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The case of the mysterious Montpelier molar

A woman uses calipers to measure a tooth in a wall.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
Question-asker Elvira Dana measures the mysterious tooth in the wall. (Seven millimeters wide by seventeen millimeters long, for the record.)

There are some questions that we get in the Brave Little State inbox that keep us up at night. Like this one, about a tooth that’s stuck in a wall on East State Street in Montpelier.

Brave Little State is Vermont Public’s listener-powered journalism show. In each episode, we answer a question about Vermont that’s been asked — and voted on — by you, our audience. Today, a question — or a cry for help, really — from Elvira Dana, of Montpelier:

“A human tooth (molar) is embedded in a retaining wall alongside East State Street in Montpelier. Front Porch Forum has failed to yield the backstory. Help.”

Producer Burgess Brown slips on his gumshoes and enlists the help of the town of Montpelier to get to the bottom of this molar mystery. Chaos ensues.

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript. Transcripts are generated using a combination of robots and human transcribers, and they may contain errors.


Burgess Brown: From Vermont Public, this is Brave Little State. I’m Burgess Brown.

Burgess Brown: I see some sea glass, some, some ceramic shards, some more pottery. 

Burgess Brown: It’s a bluebird day in March on East State Street in Montpelier. Snow is melting, the gold dome of the capitol building is gleaming and people are starting to stare.

They're staring because I appear to be talking to a wall. And, well, I kind of am. There’s a massive granite block retaining wall that runs along the slope of this street and I’m cataloging the surprising array of stuff that’s stuck in its mortar.

Burgess Brown: Oh, and an orange plastic toy dinosaur? 

Burgess Brown: These are all interesting mementos with their own interesting histories, no doubt. But I’m hunting for one object in particular. There’s this question that came across the BLS desk that’s been keeping me up at night. It reads:

“A human tooth (molar) is embedded in a retaining wall alongside East State Street in Montpelier. Front Porch Forum has failed to yield the backstory. Help.”

Elvira Dana: Good day for it, gosh, if we were standing out here yesterday—

Burgess Brown: Elvira Dana, who’s responsible for this question that’s been keeping me up at night, meets me at the wall to point out this peculiar artifact.

Elvira Dana: And I’m slowing down a little bit because I have to check my location. So we have to continue a little bit further here.

Uhh, ah hah! We are here, we are upon it. This is the tooth in the wall. 

Burgess Brown: The tooth in question. It’s hard to believe I could’ve missed it during my cataloging. It’s right at my eye level, neatly wedged into a small mortar filled crater, with a clear view from root to crown.

A decayed tooth is buried in a stone wall.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
The tooth in question.

Elvira Dana: It does look really purposeful. It looks like a place where you wouldn't ordinarily need or want mortar, right, because you have these rough cut blocks of granite that have not been patched in a similar way. So it really does look like somebody was prepared. They were equipped with, like, tools and mortar. 

Burgess Brown: It looks purposeful and it also looks huge. I’m no dentist, but this thing does not look like your average-sized tooth. Fortunately I’ve come prepared.

Burgess Brown: OK, you can open that.

Elvira Dana: Oh I’m so excited— is it calipers? Oh yes, it is really calipers! 

Burgess Brown: Elvira takes measurements.

Elvira Dana: 17.13 millimeters.

Burgess Brown: And armed with data, we can begin our investigation. I’ve been reading a lot of detective novels in my free time. So, like any sleuth worth their salt, I start by establishing a timeline of events.

Burgess Brown: How did you find out about this?

Elvira Dana: I was thinking about that on the way over here and I think maybe one of the neighborhood kids mentioned it to my children, and we found it? But I can't remember. 

Burgess Brown: OK, so you have kids? 

Elvira Dana: I do. Yeah. 

Burgess Brown: And possibly it came through them?

Elvira Dana: I think so. Lots of things come through kids, you know, be it—

Burgess Brown: Diseases.

Elvira Dana: —disease, lice.

Burgess Brown: Sometimes exciting mysteries. 

Elvira Dana: Mysteries. Yes! 

Burgess Brown: Elvira’s originally from Northfield, but now she and her family live just up the hill from the mysterious tooth. She spent the better part of the last 20 years in Serbia and Armenia, managing international student exchange programs. Lately, her focus has been closer to home.

Burgess Brown: When we were emailing, you described your relationship with this tooth as an obsession. Would you care to elaborate on that?

Elvira Dana: That's probably taking it too far. But, like, I am not aware of any other durable human body part embedded in any other element of the infrastructure of the town.  

Burgess Brown: The sea glass, the pottery bits, the toy dinosaur: Elvira tells me those can all be traced back to neighborhood kids. But this tooth: origins unknown.

Elvira Dana: It stands out as like, quite interesting, how it got there. Why? Whose tooth is it? 

Burgess Brown: These are the questions. 

Elvira Dana: This is perhaps the most pressing news item of our time and of our community. 

Burgess Brown: The tooth is in a prime location for foot traffic. Workers coming and going from downtown offices, and schools letting out just around the corner. Elvira seems to know everyone in town and doesn’t let a passerby pass by without interrogation.

Elvira Dana: The tooth in the wall. What do you know about it?
I'm working on a very important mystery.
Do you know about the tooth in the wall?
Mr. Marlier! 
The tooth in the wall, tell us.
A tooth.

The retaining wall on East State Street in Montpelier.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
The retaining wall on East State Street in Montpelier.

Burgess Brown: Most people have no idea what we’re talking about.

Passerby: There’s a tooth in the wall over there? 

Burgess Brown: But some do. And they have their own theories about the tooth.

Martina Anderson: Well, I was told a story. So, I have not verified it.

Burgess Brown: My neighbor, Martina Anderson.

Martina Anderson: Whoever was working on the wall, one of them lost a tooth and they put it in the wall. 

Burgess Brown: Elvira’s heard a version of this story too, from her neighbor John. In his telling, a worker leaves for a dentist appointment and comes right back to work on the wall. Elvira’s not buying it.

Elvira Dana: That just seems unlikely to me. Who is so diligent that they come straight from having a tooth extracted back to the workplace and want to actively participate in the work?

Burgess Brown: Vanessa Sargent lives just across the street from the tooth and has heard a different origin story from her kids.

Vanessa Sargent: They think it’s a bear's tooth, that’s what they heard. 

Elvira Dana: Aha! I've heard this more than once, too.

Vanessa Sargent: Yeah they think it’s a bear's tooth. They have no idea how it got there. 

Burgess Brown: That would explain why it’s so big. Though, Elvira’s gut says human over bear.

Elvira Dana: But I could be wrong. It's not my area of expertise. 

Burgess Brown: Elvira’s heard another rumor flying around too.

Elvira Dana: I mean, there's sort of a theory that maybe the tooth fairy’s involved. 

Burgess Brown: This is where my mind went as well.

Elvira Dana: Right? I mean, why else would it be there? You know, in other cultures, different things happen with teeth, right? In some countries, you throw a tooth on the roof. In other cases, there's a tooth mouse. 

Burgess Brown: As a woman of the world, Elvira just kinda knows these things.

Elvira Dana: You know, so there could be some kind of cross-cultural tooth fairy phenomenon that I don't just, I just don't have the cultural context to interpret. 

Burgess Brown: “Cross-cultural tooth fairy phenomenon”? This case could be bigger than I thought.

Welcome to Brave Little State, Vermont Public’s listener-powered journalism show. Today, listener Elvira Dana is powering a whirlwind investigation of a canine caper … or maybe it’s a molar mystery.

Elvira Dana: You don’t get calls about the tooth every day?

Burgess Brown: Team BLS is slipping on our gumshoes and enlisting the town of Montpelier to crack this case wide open.

Carolyn Picazio: It’s got to be in the, in the collective knowledge of the city somewhere.

Rodney Elmer: I mean, there’s a lot of teeth out there… 

John Snell: There it is, in the wall. 

Clerk’s office employee: Oh my.

Burgess Brown: We’re a proud member of the NPR network. Welcome

Grin and bear it

Burgess Brown: My deputy detective Elvira and I have taken detailed measurements of the tooth in the wall on East State Street. We’ve gathered testimonies from the good people of Montpelier and we’ve got some promising leads.

Burgess Brown: But we can’t get much of anywhere until we know what species we’re dealing with. Remember — one of our leading theories is that this big ol’ tooth belonged to a bear.

Elvira Dana: I was like, well, who knows the teeth of wild animals. It is Rodney Elmer. He knows the teeth of wild animals. 

Burgess Brown: Rodney Elmer, taxidermist, hunter and Elvira’s old neighbor, has been tanning hides and gluing them to styrofoam mannequins for 39 years now.

A man is smiling in front of a taxidermied deer.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
Northfield Taxidermist Rodney Elmer.

We’re in Rodney’s workshop in Northfield surrounded by all manner of hunting trophies and immortalized pets in various stages of the taxidermy process.

Rodney Elmer: Wolf, coyote, foxes, lynx, bobcat, house cats, beaver as well, muskrats. Definitely see more bear and deer and moose than anything else, by far, but—

Burgess Brown: Rodney’s an expert woodsman and tracker and generally a font of knowledge of the natural world.

Rodney Elmer: Bears are super intelligent and really good at like, risk assessment and patterning—

Burgess Brown: He’s seen a lot of bears, and a lot of bears’ teeth. I think this could be an open and shut case.

Rodney Elmer: They make their living being big, so they’re quite a critter.

Burgess Brown: While I’m scheming how to get invited on Rodney’s next hunting trip, Elvira gets down to brass tacks.

Elvira Dana: So this, this is a picture — it's not a great picture — of the tooth that’s in the wall—

Rodney Elmer: Oh yeah.

Elvira Dana: —in Montpellier. 

Rodney Elmer: Boy. There's so little to look at there. It could literally — boy, you’d — I'd have to almost have it in my hand to really know. You have to see it from all the sides. 

Elvira Dana: So just looking at it, you couldn’t say—

Rodney Elmer: No.

Elvira Dana: —“No, that’s not a bear tooth.” 

Rodney Elmer: It could very well be an ungulate of some kind, something that chews the cud. It could very well be a human, possibly. Like, there’s not quite enough to look at. 

And even then, I mean, there's a lot of teeth out there. There's a lot of possibilities. There’s a lot of critters it could very well be.

A taxidermied brown bear stands frozen in place.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
Rodney Elmer says he seems more bear and deer in his shop than anything else.

Burgess Brown: Not exactly an open and shut case after all.

Our critter lead is taking us nowhere fast. We gotta switch gears.

Burgess Brown: Much to do.

Elvira Dana: Yeah. I’m kind of tempted to pop into one of the dentists’ office. I feel like they’re busy people.

Burgess Brown: We can call ahead, or email ahead.

Elvira Dana: That’s more polite.

Burgess Brown: You seem like the type to just pop in though. Maybe we do that.

Burgess Brown: Decorum be damned, we’ve got a mystery to solve.

Elvira Dana: We should just go in.

Burgess Brown: Let’s do it.

Burgess Brown: Back in downtown Montpelier, Elvira and I pop into Main Street Family Dentistry to hassle some human tooth experts.

Elvira Dana: And we have, like, a tooth related question that we were hoping somebody could maybe help us with.

Burgess Brown: The cozy waiting room is cramped with patients while the dentists are very busy doing dentist things. Elvira is undeterred.

Elvira Dana: So, there is a tooth embedded in the retaining wall on East State Street. Are you aware of this tooth? 

Dentist office staff: Are you serious? 

Elvira Dana: I am quite serious. We have a photo we can show you. 

Dentist office staff: I want to see it. (laughter)

Elvira Dana: Oh yeah. We got you. We got you.

Dentist office staff: Man, you sold us.

Burgess Brown: Hook line and sinker. Hygienists and receptionists huddle around our photo of the tooth.

Elvira Dana: You know, you can see kind of how big it is.

Monica: It kind of looks like a human tooth, but it’s so big. 

Elvira Dana: It’s pretty big. 

Abby: I mean, it could it could be like a posterior first molar.

I mean, yeah, it looks like it was either extracted, or the person could have pulled it out themselves, I mean, I don’t know.

Elvira Dana: Because that'd be like an adult tooth? Not—

Abby: Yeah. Yeah, oh for sure an adult. Yeah. 

Burgess Brown: So, definitely not a baby tooth. We can, unfortunately, strike the tooth fairy from our list of suspects.

And, without betting their careers on it, the good people at Main Street Family Dentistry are pretty certain we’re dealing with a very large, very human tooth.

This means that our construction worker story is the clear front runner. Elvira’s still struggling to imagine that someone would return to work right after receiving a major dental procedure, but hygienist Abby and assistant Monica barely bat an eye.

Abby: I could see it happening. For sure. For sure! If they had to have that extracted, that could be a tooth that was majorly decayed. They took it out. And they're like, “I'm just gonna put this in here to leave my mark. “


Burgess Brown: If Abby can believe it, then so can I. Elvira and I leave the dentist feeling hopeful.

And curious. Who was this construction worker? And furthermore:

Elvira Dana: What was the mood? Who thought it was hilarious? Did somebody get in trouble? What did the dentist think? Was it like, good advertising or not?

Burgess Brown: We have got to find this guy.

Elvira Dana: Like, who would know? I mean, I guess—

Burgess Brown: I honestly feel like we could walk into Hubbard and ask a librarian and see what they know—

Elivra Dana: Oh, well, I know all the librarians. That's where my husband works. Do you want to ask a librarian? Come on, that's fun! 

Burgess Brown: (laughter) Let’s do it.

Burgess Brown: Another ambush.

History buff bonanza

Burgess Brown: The Kellogg-Hubbard Library is quietly buzzing with borrowers this weekday afternoon. With a renewed sense of purpose, Elvira charges right up to the front desk to interrogate a gaggle of librarians.

Elvira Dana: Do you know anything about that tooth, said tooth?

Librarian: No, I don’t. I’m sorry. 

Burgess Brown: Have you heard about this tooth?

Librarian: I have not heard about it. 

Elvira Dana: (gasps) You know everything.

Librarian: No, I have not heard about this. I’m sorry.

Carolyn Picazio: Who wants to know about the tooth? 

Elvira Dana: Yes, Carolyn. Yes.

Librarian: Carolyn’s the one to know.

Burgess Brown: Carolyn Picazio: director of library services, self-proclaimed local history nerd.

Carolyn Picazio: One of the masons that was building the wall had a dentist appointment to get a tooth pulled while he was working on the wall. And so he leaves for his lunch break. And he goes and gets his tooth removed. And then he brings it back. And he places it in the wall. And it's still there. So if you go and scour—

Burgess Brown: Not only has Carolyn heard the same story we have, she says she’s read about it.

Carolyn Picazio: There’s an article about it that was in either The Bridge, it was in some local newspaper. We can look it up. It’s not that long ago. 

Elvira Dana: Let’s look it up.

Burgess Brown: Carolyn’s busy this afternoon tending to patrons and keeping the library ticking. In spite of this, she drops everything to help with our investigation.

A woman sits researching at a desk computer.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
Carolyn Picazio is director of library services at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier.

Carolyn Picazio: (typing noises) East State Street tooth.” 

Oh no, that's, that's not it either. 

Burgess Brown: A librarian on the hunt is a site to behold. But, despite Carolyn’s archival prowess — the story of the tooth does not appear to exist on the internet. Or in any of the books in the Vermont history section. So, Carolyn turns her attention to another resource at her fingertips: a Rolodex full of other local history buffs.

Up first, Montpelier City Clerk and Treasurer’s office.

Phone voice: For land records, elections, birth, death and marriage certificates, marriage licenses, dog licenses and State Park passes, press one. For business—

Burgess Brown: Do you think “tooth” is going to be an option?

Carolyn Picazio: Right?

Phone voice: For accounts receivable—

Carolyn Picazio: I’m just hitting one, and we’ll see if he picks up.

(Phone ringing)

Clerk’s office employee: City Clerk's Office, how can I help you?

Carolyn Picazio: This is Carolyn Picazio. I'm calling from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. And we're actually trying to figure out the history of the tooth that's embedded in the East State Street wall. 

Clerk’s office employee: Oh my.

Carolyn Picazio: Did you know about the tooth?

Clerk’s office employee: No. 

Carolyn Picazio: OK. So—

Burgess Brown: Over the next half hour, Carolyn burns through her sources in the history-nerd network.

Clerk’s office employee: Yeah, Beth doesn’t know about the tooth

Corinne: I can't wait to find out about that

Carolyn Picazio: Hmm, I don't know 


Burgess Brown: But no one seems to know the story.

A woman researches something on her computer. In the background, three people sit at a table on their phones.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
A squad of deputized dental detectives look for clues in the Kellog-Hubbard situation room.

There is one name, though, of someone who might that keeps coming up.

Carolyn Picazio: George, George, George, George. I’ve got George in my email, I think.

Burgess Brown: George Edson chairs the newly reformed Montpelier Historical Society. Everyone we’ve talked to says he’s the guy for obscure Montpelier history.

Carolyn Picazio: I love stuff like this. (Phone ringing) This makes me so happy.

George Edson: Hello?

Carolyn Picazio: Hi, George?

George Edson: Yes?

Carolyn Picazio: This is Carolyn Picazio from the Kellogg-Hubbard library.

George Edson: Yes.

Carolyn Picazio: I am calling with a local Montpelier history question.

George Edson: Yes.

Carolyn Picazio: Do you know about the tooth in the East State Street wall? 

George Edson: (laughter) Ah, Carolyn, you're one of my favorite people. 

Carolyn Picazio: Aw, I’m really glad to hear that.

Burgess Brown: This sounds promising.

George Edson: Maybe I have vaguely heard something about it. But I know nothing.

Carolyn Picazio: Uh!

George Edson: That's the bad news. 

Carolyn Picazio: OK.

George Edson: That's the bad news. The good news—

Burgess Brown: The good news is the historical society has been hard at work researching the history of East State Street for a public program this summer.

George Edson: Titled: “East State Street, a half mile of history”.

Burgess Brown: A history that includes the construction of our retaining wall.

George Edson: I know what minute it was started, and what minute it was finished.

Burgess Brown: Score. According to Carolyn, that’s the window when our guy stuck his tooth in the wall. And if we know the when, we can find out the who.

Carolyn Picazio: My understanding was like the 1950s. Am I far, are we, are we way off?

George Edson: Oh, yeah.

Carolyn Picazio: Oh, great.

George Edson: Oh, you couldn't be further off.

Carolyn Picazio: When was it built?

George Edson: Umm, let's see, just a minute.

So I mean, this is, this is a big deal, here. This is— OK, 1898. 

Carolyn Picazio: 1898.

Burgess Brown: 1898. A really old wall and a really old tooth. If Carolyn’s story is to be believed, we aren’t going to find the owner of this tooth, short of digging up their grave.

A newspaper clip reads "Contract awarded"
Montpelier Daily Record
The Montpelier City Council searches for someone to build the East State Street retaining wall in 1898.

Which is seriously bumming Elvira out because she’s still got all those questions that need answers:

Elvira Dana: Who thought it was hilarious? Did somebody get in trouble? What did the dentist think?

Burgess Brown: We decide to call it a day and I head back to the BLS lab, exhausted and a bit dejected. Those who should be in the know about this tooth, aren’t. And the person who would know the most is probably long gone.

I’m logging my tape and scanning for any clues I may have missed — when I get a call.

It’s Elvira again. She’s bumped into her friendly neighbor John Snell, the one who first told her about the construction worker theory. He’s just told her it’s not a theory at all, but proven fact. One that he knows because he was there the day it happened.

John says he watched molar meet mortar with his very own eyes.

When we come back, an alleged eyewitness account.

Eyewitness testimony

Burgess Brown: Welcome back to Brave Little State. To bring you up to speed, we’ve activated the entire network of local history buffs and Montpelier is abuzz about our case. Question-asker Elvira Dana has enlisted her son to hang up some hand-drawn posters around town asking for info. And we’ve set up a tooth tip line, which has yielded mixed results:

Phone voice: We are the CIA. We are looking for information about the tooth.

A poster advertising a tooth hotline in black marker.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
Elvira's son, Gideon, made flyers to help us track down the tooth culprit.

Burgess Brown: But we’ve collected some critical clues. We’re pretty positive the tooth belonged to a human, not a bear. And we know the wall it’s embedded in was built in 1898. And now, we have a source who claims he can corroborate the inciting incident.

John Snell: I’m John Snell, lived in town for 45 years. 

Burgess Brown: We’re back at the wall on East State Street with Elvira’s neighbor John. John’s a fixture in Montpelier. He’s served on a bunch of local committees and boards and, not long ago, the rotary club named him citizen of the year. So he’s a busy guy. But, he’s kindly made time to share his eyewitness testimony with us.

John Snell: I walk downtown every day to go to work. And walked down here one day and noticed these guys were pointing the wall. 

Burgess Brown: “Pointing the wall” means repairing the mortar.

John Snell: And this guy was holding his jaw and, I swear, reached into his pocket and pulled out this tooth and stuck it right in the fresh mortar.

Burgess Brown: Now, I don’t make it my business to guess people’s ages. But I feel pretty confident in saying that John Snell probably wasn’t around when the wall was built in the 1800s

That’s because, according to John, the tooth didn’t go in the wall when it was being built, like we had heard, but during maintenance work almost a century later, in the 1980s.

John says the culprit was a member of the public works street team.

Burgess Brown: He had gotten it pulled, you think? Is your best guess?

John Snell: I think so. Yeah. Cause it was, it was fresh. 

There it is. In the wall 

Burgess Brown: What this means is: this diligent worker could still be out there.


The garage grapevine

(Phone ringing)

Jasmine Benson: Hello, public works. 

Elvira Dana: Hi, I'm trying to reach the garage. Is this the right number for the town garage?

Jasmine Benson: It is.

Elvira Dana: Oh, great. 

Burgess Brown: We’re hitting the phones again for the umpteenth time, calling around to anyone and everyone who might know who worked on the retaining wall in the late ’80s.

We’ve talked to all manner of former city officials and one thing’s become clear: if you want good town gossip, skip city hall and go to the town garage.

Jasmine Benson: What can I do for you? 

Elvira Dana: Well, I'm trying to work out a little bit of a mystery.

Burgess Brown: Elvira gives her spiel to Public Works Project Assistant Jasmine Benson. She’s explained our investigation to so many people that it’s like she’s reciting from a textbook.

Elvira Dana: —and decided to stick it in the mortar over there. (laughter)

Jasmine Benson: Okay. So this is — (laughter) This is literally the first time I've ever heard this.

Elvira Dana: You don't you don't get calls about the tooth every day?

Jasmine Benson: I’ve worked here almost six years. And this is the first time I've heard. Um, let me put you through to Eric Ladd. He has worked here for many, many, many years. And, he may be able to tell you. Hold on one second, OK?

Elvira Dana: You're very patient. Thank you.

Jasmine Benson: No problem.

(Hold music)

Eric Ladd: Hello.

Elvira Dana: Hi, Eric? 

Eric Ladd: Yep.

Elvira Dana: Yep, hi. Uhh— 

Burgess Brown: Eric Ladd, Equipment supervisor in the equipment division. Elvira asks Eric if there’s any way to know who worked on the wall in the 1980s.

Eric Ladd: Well, there's probably records upstairs.

Elvira Dana: Mhm.

Eric Ladd: But that is super labor intensive to go through all those boxes. 

Burgess Brown: Eric is, justifiably, less than enthusiastic about sifting through a decade of personnel records to help solve our municipal mystery. As he’s looking for a way to politely let us down, a commotion ensues in the background.

Eric Ladd: Who is it? 

Person: Rick Lee’s brother.

Eric Ladd: Dan’s tellin’ me Rick Lee.

Elvira Dana: Oh, you got somebody there who thinks he knows?

Eric Ladd: Oh, his brother. What’s his real name? 

Elvira Dana: (laughter) Oh, you're on it, huh?

Eric Ladd: Well, apparently this is something that's floated around the rumor mill before. So what's your number, so we can call you back if we get a hot tip here?


Burgess Brown: An hour later, and we’ve decamped to the BLS satellite lab, AKA Elvira’s front yard, to wait for word from the garage. She’s pacing back and forth willing her phone to ring, when:

(Phone ringing) 

It’s Jasmine from the garage.

Elvira Dana: You found whose tooth it is! Oh my gosh. Could we, umm, could we—

Burgess Brown: The garage grapevine delivers. Jasmine’s poked around and she’s got a name for us.

Elvira Dana: Peewee Lee! That's the best name in the universe.

Jasmine Benson: He actually lives in Tennessee now.

Elvira Dana: Oh, fantastic.

Elvira Dana: Jasmine called ahead and Peewee Lee in Tennessee is ready to talk.

Jasmine Benson: And he'll tell you, or his wife may tell you on the phone, they call them “Peewee stories,” because, you know, these are little things that he does throughout his life that now they can talk about. And he tells the story every once in a while.

Elvira Dana: Wow! Jasmine, you did it. Thank you so very much, Jasmine.

Jasmine Benson: You’re welcome. No problem.

Elvira Dana: And I'm sure we'll be in touch.

Burgess Brown: Umm, how do you feel?

Elvira Dana: I feel excited. Peewee stories! This is a Peewee story that Peewee has been telling in Tennessee. And who knows else where.

Burgess Brown: A bonafide Peewee story. Wow. I don't believe it. (laughter)

Elvira Dana: I— I'm agog.

Peewee Lee in Tennessee

Burgess Brown: We post up in Elvira’s kitchen. I’m getting my mics all set (test test) and Elvira is practically falling off the edge of her seat.

Elvira Dana: I can't stop myself.

A woman in a yellow turtleneck sits at a kitchen table, which has a microphone and recorder on it.
Burgess Brown
Vermont Public
Elvira cannot contain her excitement as we get ready to give Peewee Lee a ring.

(Phone rings)

Elvira Dana: Oh, it’s ringing.

Peewee Lee: Hello?

Elvira Dana: Hi, is this Peewee?

Peewee Lee: This is Peewee. 

Elvira Dana: Oh, well, I am happy to talk to you. My name is Elvira Dana. And I'm calling the Peewee stories hotline looking for a good Peewee story.

Peewee Lee: (laughter) Oh my goodness.

Elvira Dana: Jasmine from the town garage told me that you had a good one to tell.

Peewee Lee: Some of them, some of them can be talked about. And some probably left alone, you know.

Burgess Brown: Fortunately, this particular Peewee story is suitable for a general audience.

Peewee Lee: Well, no. I used to work for the City of Montpelier a number of years ago, and I was on the street department. I think it was the late ’80s or early ’90s.

The wall on East State Street was in bad need of freshly patching. An older man named Ray Jewett and I got saddled with the task of patching in the cracks and whatnot. On one particular day, I had to leave work early, I had to go to a dentist appointment. And they ended up having to pull this big molar on the side of my mouth because it had a very bad cavity. 

And so, what I have done is I looked at the tooth when I was at the dentist office. And I said, “Oh my gosh, that's a big tooth.” I said, “Look at the roots on that thing.” He said, “Yeah,” he said, “That's probably one of the bigger ones I've ever seen.”

Elvira Dana: Well, you want to know how big it is? There's a rumor around town that it's a bear tooth.

Peewee Lee: Well, I'm not a bear. It is, it is a human tooth. I was as big as a bear. 

Burgess Brown: This guy named Peewee? He was 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds at the time.

So, after his appointment, Peewee tucks the decaying tooth in his pocket so that he can give his sons a scared-straight-style lesson in dental hygiene.

A man in a blue shirt stands next to a rusty red pickup truck.
Ann Lee
Peewee Lee of Tennessee.

Peewee Lee: So I had gone back to work. And I reached in my pocket to get my lighter. And I grabbed a hold of that tooth. And I said, “Oh, I forgot all about this thing.”

But I had it in my hand, I said, “You know what?” It just popped in my mind. “Hey, just stick it in that wet cement and just stick it in and forget about it,” you know? 

I said, “Well, I’ll give the city of Montpelier something to talk about that nobody else has, is a tooth in the wall.” (laughter) 

Elvira Dana: I did think maybe I should ask the city to make a little plaque for the tooth. If they were able to make a plaque for the tooth, what should it say?

Peewee Lee: A plaque for the tooth?

Elvira Dana: Yeah, I think there should be a little bronze plaque. What should it say?

Peewee Lee: Something to the effect of, “Here remains the immortal tooth of James Peewee Lee, placed here after a dentist's appointment.” (laughter)

Elvira Dana: That was the dream originally is to know like, what was this person thinking? Well, first of all, is it a person? OK, yes, it is a person. A bear of a man, but not a bear's tooth. And to know, like, what was he thinking? Why did he put it in the wall? Was it a lark? What was he doing? How did it happen? And we have all those answers. And, like, it’s the most beautiful bow you could tie on any story, I think, is a Peewee story.



This episode was reported and produced Burgess Brown, with editing from Sabine Poux and Brittany Patterson. Our managing editor and senior producer is Josh Crane and our executive producer is Angela Evancie. Our theme music is by Ty Gibbons; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to Sophie Stephens, Lexi Krupp, Ann Lee, Tim Heeney, Kevin Marlier, Jason Kass, Gideon Kass, and Natalie Kass, Dan Groberg, Paul Carnahan, Tom McArdle, Corinne Cooper, Steve Gray, Mike Doyle, and many many other Montpelierites for helping us crack this case.

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public and a proud member of the NPR Network.

Burgess Brown is part of Vermont Public’s Engagement Journalism team. He is the associate producer for Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
Sabine Poux is a reporter/producer with Brave Little State. She comes to Vermont by way of Kenai, Alaska, where she was a reporter, news director, and on-air host for almost three years. Her reporting on commercial fishing and energy has been syndicated across Alaska and on NPR.