Summer Teeth Part Three: The Magic in Arthur Water’s Teeth


The site!

Working the margins of speculation made the payoff of corroborating a local legend much sweeter. I was already feeling good about doing some “boots on the ground” investigative reporting but I was mystified by a section of town I had never been to, a bicycle map that made me wonder if I’d reach the possible denture burial sites I’d heard about and a pursuit of looking for fake teeth in concrete that was making me feel like the Mayor of Crazy Town. I credit Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit for his research methods. He posted on Reddit asking about the teeth legend/denture art installation project and he received a few responses and some positive rating points, whatever those are. Will had been giving me gentle, long distance nudges to get out of the house and finish this story. I had to act before he started shoving. With concrete (pun intended and beautifully executed) intel, I set out to verify if there were any planted teeth left.


End of the denture road.

With my map confusion it was great to find that the streets mentioned actually intersected. I was able to visit cross streets and street signs to hunt for dental evidence. In a correspondence, Will joked about my finding evidence of a cavity from a teeth site. I was, at the very least, hoping to see a hole, a broken section of curb or some evidence of where the dentures had been. I was getting the feeling that I was writing another post about being a renegade blogger in search of a legend and turning up empty. The Arthur/Water intersection seemed the most promising. A legend had already sprung up about “Arthur Water’s teeth.” I went to the four corners of this intersection looking for clues and wondering what sidewalk planted teeth would look like when I noticed a neighbor down the street beyond a sidewalk closed sign.

Concrete cavity from industrial dentistry.

Approaching the neighbor, I had concerns about how I’d be perceived. It’s odd enough to be approached by anyone. My opening was something about whether the man had lived in the neighborhood for a while and if he had heard the legend of buried teeth. He didn’t skip a beat pointing out that they had been underneath a street sign. “They’re gone. Somebody dug ‘em up,” he said. The use of the word somebody may explain why I didn’t ask who dug them up. That didn’t matter because I was hearing they had existed. He explained that they’d been gone over ten years and had looked like a jaw bone. I mentioned what I’d heard, that the teeth had been planted around fifty years ago. He responded that the dark gray sidewalk had looked like they’d been there since the 30’s.


Street of teeth!

I neglected to ask the man his name which I learned later was Jesse. I asked him about the neighborhood being tucked away between Naito and I-5. He voiced a legitimate gripe about the condo building that had replaced the green house, next to his saying it had once had a stage where it was  rumored the Dead Kennedys had performed at a house party. Jesse told me he had an old cell phone image of the planted dentures. He promised find it and send it to me. I left thanking him for being willing to talk when I felt like I was creeping around the neighborhood asking about teeth. He responded, “And then you’re like he’s actually seen them, that’s crazy.”

I headed off to the other sites. The intersection of what I thought was Corbett and Sheridan (actually Water and Sheridan) lined up in an industrial way station surrounded by chain link fences tucked under highway overpasses. It looked like an area stray teeth might be found. The street post was surrounded by dirt and gravel with little concrete, besides the curb. No dentures would have lasted long here. I could have searched more in that area but I had already gotten lucky enough to discover one good denture story and there was no one in the vicinity to offer another.

How many buried teeth?

I walked past the west side of the Ross Island bridge, another rumored location. There was no indication besides slabs of concrete in line for an upgrade. I noticed possible cavity fill from whatever industrial dentistry may have been performed to remove dentures that may have been there. As I walked down SW Kelly Street past signs posted about a missing cat named Dexter, I reached the last location, the intersection of SW Water Street and SW Abernathy near Barbur Boulevard. The area was over grown, with sidewalk moss that would have a required a giant toothbrush to clear it away. There seemed little chance of spotting teeth in this concrete.

SW Abernathy and SW Water

Anything to unearth?

I’d already accomplished more than I thought I would. My brain was full of images of broken down sidewalks as swishing traffic sounds rang in my ears and the last of the setting sun offered splashes of autumnal hues cast against a late afternoon sky. I walked through the shadows of the urban neighborhood back to the car.

Planted rocks, not teeth on Kelly St.

I still had questions. I never knew how many dentures were planted. It occurred to me that I would have planted hundreds of dentures in hopes that some of the installed teeth would survive but it couldn’t have been easy to chop up concrete and then seal up the dentures. One discovery took away any disappointment of the remaining mysteries. A day later Jesse sent an email that included the promised photograph. It made my day. Something felt magical about seeing evidence of the legend, experiencing a Portland neighborhood I’d never seen, meeting a receptive resident and hearing a story of a long ago punk rock show. I had a boost of civic pride. There could have been magic in those teeth. They gave me hope that Portland will always have pockets of weirdness to be discovered.


The teeth! (Photo by Jesse Graden)

The origins of this story can be found here:

The Turkey of St. Johns Part 5: From Genesis to Revelation


In the beginning the Turkey of St. Johns was created when the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; as this was all that could be seen from the inside of the egg containing our precious bird friend who began to peck its way into the light that was good. Then, when as a result of all this fruitfulness and multiplications, there was this addition, a turkey I swear I saw in a doghouse in a front yard surrounded by a chain link fence, a sight that no one has been able to verify for the last few years. It was good to have seen this bird but part of me feels the need to rest. It feels like a seventh day especially when I have written so many blog posts every year on the Thanksgiving holiday.

There may have been some consideration about the Turkey of St. Johns living alone. The turkey seemed content, as I recall, so there must have been no need to create an Adam or Eve poultry companion. It wouldn’t have been easy to fashion a whole other turkey from a turkey rib. I’m sure too, that in that environment, the Turkey of St. Johns was spared visits from serpents and was able to eat anything it was provided. It’s hard to reason with a turkey and insist that they avoid eating from a Tree of Knowledge. You can’t explain such matters to birds. I’d like to imagine this turkey lived in this proverbial Garden of Eden until which time it passed away from old age. The Turkey of St. Johns could be living there still and I haven’t been able to find it but it hasn’t been without my having made attempts while scouring the area and making minimal efforts of research.


As for the mystery of the Turkey of St. Johns, I chalk it up to an old memory lost to time, a quick, spectacular vision, a behold moment, out of place, and worth noting by an appreciator and chronicler of the occasional odd sight. After I first spotted this household pet, it felt like lo, a turkey waddling in a yard. I’m not sure if it appeared like jasper and carnelian and I can tell you no rainbows or torches of fire were involved in this encounter but the moment resurfaces in my consciousness as a remembrance of a creature I want to honor, glorify and give thanks to every Thanksgiving. The Turkey of St. Johns is a true symbol of Thanksgiving, a reminder of what stately and generous birds turkeys really are. Reflect on this with each bite of Thanksgiving dinner even if your turkey is made of tofu.


The Turkey of St Johns may have been surrounded by dogs, sorcerers, hungry murderers and idolaters protected from those folks by that chainlink fence. Maybe an angel watched over the turkey to keep it safe, something along the lines of the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star. I warn everyone who reads the words of this blog. If anyone adds to them the Turkey of St. Johns will add to him the plague this post has become since its completion. The Turkey of St. Johns will take away its share in the tree of life and in the holy neighborhood described in these writings. He who testifies says, “Surely the Turkey of St. Johns will be found soon.” Amen. The grace of the Turkey of St. Johns be with all other forms of poultry. Amen again.

Illustration by Jessica


Go back to what started it all:

Or read last years tribute:

Nevermind the Bollards: Praise and Perplexity


All in a row.

It started as an in-joke in my mind only. Saying the name felt so good. I said it over and over. Bollards, bollards, bollards. There has to be only one way to pronounce it, but who knows? I became engrossed in thoughts of bollards. They cheered me up and gave me a purpose. Bollards allowed me to ponder them without judgement. I had never thought about them before but I fell in love with bollards. I didn’t know they had a name until I saw a sign on Capitol Highway announcing road improvement plans. The first bollard I saw in person was disappointing because it didn’t match the drawing on the sign.


The beginnings of bollard fever.

My interest evolved. I wondered about bollards and their purpose. One afternoon I spotted two plastic orange bollards planted in the sidewalk. The late afternoon light that shined on them created an image of  beauty that overshadowed their purpose. I knew then they deserved recognition.


Bollard down!

Bollards are tough. I witnessed one getting run over only to see it rise from the dead at its own slow motion pace. As bollards take over, they’re now creeping up Capital Highway in an effort to slow traffic, I’ve continued to wonder if there’s more to what they do. I want to believe bollards exist beyond their simple plastic tubing and bolts in the asphalt design. They have a mission. Their underappreciated sentry duty has them standing, stoic, in whatever weather, reflecting, in a literal sense, because they sport reflective rectangles that offer crash preventative measures.


Dowtown bollards: meaty and tough.

There’s a whole other question that bears research. Is any metal pole that creates a barrier considered a bollard? Wait a minute, you would think I would have answered my own question already. But like the cart going before the horse, I wrote the question then started my research.


Metal as heck and two toned!

When I looked into bollards I had to turn away. What a rabbit hole! I learned that the term bollard originates from shipping. These posts were found on ships and on wharfs and were used to moor boats. The term has since expanded to mean any kind of post. It’s defined as a sturdy, short, vertical post. My eyes bugged out at the idea of bollards calming traffic while my brained buzzed with the realization that I could buy a bollard of my own if I want one. And, I really do want one.**


Sign me up!

From the drawing I saw on the PBOT (Portland Bureau of Traffic) sign, I mistakenly thought bollards would be six and a half feet tall. It turns out that’s the measurement of the space between the bike lane and the driver lane. I need a lesson in architectural/traffic pattern drawings. The yellow color and the size imagined meant when the actual bollards showed up I was let down. The neighborhood bollards are skinny and white with their reflective abilities. It may be the gray skies, but they already appear on the grungy side. 


An artist’s rendering gave me hope.

I’ve gotten used to bollards hanging around. As the excitement waned, their novelty wore off.  They’ve proven to be good neighbors. They’re quiet even as they populate the streets and they have, more or less, faded into whatever scenery we muster around here.


Bollards from the rearview.


**Mrs. Yuchmow I think this is a good use of the word “and” to begin a sentence. I know you used to teach that it’s not a great idea to start a sentence with that word but I felt like, in the recognition of that instance of my intense desire to own my own bollard, it made sense.