On this Day:

In 1817, the first sword swallower in USA performed in New York City. But sword swallowers had been performing their feats of daring for centuries before this…

Sword swallowing is a skill in which the performer passes a sword through the mouth and down the esophagus to the stomach. This feat is not swallowing in the traditional sense. The natural processes that constitute swallowing do not take place, but are repressed to keep the passage from the mouth to the stomach open for the sword. The practice is dangerous and there is risk of injury or death.

Sword swallowing spread to Greece and Rome in the 1st century AD and to China in the 8th century. In Japan, it became a part of the Japanese acrobatic theatre, Sangaku, which included fire eating, tightrope walking, juggling and early illusion. In Europe, it developed into yet a third distinct type of performance associated with the medieval jongleurs, that of the street performance.

Sword swallowing was performed during the Middle Ages as part of street theatre and was popular at festivals and other large gatherings. It began to die out in the mid-19th century and was outlawed in Scandinavia in 1893. Prolific swallower Teodor Olsen famously made an appeal to Haakon VII of Norway, who wasn’t swayed by his performance enough to rescind the ban.

According to an early 19th-century English magazine article the abilities of sword-swallowers in India were considered incredible when first reported in England. In 1813 ‘swallowing the sword’ was advertised as among the new and astonishing feats performed by the Indian Jugglers then appearing in London. The troupe was led by the famous juggler and sword swallower Ramo Samee, who continued to perform until his death in London in August 1850, having at times also toured Europe and America. From 1850 to the 1890s a small number of sword swallowers performed in the UK, such as Martha Mitchell (c. 1855) and Benedetti (1863–1895), and in the US, including Lawson Peck (c. 1850s), Ling Look (c. 1872), Wandana (d. 1875), and Harry Parsons (d. 1880). The best-known North American sword swallower of this time was Fred McLone, better known to the public as “Chevalier Cliquot”, who performed from 1878 to the early 20th century.

In 1893, sword swallowing was featured at the World Columbian Exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair.

In the early 1900s, traveling circuses and sideshows featured sword swallowers. In Europe performers tried to swallow large numbers of swords; in America there was a focus on the novel and bizarre. Some tried to swallow longer swords, many swords, hot swords, bayonets or glowing neon tubes. Sword swallowers appeared on the same bill as magicians, such as Houdini. Western Europe and England also saw an increase in sword swallowing interest during this period, with many cross-Atlantic influences. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, traveling magic shows from the Orient toured Europe and America; some included sword swallowing. The middle of the 20th century saw a demise in circuses in general and sideshows in particular.

In 2009, the Guinness World Record for longest sword swallowed was achieved by Natasha Veruschka with a 58 cm (22.83 in) long sword.

The Guinness World Record for ‘Most swords swallowed underwater’ is 5 and was achieved at the Aquarium of the Smokies on February 13, 2016 by Chris Steele. He was also the first person to swallow a sword underwater on May 9, 2006 at Manly Ocean World Aquarium in Sydney Australia. He performed this underwater feat in a tank of live sharks.

Chayne Hultgren (a.k.a. The Space Cowboy) also holds the most official ‘Guinness World Record’ for sword swallowing including ‘Most swords swallowed at once’ (24 swords), ‘Most swords swallowed while juggling’ (18 swords), ‘Most swords swallowed while riding a unicycle’ (3 swords swallowed on a 3m tall unicycle) and ‘Longest lightning bolt to strike swallowed sword’. The measured distance the stream of electrical discharge traveled from Australia’s largest Tesla Coil, owned and operated by Peter Terren (AKA: Dr Electric), to the handle of Chayne’s swallowed sword was 3 feet 10 inches. The sword blade measured 62 cm and was swallowed all the way to the hilt on April 20, 2013, at Perth, WA, Australia. As of July 2016 The Space Cowboy currently holds 44 official Guinness World Records. He is Australia’s most prolific record breaker.

In 2009, the Guinness World Record for “Largest Curve in a Sword Swallowed” was achieved by Dai Andrews with a 120 degree curved sword.

Brad Byers holds the Guinness World Record for “The Most Swords Swallowed and Twisted at One Time” by swallowing ten 27 inch swords one at a time and then twisting all ten swords 180 degrees in his throat.

Thomas Blackthorne made the sword known as “The Sword of Swords”. It holds the Guinness World Record for the most swallowed sword and has been swallowed by 40 of the world’s most known sword swallowers.

Johnny Strange holds the Guinness World Record for the ‘Most swords swallowed in three minutes’, this record attempt took place on the Guinness World Record live feed (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Did you hear about the sword swallower who went to a sewing store to buy pins and needles?

Seems he was on a diet…

Second, a Song:

TEDx are independent events similar to TED talks in presentation. They can be organized by anyone who obtains a free license from TED, and agrees to follow certain principles. TEDx events are required to be non-profit, but organizers may use an admission fee or commercial sponsorship to cover costs. Speakers are not paid and must also relinquish the copyrights to their materials, which TED may edit and distribute under a Creative Commons license.

Dan Luckett is a 27 year old circus and sideshow performer living in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dan began performing comedy magic right out of high school and the Cincinnati Circus hired him right away. Over the years Dan has learned how to push his love of magic, comedy and sideshow performance to unbelievable levels. He performs at over 250 events a year and travels all over the country. He is a seasoned professional and you can say he is on a high iron diet. Dan is a self taught sword swallower who loves to show just what the human body is capable of with the right determination and mindset (per Wikipedia).

Here is Dan Luckett in a TEDx performance entitled: “The Strange Act of Sword Swallowing”. Those who may be a bit squeamish be warned – this is totally real. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.” – Marty Feldman

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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