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The American Dentist Who Drilled a Secret Message on Tojo's Dentures

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After his country surrendered to the United States in 1945, former Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo had a pretty rough go of things. A failed suicide attempt left his stomach mangled (he tried to shoot himself in the heart but missed), and he had to recover in a Tokyo jail while he awaited trial for war crimes. While imprisoned, he became the butt of a prank that left a secret message drilled into his top set of false teeth, right at the tip of his tongue: "Remember Pearl Harbor."

The message was put there by a 22-year-old dental prosthetics officer with the Navy named Jack Mallory. Mallory was assigned to the 361st Station Hospital in Tokyo, which was responsible for nearby Sugamo Prison where Tojo was being held. Just one month after arriving in Japan in 1946, Mallory was handed a stupefying assignment: The architect of Japan’s war against the U.S. needed dentures, and Mallory was to make them for him.

Jack Mallory and his roommate, a dentist by the name of George Foster, were called to Sugamo Prison to examine Tojo, whose teeth were decaying and crumbling from his gums. “I knew I was going to meet an evil man," Mallory told Sierra Countis of the Chico News & Review in 2002. “It was a shock to see him. He was very humble and just a meek, little guy.”

Tojo had requested the dentures so he could speak for himself at his upcoming trial. He knew his execution was a foregone conclusion, so when Mallory suggested he get a full set of false teeth, Tojo declined and asked only for the top row—he wouldn’t be needing them for long and didn’t want to waste anybody's time.

Word of the assignment got out, and Mallory’s colleagues at the hospital egged him on to use the opportunity to pull off a legendary prank. He wanted to inscribe "Remember Pearl Harbor" on the dentures but knew such a conspicuous message would be caught easily. He decided to use Morse code instead, so he drilled the sentence into the row of false teeth as a series of dots and dashes.

Mallory and Foster always referred to it as a “prank” and not much more. “I figured it was my duty to carry out the assignment,” Foster recalled in 1988, “But that didn’t mean I couldn’t have fun with it.”

“It wasn’t anything done in anger,” Mallory told the AP in 1995, “It’s just that not many people had the chance to get those words into his mouth.”

The prank was meant to be kept secret, though news got out after someone at the dental service blabbed about it in a letter home, where the story traveled so fast that it even found its way onto a Texas radio broadcast.

With news of the deed now bouncing back to and around Tokyo, Mallory confessed to his supervisor before things could get more out of hand. “That’s funny as hell," Mallory recalled being told, "but we could get our asses kicked for doing it.” His supervisor ordered the men to undo their prank immediately.

Late one evening in February 1947—some three months after first inscribing "Remember Pearl Harbor" in Morse code into the false teeth—Mallory and Foster paid a visit to Tojo’s cell and asked the guard to wake him up. They needed to perform emergency work on his dentures, they said, and Mallory swiftly and discretely ground the hidden message off Tojo’s teeth. All reports indicate Tojo never knew it was ever there.

The next morning, a supremely pissed-off and high-ranking colonel called on Mallory and Foster to ask about the prank. With the evidence inside Tojo's mouth ground and sluiced away, the young dentists were able to soundly deny everything.

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Jack Mallory returned to the United States in 1947 and set up a dental practice in California that he ran for decades. Before he left Tokyo, however, he spent a day sitting in on Hideki Tojo’s trial. As Mallory recalled to the Chico News & Review, his former patient recognized him inside the courtroom, smiled, "pointed to his teeth and bowed toward him in thanks."

Tojo was able to speak for himself at his trial and took responsibility for Japan's actions during the war. He was found guilty and was hanged on December 23, 1948.

Jack Mallory passed away in 2013 at the age of 88. His online obituary includes stories of skiing and other outdoor adventures, plus a quick, vague aside about a "dental prank" performed on Hideki Tojo, "the 'mastermind' behind the attack of Pearl Harbor."

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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