“Any wild goose chase is better than having to actually chase wild geese.” David Craig
My obsession with that summer feeling has to do with getting a few summertime minutes when I can catch my breath and relax. Now, days into Autumn, I can no longer deny that another summer has passed me by. Summer thoughts had me flashing back to a day when I could fritter away an afternoon looking for dentures cemented in the sidewalk. Should anyone have asked at that point, I might have seemed less crazy because I could explain it away as archeological research for the purposes of writing a blog post.
What? Wait a minute, dentures in the sidewalk? It’s quite the legend, one that I could not leave alone. Curiosity inspired me to seek out a story that’s grown mythic in stature. I was lucky that Pittsburgh Orbit founder Will Simmons regaled me with what he knew of these dentures immortalized in certain sidewalks. Ours was a feeble attempt to find them. The search began on the afternoon of August 14 in 2017. Will had gotten a tip from his friend Kate who had lived in Portland for 10 to 15 years. She told him about an artist who placed dentures in the sidewalk in the 60’s. I’ve come to realize that we were making a spontaneous effort to locate the embedded chompers. We were down around the bike path that leads people to the Tillicum crossing. We could see the tram station and a couple of glass OHSU buildings. The only thing missing were sidewalks, and teeth.
The spur of the moment search was reflected in our texting Kate back and forth to pinpoint the location. Impatient, I wanted to see some old teeth with little effort while hoping technology could make it happen somehow conjuring the ancient dentures. Two years later I contacted Will for his memories of this fruitless search. I was interested in his musings about that day which was a small slice of a long vacation he took in Portland. I asked him if “stumbling around looking for dentures was not the highlight of his Portland visit?” He referred to the texts from that August afternoon two years ago, saying we had been given an area to cover “between Powell and Sellwood.” Even he realized the territory was more than we could check out in an afternoon. Will also figured out we were on the wrong side of the river. This was telling. We were out there desperate for random teeth, any teeth would have satisfied.
Will decided to post a message on Reddit:
Dentures embedded in sidewalk in South Portland–has anyone ever heard this legend?
An acquaintance has this story about an artist (possibly PSU professor?) taking either dentures or dental molds and embedding them in sidewalks in the vague area of “somewhere along the river in South Portland.”
Is this something anyone had ever heard of? Can confirm? Knows more specifics on?
Attempts at Research Of Any Kind Pays Off!
It’s a rare thing that a Portland Orbit post resorts to leaving readers with a list but here’s some of the responses to Will’s query.
One respondent quoted a passage from a book titled: The Pursuit of Happiness A History of South Portland which described the dentures being set in the old concrete sidewalk at the SW corner of Corbett and Sheridan.
Dentures can also be possibly be found in the following places:
SW Arthur and SW Water
A mural near Stark and 13th, was described as having a 3D denture flying from an old woman’s mouth.
I got a kick out of a Reddit commenter describing this denture siting as “underwhelming.”
I got into the game realizing I could check out Facebook groups like Hidden Portland for the Curious and Dead Memories Portland. If only I had thought to search these out before Will’s visit.
A post on the Facebook group Hidden Portland for the Curious revealed the false teeth could be in the sidewalk on the corner of SW Kelly street across from the OCOM building.
Responses to that post mentioned the teeth being dug out of the area around SW Water off Barbur, possibly around Abernathy. A reader chimed in that they were at Arthur and Water and nicknamed “Arthur Water’s teeth.”
There was one more location mentioned on the Dead Memories Portland Facebook page–the west side of the Ross Island Bridge.
The hunt is on. It’s looking like I’ll be stumbling into multiple parties of tooth sleuth’s in the next couple of weeks. I promise to follow up these leads and report back on my findings.