Set in Stone: A Neighbourhood Loses a Few Thousand Teeth

TeethAt the northwest corner of Riverside Drive and Lexington Avenue stands an aged, well-built brownstone apartment building about 10 stories high, made unremarkable by the blocks upon blocks of other aged, well-built brownstones surrounding it. The downtown architecture of New York serves as a foil to the inner city’s countless landmarks, intentional or happenstance, fitting all the same.

In front of the brownstone on the northwest corner of Riverside Drive and Lexington Avenue is a monument to dentistry from some fifty years ago — the un-modernity of it all in particular. It is something no person expects to see, but one that everyone has tolerated seeing anyway for half a century. Not any longer than that.

The Why

Thinking of reasons Dr. Joseph Stamp, a dentist who worked from the early 1910s to the early 1970s, would gather what were likely his career’s ‘spoils’ into a single concrete block is part of the experience. Molars, canines, incisors; cracked, intact, brown, black, decayed; all of them moulded into a dental-sculptural anomaly.

For residents who regard the ‘tooth block’ as a reminder of their childhood, as well as a few curious tourists, the origins of the slab of choppers are no mystery. Dr. Stamp made the crude, concrete block of human teeth as a memorial for his childhood dog, Prince. The dentist’s exact train of thought that led to the creation of his German shepherd’s monument is still open to supposition, however.

The Where

Earlier this year, Dr. Stamp’s block of teeth vanished. Its sudden disappearance was just a way of fast-tracking decades of teeth and rock chipping away, both by nature and by man. But, no selectively dental thief caused it. It was through the efforts of the one concerned acquaintance that the stone escaped another half-century of wear.

‘Dr. Stamp was an eccentric nut’, comments Paul Thomas, curator of the local museum, dental monument rescuer, and friend to the late dentist. ‘The stone was chipped and chipped and chipped, and finally the owner of the building wanted to get rid of it, so I got it’, Thomas explains. Dental implant providers from Harley Street say that extracted teeth just typically end up in an incinerator, but if a few thousand teeth is what it takes to express affection for your pet, no one can really stop you from doing so.

It may even become a landmark someday, touching lives and sitting behind its own fence in the garden of fancy museum.