5 Common Misconceptions About George Washington
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Bonus George Washington Facts:
- George Washington was taphephobic (irrationally terrified of being buried alive). On his death bed, he told his attendants “I am just going. Have me decently buried and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead. Do you understand?” This wasn’t quite as irrational in his day as it is now. Taphophobia hit its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1896, T.M. Montgomery, who was supervising the disinterment of remains at the Fort Randall Cemetery, reported that a little over 2% of those bodies exhumed were definitely victims of being accidentally buried alive. In other words, about 2% woke up, tried to claw their way out, and were unable to do so. Given the oxygen supply in a coffin doesn’t last that long, it is likely the actual percentage of people buried alive was higher, when you include the ones who didn’t wake, but were still technically alive when buried. As another example, in the 17th century, William Tebb compiled a list of 219 instances of narrow escape from premature burial; 149 cases of actual premature burial; 10 cases in which bodies were accidentally dissected before death; and 2 cases in which embalming was started on the still living.
- The University of Maryland Dental School once possessed one of the sets of dentures used by George Washington. They then lent one of the dentures in the set to the Smithsonian in 1976 for an exhibit. That dentures was stolen from a storage area of the Smithsonian and, to date, has not been recovered.
- Washington was known for having a series of serious illnesses throughout his life. At one point he had smallpox, which was followed the year after by “violent plurise”. A few years later, he suffered from dysentery and a severe continual “pain in the head”. Again a few years later, at the age of 29, he suffered from “breakbone fever”, which is now called “dengue fever”. The symptoms of this are: severe muscle and joint pain, fever, and strong headaches. He later contracted malaria and rheumatic fever. Throughout his life, he also suffered from a variety of tooth related problems including constant toothaches during his time as the commander of the Continental Army. Among his tooth problems included: frequently infected and abscessed teeth; inflamed gums; and problems related to his dentures. It’s no wonder that throughout his life he was constantly in search of a better dentist.
- Washington’s dental problems, which caused him constant pain throughout his life, are thought to have contributed to his short temper. He also had to forgo his second inaugural address because of dental problems. Near the end of his life, due to dental pain, he could only eat soft foods.
- If you look at portraits of Washington throughout the years, you can see a subtle change in his face directly caused by the changing of his denture models over the years as well as a scar that appeared at one point which was ultimately resulting from an abscessed tooth removal. Not only that, but in his 1797 Gilbert Stuart portrait, you can see that his mouth is swollen. Supposedly, the dentures were causing too much discomfort, so he removed them in favor of packing his mouth with cotton balls to support his lips.
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