Painless Parker’s Giant Bucket of Teeth


About the Piece:

Painless Parker was a dentist who worked for the infamous P.T. Barnum’s sideshow.
His whole schtick was that he performed “painless dentistry” onstage and carried around a giant bucket of teeth in order to prove his success. Of course, as this was pre-novocaine, the only anesthetic available was a copious amount of whisky. The patient would be inebriated to the point where they most likely would not care that they were in pain and probably fall asleep. However, if they were to scream, the crowd likely would not hear it over the loud circus music being performed nearby the stage.

The American Dental Association actually sued Painless Parker as this was obviously not a painless procedure being advertised. However, Edgar R.R. Parker- the man behind the spectacular stage act that sometimes also included the puling of teeth from lions and tigers in front of a huge crowd- legally changed his name to Painless Parker in order to successfully avoid the lawsuit.

I first learned of Painless Parker’s story through an episode of Mysteries at the Museum and could only think of his story and the music that must’ve been playing in the background as he performed his act on actual patients. The melody references the most famous circus march of them all (Gladiator) and includes all of the circus hijinks and dentist references that I could fit into this march. Have fun creating that bucket of teeth!

Check out this article by the Smithsonian Magazine to learn more about painless parker and the context of this piece.


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