high-altitude parachutes often using full-sized
human replicas. The government claims that what locals saw were not alien life forms, but crash test parachute
dummies. Could this six-foot-tall test dummy really have been mistaken by excited locals for an alien being?
JULIE SHUSTER:I don't think I'd mistake him for something not of this earth.
NARRATOR: Or were dummies like this one the linchpin in one of the biggest alleged coverups in history? We may never
know. But for Julie, not knowing is no reason to stop wondering.
JULIE SHUSTER:I don't care if you believe or don't believe. The museum's goal is for you to think outside the box and walk out
kind of going, maybe. We're looking up. Why can't they be looking down?
NARRATOR: And it's this mere possibility that continues to draw visitors to the International UFO Museum and Research
Center in Roswell, New Mexico for the chance to believe the unbelievable.
Across the country at the Dental Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is another object that has long been the source
of myth and speculation. But the real story behind this antique artifact may just change what you know about
America's most famous icon. Next on Mysteries at the Museum.
Baltimore, Maryland. One of America's oldest cities and seaports, Baltimore was a stage on which the birth of our
country played out. In fact, in 1776, it briefly served as the new nation's capital. And at the Smithsonian Affiliated
Museum of Dentistry, there is one artifact more intimately involved in our nation's early history than any other in
the city. It is this lower half of a set of 18th-century dentures.
But why are they here? What do these 200-year-old teeth have to do with American history? The answer lies with
these dentures' illustrious owner, first president and founding father, George Washington.
RYAN KEATING:Washington was a great American hero. He's the father of our nation. He was an imposing gentleman. He stood 6
foot, 3. In fact, some have said that he commanded the attention in any crowd.
NARRATOR: When most of us think of George Washington, we conjure an image of the austere, Patrician, man of few words
that we know from portraits and history books. But was this really Washington? Was he truly the grim-faced
figure his portraits imply? Or is there another explanation? The answer may lie in the most unusual place, his
RYAN KEATING:Washington suffered almost his entire adult life from the rapid loss of his teeth, beginning when he was 22.
NARRATOR: And while most of us have heard the popular schoolyard tale of George Washington's wooden dentures, dentist
and museum curator Dr. Scott Swank can dispel this myth once and for all.
SCOTT SWANK: Unequivocally, George Washington's dentures were not made from wood. They were made from ivory.
NARRATOR: What most people don't know is that these famous false teeth may be the reason why our lasting impression of
George Washington is of a stern statesman. March 4, 1793, Philadelphia. President Washington is being sworn in
for his second term of office. To the surprise of everyone present, he goes on to deliver what would become the
shortest inaugural address in the history of the presidency.
SCOTT SWANK: His first inaugural address was long and seven paragraphs. The second inaugural address was two paragraphs,
RYAN KEATING:And this is a period when men make their names on speeches, standing up for hours at a time delivering
addresses to their constituency. And to have Washington stand up and make such a terse statement is odd, to
say the least.
NARRATOR: Why was this address so brief? One possibility could be his false teeth.
SCOTT SWANK: If you go back and read letters from people that were close to Washington, sometimes they'll mention that
Washington was in a particularly foul mood and it seems to have been from a tooth that was aching.
NARRATOR: But in the late 1700s, before electric drills and Novocaine, dentists only had one solution for a toothache.
SCOTT SWANK: Primary treatment at that time was, I've got a toothache. This tooth's bothering me. Take it out.
RYAN KEATING:There was very little effort made to save a tooth. And in Washington's case, this resulted in a tooth removal a
year. By the time he was 40, he was wearing a half plate of dentures.
NARRATOR: And by the time he becomes president in 1789, he only has one tooth left. At this point, President Washington's
only choice is to commission a full set of dentures or deliver his speeches toothless. For their day, these dentures
were top of the line. Each tooth is painstakingly hand-carved in a single piece of ivory, attached to a base, and
then fastened together by a metal spring. But the 18th century's best dentures were not without complications.
SCOTT SWANK: The springs kind of hold them in place. So every time you open your mouth, the spring wants to push the denture
apart. So it couldn't have been an easy feeling to get used to.
NARRATOR: In fact, George Washington would have had to actively bite down on his dentures to keep them in place. If he
relaxed his jaw, the springs and the false teeth would force his mouth to pop open.
RYAN KEATING:This is reflected, I think, in some of the portraits that we see, the very stern face, the clamped jaw. It's almost as
though he's doing everything possible to keep his dentures in his mouth.
NARRATOR: When he is sworn in a second time in 1793, Washington's ill-fitting dentures would have made it hard for him to
smile, let alone give a lengthy address, inauguration or not.
SCOTT SWANK: Inaugural addresses, speeches, what have you, Washington just didn't want to spend a lot of time talking at that
NARRATOR: So what was Washington really like? 200 years later, we can only speculate. But one thing is certain, seeing
George Washington's dentures at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland provides visitors with
a rare insight into the life of one of our greatest Americans and brings us one step closer to understanding the
man behind the myth.
Aliens and avalanches, giants of stone and giants of steel, deadly canines, and legendary dentures. These are the
Mysteries at the Museum.