The Miracle Mongers, An Expose'

Part 1 out of 4

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My Wife


``All wonder,'' said Samuel Johnson, ``is
the effect of novelty on ignorance.'' Yet
we are so created that without something to
wonder at we should find life scarcely worth
living. That fact does not make ignorance
bliss, or make it ``folly to be wise.'' For the
wisest man never gets beyond the reach of
novelty, nor can ever make it his boast that
there is nothing he is ignorant of; on the
contrary, the wiser he becomes the more clearly
he sees how much there is of which he remains
in ignorance. The more he knows, the more
he will find to wonder at.

My professional life has been a constant
record of disillusion, and many things that
seem wonderful to most men are the every-day
commonplaces of my business. But I have
never been without some seeming marvel to
pique my curiosity and challenge my investigation.
In this book I have set down some of
the stories of strange folk and unusual
performers that I have gathered in many years
of such research.

Much has been written about the feats of
miracle-mongers, and not a little in the way
of explaining them. Chaucer was by no means
the first to turn shrewd eyes upon wonder-
workers and show the clay feet of these popular
idols. And since his time innumerable
marvels, held to be supernatural, have been
exposed for the tricks they were. Yet to-day,
if a mystifier lack the ingenuity to invent a
new and startling stunt, he can safely fall back
upon a trick that has been the favorite of
pressagents the world over in all ages. He can
imitate the Hindoo fakir who, having thrown
a rope high into the air, has a boy climb it until
he is lost to view. He can even have the feat
photographed. The camera will click; nothing
will appear on the developed film; and this,
the performer will glibly explain, ``proves''
that the whole company of onlookers was
hypnotized! And he can be certain of a very
profitable following to defend and advertise

So I do not feel that I need to apologize for
adding another volume to the shelves of works
dealing with the marvels of the miracle-
mongers. My business has given me an intimate
knowledge of stage illusions, together
with many years of experience among show
people of all types. My familiarity with the
former, and what I have learned of the
psychology of the latter, has placed me at a
certain advantage in uncovering the natural
explanation of feats that to the ignorant have
seemed supernatural. And even if my readers
are too well informed to be interested in my
descriptions of the methods of the various
performers who have seemed to me worthy of
attention in these pages, I hope they will find
some amusement in following the fortunes and
misfortunes of all manner of strange folk who
once bewildered the wise men of their day. If
I have accomplished that much, I shall feel
amply repaid for my labor.



I. Fire worship.--Fire eating and heat resistance.--The
Middle Ages.--Among the Navajo Indians.--Fire-
walkers of Japan.--The Fiery Ordeal of Fiji

II. Watton's Ship-swabber from the Indies.-Richardson,
1667.--De Heiterkeit, 1713.--Robert Powell,
1718-1780.--Dufour, 1783.--Quackensalber, 1794

III. The nineteenth century.--A ``Wonderful
Phenomenon.''--``The Incombustible Spaniard, Senor
Lionetto,'' 1803.--Josephine Girardelli, 1814.--John
Brooks, 1817.--W. C. Houghton, 1832.--J. A. B.
Chylinski, 1841.--Chamouni, the Russian Salamander,
1869.--Professor Rel Maeub, 1876. Rivelli (died 1900)

IV.--The Master--Chabert, 1792-1859

V. Fire-eating magicians. Ching Ling Foo and Chung
Ling Soo.--Fire-eaters employed by magicians:
The Man-Salamander, 1816.-Mr. Carlton,
Professor of Chemistry, 1818.--Miss Cassillis, aged
nine, 1820. The African Wonder, 1843.--Ling
Look and Yamadeva die in China during Kellar's
world tour, 1877.--Ling Look's double, 1879.--
Electrical effects, The Salambos.--Bueno Core.--Del
Kano.--Barnello.--Edwin Forrest as a heat-resister
--The Elder Sothern as a fire-eater.--The Twilight
of the Art

VI. The Arcana of the fire-eaters: The formula of
Albertus Magnus.--Of Hocus Pocus.--Richardson's
method.--Philopyraphagus Ashburniensis.--To
breathe forth sparks, smoke and flames.--To spout
natural gas.--Professor Sementini's discoveries.--
To bite off red-hot iron.--To cook in a burning cage.
--Chabert's oven.--To eat coals of fire.--To drink
burning oil.--To chew molten lead.--To chew
burning brimstone.--To wreathe the face in flames.
--To ignite paper with the breath.--To drink boiling
liquor and eat flaming wax

VII. The spheroidal condition of liquids.--Why the hand
may be dipped in molten metals.--Principles of heat
resistance put to practical uses: Aldini, 1829.--In
early fire-fighting.--Temperatures the body can

VIII. Sword-swallowers: Cliquot, Delno Fritz, Deodota, a
razor-swallower, an umbrella-swallower, William
Dempster, John Cumming, Edith Clifford, Victorina

IX. Stone-eaters: A Silesian in Prague, 1006; Francois
Battalia, ca. 1641; Platerus' beggar boy; Father
Paulian's lithophagus of Avignon, 1760; ``The
Only One in the World,'' London, 1788; Spaniards
in London, 1790; a secret for two and six; Japanese
training.--Frog-swallowers: Norton; English
Jack; Bosco; the snake-eater; Billington's
prescription for hangmen; Captain Veitro.--Water
spouters; Blaise Manfrede, ca. 1650; Floram
Marchand, 1650

X. Defiers of poisonous reptiles: Thardo; Mrs. Learn,
dealer in rattle-snakes.--Sir Arthur Thurlow
Cunynghame on antidotes for snake-bite.--Jack
the Viper.--William Oliver, 1735.--The advice of
Cornelius Heinrich Agrippa, (1480-1535).--An
Australian snake story.--Antidotes for various

XI. Strongmen of the eighteenth century: Thomas Topham
(died, 1749); Joyce, 1703; Van Eskeberg,
1718; Barsabas and his sister; The Italian Female
Sampson, 1724; The ``little woman from Geneva,''
1751; Belzoni, 1778-1823

XII. Contemporary strong people: Charles Jefferson;
Louis Cyr; John Grun Marx; William Le Roy.--
The Nail King, The Human Claw-hammer; Alexander
Weyer; Mexican Billy Wells; A foolhardy
Italian; Wilson; Herman; Sampson; Sandow;
Yucca; La Blanche; Lulu Hurst.--The Georgia
Magnet, The Electric Girl, etc.; Annie Abbott;
Mattie Lee Price.--The Twilight of the Freaks.--
The dime museums



Fire has always been and, seemingly, will
always remain, the most terrible of the
elements. To the early tribes it must also have
been the most mysterious; for, while earth and
air and water were always in evidence, fire
came and went in a manner which must have
been quite unaccountable to them. Thus it
naturally followed that the custom of deifying
all things which the primitive mind was unable
to grasp, led in direct line to the fire-
worship of later days.

That fire could be produced through friction
finally came into the knowledge of man, but
the early methods entailed much labor.
Consequently our ease-loving forebears cast about
for a method to ``keep the home fires burning''
and hit upon the plan of appointing a person
in each community who should at all times
carry a burning brand. This arrangement had
many faults, however, and after a while it was
superseded by the expedient of a fire kept
continually burning in a building erected for the

The Greeks worshiped at an altar of this
kind which they called the Altar of Hestia and
which the Romans called the Altar of Vesta.
The sacred fire itself was known as Vesta, and
its burning was considered a proof of the
presence of the goddess. The Persians had
such a building in each town and village; and
the Egyptians, such a fire in every temple;
while the Mexicans, Natches, Peruvians and
Mayas kept their ``national fires'' burning
upon great pyramids. Eventually the keeping
of such fires became a sacred rite, and the
``Eternal Lamps'' kept burning in synagogues
and in Byzantine and Catholic churches may
be a survival of these customs.

There is a theory that all architecture,
public and private, sacred and profane, began with
the erection of sheds to protect the sacred fire.
This naturally led men to build for their own
protection as well, and thus the family hearth
had its genesis.

Another theory holds that the keepers of the
sacred fires were the first public servants, and
that from this small beginning sprang the
intricate public service of the present.

The worship of the fire itself had been a
legacy from the earliest tribes; but it remained
for the Rosicrucians and the fire philosophers
of the Sixteenth Century under the lead of
Paracelsus to establish a concrete religious
belief on that basis, finding in the Scriptures
what seemed to them ample proof that fire
was the symbol of the actual presence of God,
as in all cases where He is said to have visited
this earth. He came either in a flame of fire,
or surrounded with glory, which they conceived
to mean the same thing.

For example: when God appeared on Mount
Sinai (Exod. xix, 18) ``The Lord descended
upon it in fire.'' Moses, repeating this history,
said: ``The Lord spake unto you out of the
midst of fire'' (Deut. iv, 12). Again, when
the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses out
of the flaming bush, ``the bush burned with
fire and the bush was not consumed'' (Exod.
iii, 3). Fire from the Lord consumed the
burnt offering of Aaron (Lev. ix, 24), the
sacrifice of Gideon (Judg. vi, 21), the burnt
offering of David (1 Chron. xxxi, 26), and
that at the dedication of King Solomon's
temple (Chron. vii, 1). And when Elijah made
his sacrifice to prove that Baal was not God,
``the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the
burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones,
and the dust and the water that was in the
trench.'' (1 Kings, xviii, 38.)

Since sacrifice had from the earliest days
been considered as food offered to the gods,
it was quite logical to argue that when fire
from Heaven fell upon the offering, God himself
was present and consumed His own. Thus
the Paracelsists and other fire believers sought,
and as they believed found, high authority for
continuing a part of the fire worship of the
early tribes.

The Theosophists, according to Hargrave
Jennings in ``The Rosicrucians,'' called the
soul a fire taken from the eternal ocean of
light, and in common with other Fire-Philosophers
believed that all knowable things, both
of the soul and the body, were evolved out of
fire and finally resolvable into it; and that fire
was the last and only-to-be-known God.

In passing I might call attention to the fact
that the Devil is supposed to dwell in the same

Some of the secrets of heat resistance as
practiced by the dime-museum and sideshow
performers of our time, secrets grouped under
the general title of ``Fire-eating,'' must have
been known in very early times. To quote
from Chambers' ``Book of Days'': ``In ancient
history we find several examples of people who
possessed the art of touching fire without being
burned. The Priestesses of Diana, at
Castabala, in Cappadocia, commanded public
veneration by walking over red-hot iron. The
Herpi, a people of Etruria, walked among
glowing embers at an annual festival held on
Mount Soracte, and thus proved their sacred
character, receiving certain privileges, among
others, exemption from military service, from
the Roman Senate. One of the most astounding
stories of antiquity is related in the `Zenda-
Vesta,' to the effect that Zoroaster, to confute
his calumniators, allowed fluid lead to be
poured over his body, without receiving any

To me the ``astounding'' part of this story
is not in the feat itself, for that is extremely
easy to accomplish, but in the fact that the
secret was known at such an early date, which
the best authorities place at 500 to 1000 B.C.

It is said that the earliest recorded instance,
in our era, of ordeal by fire was in the fourth
century. Simplicius, Bishop of Autun, who
had been married before his promotion,
continued to live with his wife, and in order to
demonstrate the Platonic purity of their intercourse
placed burning coals upon their flesh
without injury.

That the clergy of the Middle Ages, who
caused accused persons to walk blindfold
among red-hot plowshares, or hold heated
irons in their hands, were in possession of the
secret of the trick, is shown by the fact that
after trial by ordeal had been abolished the
secret of their methods was published by
Albert, Count of Bollstadt, usually called
Albertus Magnus but sometimes Albertus
Teutonicus, a man distinguished by the range of
his inquiries and his efforts for the spread of

These secrets will be fully explained in the
section of this history devoted to the Arcana
of the Fire-Eaters (Chapter Six).

I take the following from the New York
Clipper-Annual of 1885:

The famous fire dance of the Navajo
Indians, often described as though it
involved some sort of genuine necromancy,
is explained by a matter-of-fact spectator.
It is true, he says, that the naked
worshipers cavort round a big bonfire, with
blazing faggots in their hands, and dash
the flames over their own and their fellows'
bodies, all in a most picturesque and
maniacal fashion; but their skins are first
so thickly coated with a clay paint that
they cannot easily be burned.

An illustrated article entitled Rites of the
Firewalking Fanatics of Japan, by W. C.
Jameson Reid, in the Chicago Sunday Inter-
Ocean of September 27th, 1903, reveals so
splendid an example of the gullibility of the
well-informed when the most ordinary trick
is cleverly presented and surrounded with the
atmosphere of the occult, that I am impelled
to place before my readers a few illuminating
excerpts from Mr. Reid's narrative. This man
would, in all probability, scorn to spend a dime
to witness the performance of a fire-eater in
a circus sideshow; but after traveling half
round the world he pays a dollar and spends
an hour's time watching the fanatical incantations
of the solemn little Japanese priests for
the sake of seeing the ``Hi-Wattarai''--which
is merely the stunt of walking over hot coals
--and he then writes it down as the ``eighth
wonder of the world,'' while if he had taken
the trouble to give the matter even the most
superficial investigation, he could have
discovered that the secret of the trick had been
made public centuries before.

Mr. Reid is authority for the statement that
the Shintoist priests' fire-walking rites have
``long been one of the puzzling mysteries of
the scientific world,'' and adds ``If you ever
are in Tokio, and can find a few minutes to
spare, by all means do not neglect witnessing
at least one performance of `Hi-Wattarai'
(fire walking, and that is really what takes
place), for, if you are of that incredulous
nature which laughs with scorn at so-called
Eastern mysticism, you will come away, as has
many a visitor before you, with an impression
sufficient to last through an ordinary lifetime.''
Further on he says ``If you do not come away
convinced that you have been witness of a
spectacle which makes you disbelieve the evidence
of your own eyes and your most matter-
of-fact judgment, then you are a man of
stone.'' All of which proves nothing more
than that Mr. Reid was inclined to make
positive statements about subjects in which he
knew little or nothing.

He tells us further that formerly this rite
was performed only in the spring and fall,
when, beside the gratuities of the foreigners,
the native worshipers brought ``gifts of wine,
large trays of fish, fruit, rice cakes, loaves,
vegetables, and candies.'' Evidently the
combination of box-office receipts with donation
parties proved extremely tempting to the
thrifty priests, for they now give what might
be termed a ``continuous performance.''

Those who have read the foregoing pages
will apply a liberal sprinkling of salt to the
solemn assurance of Mr. Reid, advanced on
the authority of Jinrikisha boys, that ``for
days beforehand the priests connected with
the temple devote themselves to fasting and
prayer to prepare for the ordeal. . . . The
performance itself usually takes place in the
late afternoon during twilight in the temple
court, the preceding three hours being spent
by the priests in final outbursts of prayer
before the unveiled altar in the inner sanctuary
of the little matted temple, and during these
invocations no visitors are allowed to enter the
sacred precincts.''

Mr. Reid's description of the fire walking
itself may not be out of place; it will show
that the Japs had nothing new to offer aside
from the ritualistic ceremonials with which
they camouflaged the hocus-pocus of the
performance, which is merely a survival of the
ordeal by fire of earlier religions.

``Shortly before 5 o'clock the priests filed
from before the altar into some interior
apartments, where they were to change their
beautiful robes for the coarser dress worn during
the fire walking. In the meantime coolies had
been set to work in the courtyard to ignite the
great bed of charcoal, which had already been
laid. The dimensions of this bed were about
twelve feet by four, and, perhaps, a foot deep.
On the top was a quantity of straw and kindling
wood, which was lighted, and soon burst
into a roaring blaze. The charcoal became
more and more thoroughly ignited until the
whole mass glowed in the uncertain gloom, like
some gigantic and demoniacal eye of a modern
Prometheus. As soon as the mass of charcoal
was thoroughly ignited from top to bottom, a
small gong in the temple gave notice that the
wonderful spectacle of `Hi-Wattarai' was
about to begin.

``Soon two of the priests came out, said
prayers of almost interminable length at a tiny
shrine in the corner of the enclosure, and
turned their attention to the fire. Taking long
poles and fans from the coolies, they poked
and encouraged the blaze till it could plainly
be seen that the coal was ignited throughout.
The whole bed was a glowing mass, and the
heat which rose from it was so intense that
we found it uncomfortable to sit fifteen feet
away from it without screening our faces with
fans. Then they began to pound it down more
solidly along the middle; as far as possible
inequalities in its surface were beaten down,
and the coals which protruded were brushed

There follows a long and detailed description
of further ceremonies, the receiving of
gifts, etc., which need not be repeated here.
Now for the trick itself.

``One of the priests held a pile of white
powder on a small wooden stand. This was
said to be salt--which in Japan is credited with
great cleansing properties--but as far as could
be ascertained by superficial examination it
was a mixture of alum and salt. He stood at
one end of the fire-bed and poised the wooden
tray over his head, and then sprinkled a handful
of it on the ground before the glowing bed
of coals. At the same time another priest who
stood by him chanted a weird recitative of
invocation and struck sparks from flint and steel
which he held in his hands. This same process
was repeated by both the priests at the other
end, at the two sides, and at the corners.

``Ten minutes, more or less, was spent in
various movements and incantations about the
bed of coals. At the end of that time two small
pieces of wet matting were brought out and
placed at either end and a quantity of the
white mixture was placed upon them. At a
signal from the head priest, who acted as
master of ceremonies during the curious
succeeding function, the ascetics who were to
perform the first exhibition of fire-walking
gathered at one end of the bed of coals, which by
this time was a fierce and glowing furnace.

``Having raised both his hands and prostrated
himself to render thanks to the god who
had taken out the `soul' of the fire, the priest
about to undergo the ordeal stood upon the
wet matting, wiped his feet lightly in the white
mixture, and while we held our breaths, and
our eyes almost leaped from their sockets in
awe-struck astonishment, he walked over the
glowing mass as unconcernedly as if treading
on a carpet in a drawing-room, his feet coming
in contact with the white hot coals at every
step. He did not hurry or take long steps,
but sauntered along with almost incredible
sang-froid, and before he reached the opposite
side he turned around and sauntered as
carelessly back to the mat from which he had

The story goes on to tell how the performance
was repeated by the other priests, and
then by many of the native audience; but none
of the Europeans tried it, although invited to
do so. Mr. Reid's closing statement is that
``no solution of the mystery can be gleaned,
even from high scientific authorities who have
witnessed and closely studied the physical
features of these remarkable Shinto fire-walking
rites.'' Many who are confronted with something
that they cannot explain take refuge in
the claim that it puzzles the scientists too. As
a matter of fact, at the time Mr. Reid wrote,
such scientists as had given the subject serious
study were pretty well posted on the methods

An article under the title The Fiery Ordeal
of Fiji, by Maurice Delcasse, appeared in the
Wide World Magazine for May, 1898. From
Mr. Delcasse's account it appears that the
Fijian ordeal is practically the same as that
of the Japanese, as described by Mr. Reid,
except that there is very little ceremony
surrounding it. The people of Fiji until a
comparatively recent date were cannibals; but
their islands are now British possessions, most
of the natives are Christians, and most of their
ancient customs have become obsolete, from
which I deduce that the fire-walking rites
described in this article must have been
performed by natives who had retained their old
religious beliefs.

The ordeal takes place on the Island of
Benga, which is near Suva, the capital of Fiji,
and which, Mr. Delcasse says, ``was the
supposed residence of some of the old gods of Fiji,
and was, therefore, considered a sacred land.''
Instead of walking on the live coals, as the
Japanese priests do, the Fijians walk on stones
that have been brought to a white heat in a
great fire of logs.

The familiar claim is made that the
performance puzzles scientists, and that no
satisfactory solution has yet been discovered. We
are about to see that for two or three hundred
years the same claims have been made by a
long line of more or less clever public
performers in Europe and America.


1780.--DUFOUR, 1783.--QUACKENSALBER, 1794.

The earliest mention I have found of a public
fire-eater in England is in the correspondence
of Sir Henry Watton, under date of
June 3rd, 1633. He speaks of an Englishman
``like some swabber of a ship, come from the
Indies, where he has learned to eat fire as
familiarly as ever I saw any eat cakes, even
whole glowing brands, which he will crush with
his teeth and swallow.'' This was shown in
London for two pence.

The first to attract the attention of the
upper classes, however, was one Richardson, who
appeared in France in the year 1667 and enjoyed
a vogue sufficient to justify the record
of his promise in the Journal des Savants.
Later on he came to London, and John Evelyn,
in his diary, mentions him under date of
October 8th, 1672, as follows:

I took leave of my Lady Sunderland,
who was going to Paris to my Lord, now
Ambassador there. She made me stay
dinner at Leicester House, and afterwards
sent for Richardson, the famous fire-eater.
He devoured brimstone on glowing coals
before us, chewing and swallowing them;
he melted a beere-glass and eate it quite up;
then taking a live coale on his tongue he
put on it a raw oyster; the coal was blown
on with bellows till it flamed and sparkled
in his mouthe, and so remained until the
oyster gaped and was quite boil'd.

Then he melted pitch and wax with
sulphur, which he drank down as it flamed:
I saw it flaming in his mouthe a good while;
he also took up a thick piece of iron, such
as laundresses use to put in their smoothing-
boxes, when it was fiery hot, held it
between his teeth, then in his hand, and
threw it about like a stone; but this I
observ'd he cared not to hold very long.
Then he stoode on a small pot, and, bending
his body, tooke a glowing iron with
his mouthe from betweene his feete, without
touching the pot or ground with his
hands, with divers other prodigious feats.

The secret methods employed by Richardson
were disclosed by his servant, and this
publicity seems to have brought his career to a
sudden close; at least I have found no record
of his subsequent movements.

About 1713 a fire-eater named De Heiterkeit,
a native of Annivi, in Savoy, flourished
for a time in London. He performed five times
a day at the Duke of Marlborough's Head, in
Fleet Street, the prices being half-a-crown,
eighteen pence and one shilling.

According to London Tit-Bits, ``De Heiterkeit
had the honor of exhibiting before Louis
XIV., the Emperor of Austria, the King of
Sicily and the Doge of Venice, and his name
having reached the Inquisition, that holy office
proposed experimenting on him to find out
whether he was fireproof externally as well as
internally. He was preserved from this
unwelcome ordeal, however, by the interference
of the Duchess Royal, Regent of Savoy.''

His programme did not differ materially
from that of his predecessor, Richardson, who
had antedated him by nearly fifty years.

By far the most famous of the early fire-
eaters was Robert Powell, whose public career
extended over a period of nearly sixty years,
and who was patronized by the English peerage.
It was mainly through the instrumentality
of Sir Hans Sloane that, in 1751, the Royal
Society presented Powell a purse of gold and
a large silver medal.

Lounger's Commonplace Book says of
Powell: ``Such is his passion for this terrible
element, that if he were to come hungry into
your kitchen, while a sirloin was roasting, he
would eat up the fire and leave the beef. It
is somewhat surprising that the friends of REAL
MERIT have not yet promoted him, living as we
do in an age favorable to men of genius.
Obliged to wander from place to place, instead
of indulging himself in private with his
favorite dish, he is under the uncomfortable
necessity of eating in public, and helping
himself from the kitchen fire of some paltry ale-
house in the country.''

His advertisements show that he was before
the public from 1718 to 1780. One of his later
advertisements runs as follows:


Please observe that there are two
different performances the same evening,
which will be performed by the famous


who has had the honor to exhibit, with
universal applause, the most surprising
performances that were ever attempted by
mankind, before His Royal Highness
William, late Duke of Cumberland, at
Windsor Lodge, May 7th, 1752; before
His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester,
at Gloucester House, January 30th,
1769; before His Royal Highness the
present Duke of Cumberland, at Windsor
Lodge, September 25th, 1769; before Sir
Hans Sloane and several of the Royal
Society, March 4th, 1751, who made Mr.
Powell a compliment of a purse of gold,
and a fine large silver medal, which the
curious may view by applying to him; and
before most of the Nobility and Quality in
the Kingdom.

He intends to sup on the following
articles: 1. He eats red-hot coals out of
the fire as natural as bread. 2. He licks
with his naked tongue red-hot tobacco
pipes, flaming with brimstone. 3. He
takes a large bunch of deal matches, lights
them altogether; and holds them in his
mouth till the flame is extinguished. 4.
He takes a red-hot heater out of the fire,
licks it with his naked tongue several
times, and carries it around the room
between his teeth. 5. He fills his mouth with
red-hot charcoal, and broils a slice of beef
or mutton upon his tongue, and any person
may blow the fire with a pair of bellows
at the same time. 6. He takes a
quantity of resin, pitch, bees'-wax, sealing-
wax, brimstone, alum, and lead, melts
them all together over a chafing-dish of
coals, and eats the same combustibles with
a spoon, as if it were a porringer of broth
(which he calls his dish of soup), to the
great and agreeable surprise of the
spectators; with various other extraordinary
performances never attempted by any
other person of this age, and there is
scarce a possibility ever will; so that those
who neglect this opportunity of seeing the
wonders performed by this artist, will lose
the sight of the most amazing exhibition
ever done by man.

The doors to be opened by six and he
sups precisely at seven o'clock, without
any notice given by sound of trumpet.

If gentry do not choose to come at seven
o'clock, no performance.

Prices of admission to ladies and gentlemen,
one shilling. Back Seats for Children
and Servants, six pence.

Ladies and children may have a private
performance any hour of the day, by giving
previous notice.

N. B.--He displaces teeth or stumps so
easily as to scarce be felt. He sells a
chemical liquid which discharges inflammation,
scalds, and burns, in a short time,
and is necessary to be kept in all families.

His stay in this place will be but short,
not exceeding above two or three nights.

Good fire to keep the gentry warm.

This shows how little advance had been made
in the art in a century. Richardson had presented
practically the same programme a hundred
years before. Perhaps the exposure of
Richardson's method by his servant put an
end to fire-eating as a form of amusement for
a long time, or until the exposure had been
forgotten by the public. Powell himself,
though not proof against exposure, seems to
have been proof against its effects, for he kept
on the even tenor of his way for sixty years,
and at the end of his life was still exhibiting.

Whatever the reason, the eighteenth century
fire-eaters, like too many magicians of the
present day, kept to the stereotyped
programmes of their predecessors. A very few
did, however, step out of the beaten track and,
by adding new tricks and giving a new dress
to old ones, succeeded in securing a following
that was financially satisfactory.

In this class a Frenchman by the name of
Dufour deserves special mention, from the fact
that he was the first to introduce comedy into
an act of this nature. He made his bow in
Paris in 1783, and is said to have created quite
a sensation by his unusual performance. I
am indebted to Martin's Naturliche Magie,
1792, for a very complete description of the
work of this artist.

Dufour made use of a portable building,
which was specially adapted to his purposes,
and his table was spread as if for a banquet,
except that the edibles were such as his
performance demanded. He employed a trumpeter
and a tambour player to furnish music
for his repast--as well as to attract public
attention. In addition to fire-eating, Dufour
gave exhibitions of his ability to consume
immense quantities of solid food, and he
displayed an appetite for live animals, reptiles,
and insects that probably proved highly
entertaining to the not overrefined taste of the
audiences of his day. He even advertised a
banquet of which the public was invited to
partake at a small fee per plate, but since the
menu consisted of the delicacies just described,
his audiences declined to join him at table.

His usual bill-of-fare was as follows:

Soup--boiling tar torches, glowing coals and
small, round, super-heated stones.

The roast, when Dufour was really hungry,
consisted of twenty pounds of beef or a whole
calf. His hearth was either the flat of his hand
or his tongue. The butter in which the roast
was served was melted brimstone or burning
wax. When the roast was cooked to suit him
he ate coals and roast together.

As a dessert he would swallow the knives
and forks, glasses, and the earthenware dishes.

He kept his audience in good humor by
presenting all this in a spirit of crude comedy
and, to increase the comedy element, he
introduced a number of trained cats. Although
the thieving proclivities of cats are well known,
Dufour's pets showed no desire to share his
repast, and he had them trained to obey his
commands during mealtime. At the close of
the meal he would become violently angry with
one of them, seize the unlucky offender, tear
it limb from limb and eat the carcass. One
of his musicians would then beg him to produce
the cat, dead or alive. In order to do this
he would go to a nearby horse-trough and
drink it dry; would eat a number of pounds
of soap, or other nauseating substance, clowning
it in a manner to provoke amusement instead
of disgust; and, further to mask the
disagreeable features--and also, no doubt, to
conceal the trick--would take the cloth from
the table and cover his face; whereupon he
would bring forth the swallowed cat, or one
that looked like it, which would howl piteously
and seem to struggle wildly while being
disgorged. When freed, the poor cat would rush
away among the spectators.

Dufour gave his best performances in the
evening, as he could then show his hocus-pocus
to best advantage. At these times he appeared
with a halo of fire about his head.

His last appearance in Paris was most
remarkable. The dinner began with a soup of
asps in simmering oil. On each side was a
dish of vegetables, one containing thistles and
burdocks, and the other fuming acid. Other
side dishes, of turtles, rats, bats and moles,
were garnished with live coals. For the fish
course he ate a dish of snakes in boiling tar
and pitch. His roast was a screech owl in a
sauce of glowing brimstone. The salad proved
to be spider webs full of small explosive squibs,
a plate of butterfly wings and manna worms,
a dish of toads surrounded with flies, crickets,
grasshoppers, church beetles, spiders, and
caterpillars. He washed all this down with
flaming brandy, and for dessert ate the four
large candles standing on the table, both of
the hanging side lamps with their contents,
and finally the large center lamp, oil, wick and
all. This leaving the room in darkness,
Dufour's face shone out in a mask of living flames.

A dog had come in with a farmer, who was
probably a confederate, and now began to bark.
Since Dufour could not quiet him, he seized
him, bit off his head and swallowed it, throwing
the body aside. Then ensued a comic scene
between Dufour and the farmer, the latter
demanding that his dog be brought to life, which
threw the audience into paroxysms of laughter.
Then suddenly candles reappeared and seemed
to light themselves. Dufour made a series of
hocus-pocus passes over the dog's body; then
the head suddenly appeared in its proper place,
and the dog, with a joyous yelp, ran to his

Notwithstanding the fact that Dufour must
have been by all odds the best performer of his
time, I do not find reference to him in any
other authority. But something of his originality
appeared in the work of a much humbler
practitioner, contemporary or very nearly
contemporary with him.

We have seen that Richardson, Powell,
Dufour, and generally the better class of fire-
eaters were able to secure select audiences and
even to attract the attention of scientists in
England and on the Continent. But many of
their effects had been employed by mountebanks
and street fakirs since the earliest days
of the art, and this has continued until
comparatively recent times.

In Naturliche Magie, in 1794, Vol. VI, page
111, I find an account of one Quackensalber,
who gave a new twist to the fire-eating industry
by making a ``High Pitch'' at the fairs and
on street corners and exhibiting feats of fire-
resistance, washing his hands and face in
melted tar, pitch and brimstone, in order to
attract a crowd. He then strove to sell them a
compound--composed of fish glue, alum and
brandy--which he claimed would cure burns in
two or three hours. He demonstrated that this
mixture was used by him in his heat resistance:
and then, doubtless, some ``capper'' started the
ball rolling, and Herr Quackensalber (his
name indicates a seller of salves) reaped a
good harvest.

I have no doubt but that even to-day a clever
performer with this ``High Pitch'' could do a
thriving business in that overgrown country
village, New York. At any rate there is the
so-called, ``King of Bees,'' a gentleman from
Pennsylvania, who exhibits himself in a cage
of netting filled with bees, and then sells the
admiring throng a specific for bee-stings and
the wounds of angry wasps. Unfortunately
the only time I ever saw his majesty, some of
his bee actors must have forgotten their lines,
for he was thoroughly stung.


BROOKS, 1817.--W. C. HOUGHTON, 1832.
REL MAEUB, 1876.--RIVALLI (died 1900).

In the nineteenth century by far the most
distinguished heat-resister was Chabert,
who deserves and shall have a chapter to
himself. He commenced exhibiting about 1818,
but even earlier in the century certain obscurer
performers had anticipated some of his best
effects. Among my clippings, for instance, I
find the following. I regret that I cannot give
the date, but it is evident from the long form
of the letters that it was quite early. This is
the first mention I have found of the hot-oven
effect afterwards made famous by Chabert.


A correspondent in France writes as
follows: ``Paris has, for some days, rung
with relations of the wonderful exploits
of a Spaniard in that city, who is endowed
with qualities by which he resists the
action of very high degrees of heat, as well
as the influence of strong chemical
reagents. Many histories of the trials to
which he has been submitted before a
Commission of the Institute and Medical
School, have appeared in the public papers;
but the public waits with impatience
for the report to be made in the name of
the Commission by Professor Pinel.

The subject of these trials is a young
man, a native of Toledo, in Spain, 23
years of age, and free of any apparent
peculiarities which can announce anything
remarkable in the organization of his
skin; after examination, one would be
rather disposed to conclude a peculiar
softness than that any hardness or thickness
of the cuticle existed, either naturally
or from mechanical causes. Nor was there
any circumstance to indicate that the
person had been previously rubbed with any
matter capable of resisting the operation
of the agents with which he was brought
in contact.

This man bathed for the space of five
minutes, and without any injury to his
sensibility or the surface of the skin, his
legs in oil, heated at 97 degrees of Reaumur (250
degrees of Fahrenheit) and with the same
oil, at the same degree of heat, he washed
his face and superior extremities. He
held, for the same space of time, and with
as little inconvenience, his legs in a
solution of muriate of soda, heated to 102 of
the same scale, (261 1/2 degrees Fahr.) He stood
on and rubbed the soles of his feet with a
bar of hot iron heated to a white heat; in
this state he held the iron in his hands and
rubbed the surface of his tongue.

He gargled his mouth with concentrated
sulphuric and nitric acids, without
the smallest injury or discoloration; the
nitric acid changed the cuticle to a yellow
color; with the acids in this state he
rubbed his hands and arms. All these
experiments were continued long enough to
prove their inefficiency to produce any
impression. It is said, on unquestionable
authority, that he remained a considerable
time in an oven heated to 65 degrees or 70
degrees, (178-189 degrees Fahr.) and from
which he was with difficulty induced to retire,
so comfortable did he feel at that high

It may be proper to remark, that this
man seems totally uninfluenced by any
motive to mislead, and, it is said, he has
refused flattering offers from some
religious sectaries of turning to emolument
his singular qualities; yet on the whole it
seems to be the opinion of most philosophical
men, that this person must possess
some matter which counteracts the operation
of these agents. To suppose that nature
has organized him differently, would
be unphilosophic: by habit he might have
blunted his sensibilities against those
impressions that create pain under ordinary
circumstances; but how to explain the
power by which he resists the action of
those agents which are known to have the
strongest affinity for animal matter, is a
circumstance difficult to comprehend. It
has not failed, however, to excite the wonder
of the ignorant and the inquiry of the
learned at Paris.''

This ``Wonderful Phenomenon'' may have
been ``the incombustible Spaniard, Senor
Lionetto,'' whom the London Mirror mentions
as performing in Paris in 1803 ``where he
attracted the particular attention of Dr.
Sementeni, Professor of Chemistry, and other
scientific gentlemen of that city. It appears
that a considerable vapor and smell rose from
parts of his body when the fire and heated
substances were applied, and in this he seems
to differ from the person now in this country.''
The person here referred to was M. Chabert.

Dr. Sementeni became so interested in the
subject that he made a series of experiments
upon himself, and these were finally crowned
with success. His experiments will receive
further attention in the chapter ``The Arcana
of the Fire-Eaters.''

A veritable sensation was created in
England in the year 1814 by Senora Josephine
Girardelli, who was heralded as having ``just
arrived from the Continent, where she had the
honor of appearing before most of the crowned
heads of Europe.'' She was first spoken of
as German, but afterwards proved to be of
Italian birth.

Entering a field of endeavor which had
heretofore been exclusively occupied by the sterner
sex, this lady displayed a taste for hot meals
that would seem to recommend her as a matrimonial
venture. Like all the earlier exploiters
of the devouring element, she was proclaimed
as ``The Great Phenomena of Nature''--why
the plural form was used does not appear--
and, doubtless, her feminine instincts led her
to impart a daintiness to her performance
which must have appealed to the better class
of audience in that day.

The portrait that adorned her first English
handbill, which I produce from the Picture
Magazine, was engraved by Page and published
by Smeeton, St. Martins Lane, London.
It is said to be a faithful representation of
her stage costume and setting.

Richardson, of Bartholomew Fair fame,
who was responsible for the introduction of
many novelties, first presented Girardelli to
an English audience at Portsmouth, where her
success was so pronounced that a London
appearance was arranged for the same year; and
at Mr. Laston's rooms, 23 New Bond Street,
her performance attracted the most fashionable
metropolitan audiences for a considerable
time. Following this engagement she
appeared at Richardson's Theater, at Bartholomew
Fair, and afterwards toured England
in the company of Signor Germondi, who
exhibited a troupe of wonderful trained dogs.
One of the canine actors was billed as the
``Russian Moscow Fire Dog, an animal
unknown in this country, (and never exhibited
before) who now delights in that element, having
been trained for the last six months at very
great expense and fatigue.''

Whether Girardelli accumulated sufficient
wealth to retire or became discouraged by the
exposure of her methods cannot now be
determined, but after she had occupied a prominent
position in the public eye and the public
prints for a few seasons she dropped out of
sight, and I have been unable to find where
or how she passed the later years of her life.

I am even more at a loss concerning her
contemporary, John Brooks, of whom I have no
other record than the following letter, which
appears in the autobiography of the famous
author-actor-manager, Thomas Dibdin, of the
Theaters Royal, Covent Garden, Drury Lane,
Haymarket and others. This one communication,
however, absolves of any obligation to dig
up proofs of John Brooks' versatility: he
admits it himself.

To Mr. T. Dibdin, Esq. Pripetor of the
Royal Circus.

May 1st, 1817.

I have taken the Liberty of Riting those
few lines to ask you the favour if a Greeable
for me to Come to your House, as i
Can do a great many different things i
Can Sing a good Song and i Can Eat Boiling
hot Lead and Rub my naked arms
With a Red hot Poker and Stand on a
Red hot sheet of iron, and do Diferent
other things.--Sir i hope you Will Excuse
me in Riting I do not Want any thing
for my Performing for i have Got a
Business that will Sirport me I only want to
pass a Way 2 or 3 Hours in the Evening.
Sir i hope you Will Send me an Answer
Weather Agreeple or not.

I am your Humble Servant,
J. B.

Direct to me No. 4 fox and Knot Court
King Street Smithfield.

We shall let this versatile John Brooks close
the pre-Chabert record and turn our attention
to the fire-eaters of Chabert's day. Imitation
may be the sincerest flattery, but in most cases
the victim of the imitation, it is safe to say,
will gladly dispense with that form of adulation.
When Chabert first came to America
and gave fresh impetus to the fire-eating art
by the introduction of new and startling
material, he was beset by many imitators, or--
as they probably styled themselves--rivals,
who immediately proceeded, so far as in them
lay, to out-Chabert Chabert.

One of the most prominent of these was a
man named W. C. Houghton, who claimed to
have challenged Chabert at various times. In
a newspaper advertisement in Philadelphia,
where he was scheduled to give a benefit
performance on Saturday evening, February 4th,
1832, he practically promised to expose the
method of poison eating. Like that of all
exposers, however, his vogue was of short
duration, and very little can be found about this
super-Chabert except his advertisements. The
following will serve as a sample of them:



A CARD.--W. C. Houghton, has the
honor to announce to the ladies and
gentlemen of Philadelphia, that his
BENEFIT will take place at the ARCH
STREET THEATRE, on Saturday evening
next, 4th February, when will be
presented a variety of entertainments aided
by the whole strength of the company.

Mr. H. in addition to his former
experiments will exhibit several fiery feats,
pronounced by Mons. Chabert an
explanation by illustrations of the
will also (unless prevented by indisposition)
swallow a sufficient quantity of phosphorus,
(presented by either chemist or
druggist of this city) to destroy THE LIFE
OF ANY INDIVIDUAL. Should he not feel
disposed to take the poison, he will
satisfactorily explain to the audience the
manner it may be taken without injury.

In our next chapter we shall see how it went
with others who challenged Chabert.

A Polish athlete, J. A. B. Chylinski by name,
toured Great Britain and Ireland in 1841, and
presented a more than usually diversified
entertainment. Being gifted by nature with
exceptional bodily strength, and trained in
gymnastics, he was enabled to present a mixed
programme, combining his athletics with feats
of strength, fire-eating, poison-swallowing, and

In The Book of Wonderful Characters,
published in 1869 by John Camden Hotten, London,
I find an account of Chamouni, the Russian
Salamander: ``He was insensible, for a
given time, to the effects of heat. He was
remarkable for the simplicity and singleness
of his character, as well as for that idiosyncrasy
in his constitution, which enabled him
for so many years, not merely to brave the
effects of fire, but to take a delight in an
element where other men find destruction. He
was above all artifice, and would often entreat
his visitors to melt their own lead, or boil their
own mercury, that they might be perfectly
satisfied of the gratification he derived from
drinking these preparations. He would also
present his tongue in the most obliging manner
to all who wished, to pour melted lead upon
it and stamp an impression of their seals.''

A fire-proof billed as Professor Rel Maeub,
was on the programme at the opening of the
New National Theater, in Philadelphia, Pa.,
in the spring of 1876. If I am not mistaken
the date was April 25th. He called himself
``The Great Inferno Fire-King,'' and his
novelty consisted in having a strip of wet
carpeting running parallel to the hot iron plates
on which he walked barefoot, and stepping on
it occasionally and back onto the hot iron, when
a loud hissing and a cloud of steam bore ample
proof of the high temperature of the metal.

One of the more recent fireproofs was
Eugene Rivalli, whose act included, besides the
usual effects, a cage of fire in which he stood
completely surrounded by flames. Rivalli,
whose right name was John Watkins, died in
1900, in England. He had appeared in Great
Britain and Ireland as well as on the Continent
during the later years of the 19th century.

The cage of fire has been used by a number
of Rivalli's followers also, and the reader will
find a full explanation of the methods
employed for it in the chapter devoted to the
Arcana of the Fire-eaters, to which we shall
come when we have recorded the work of the
master Chabert, the history of some of the
heat-resisters featured on magicians'
programmes, particularly in our own day, and the
interest taken in this art by performers whose
chief distinction was won in other fields, as
notably Edwin Forrest and the elder Sothern.



Ivan Ivanitz Chabert, the only
Really Incombustible Phenomenon, as he
was billed abroad, or J. Xavier Chabert, A.M.,
M.D., etc., as he was afterwards known in this
country, was probably the most notable, and
certainly the most interesting, character in
the history of fire-eating, fire-resistance, and
poison eating. He was the last prominent figure
in the long line of this type of artists to appeal
to the better classes and to attract the attention
of scientists, who for a considerable period
treated his achievements more or less seriously.
Henry Evanion gave me a valuable collection
of Chabert clippings, hand-bills, etc., and
related many interesting incidents in connection
with this man of wonders.

It seems quite impossible for me to write
of any historical character in Magic or its
allied arts without recalling my dear old friend
Evanion, who introduced me to a throng of
fascinating characters, with each of whom he
seemed almost as familiar as if they had been
daily companions.

Subsequently I discovered an old engraving
of Chabert, published in London in 1829, and
later still another which bore the change of
name, as well as the titles enumerated above.
The latter was published in New York, September,
1836, and bore the inscription: ``One
of the most celebrated Chemists, Philosophers,
and Physicians of the present day.'' These
discoveries, together with a clue from Evanion,
led to further investigations, which resulted in
the interesting discovery that this one-time
Bartholomew Fair entertainer spent the last
years of his life in New York City. He resided
here for twenty-seven years and lies
buried in the beautiful Cypress Hills Cemetery,
quite forgotten by the man on the street.

Nearby is the grave of good old Signor Blitz,
and not far away is the plot that holds all that
is mortal of my beloved parents. When I
finally break away from earthly chains and
restraints, I hope to be placed beside them.

During my search for data regarding Chabert
I looked in the telephone book for a possible
descendant. By accident I picked up the
Suburban instead of the Metropolitan edition,
and there I found a Victor E. Chabert living
at Allenhurst, N. J. I immediately got into
communication with him and found that he
was a grandson of the Fire King, but he could
give me no more information than I already
possessed, which I now spread before my

M. Chabert was a son of Joseph and Therese
Julienne Chabert. He was born on May 10th,
1792, at Avignon, France.

Chabert was a soldier in the Napoleonic
wars, was exiled to Siberia and escaped to
England. His grandson has a bronze Napoleon
medal which was presented to Chabert, presumably
for valor on the field of battle. Napoleon
was exiled in 1815 and again three years
later. Chabert first attracted public notice in
Paris, at which time his demonstrations of
heat-resistance were sufficiently astonishing to
merit the attention of no less a body than the
National Institute.

To the more familiar feats of his predecessors
he added startling novelties in the art of
heat-resistance, the most spectacular being
that of entering a large iron cabinet, which
resembled a common baker's oven, heated to
the usual temperature of such ovens. He carried
in his hand a leg of mutton and remained
until the meat was thoroughly cooked. Another
thriller involved standing in a flaming
tar-barrel until it was entirely consumed
around him.

In 1828, Chabert gave a series of performances
at the Argyle Rooms in London, and
created a veritable sensation. A correspondent
in the London Mirror has this to say of
Chabert's work at that time: ``Of M. Chabert's
wonderful power of withstanding the operation
of the fiery element, it is in the recollection
of the writer of witnessing, some few years
back, this same individual (in connection with
the no-less fire-proof Signora Girardelli)
exhibiting `extraordinary proofs of his
supernatural power of resisting the most intense
heat of every kind.' Since which an IMPROVEMENT
of a more formidable nature has to our
astonished fancy been just demonstrated. In
the newspapers of the past week it is reported
that he, in the first instance, refreshed himself
with a hearty meal of phosphorus, which
was, at his own request, supplied to him very
liberally by several of his visitors, who were
previously unacquainted with him. He washed
down (they say) this infernal fare with
solutions of arsenic and oxalic acid; thus throwing
into the background the long-established fame
of Mithridates. He next swallowed with great
gout, several spoonfuls of boiling oil; and, as
a dessert to this delicate repast, helped himself
with his naked hands to a considerable
quantity of molten lead. The experiment,
however, of entering into a hot oven, together with
a quantity of meat, sufficient, when cooked, to
regale those of his friends who were specially
invited to witness his performance, was the
chef-d'oeuvre of the day. Having ordered
three fagots of wood, which is the quantity
generally used by bakers, to be thrown into
the oven, and they being set on fire, twelve
more fagots of the same size were subsequently
added to them, which being all consumed by
three o'clock, M. Chabert entered the oven with
a dish of raw meat, and when it was sufficiently
done he handed it out, took in another, and
remained therein until the second quantity was
also well cooked; he then came out of the oven,
and sat down, continues the report, to partake,
with a respectable assembly of friends, of
those viands he had so closely attended during
the culinary process. Publicly, on a subsequent
day, and in an oven 6 feet by 7, and at
a heat of about 220, he remained till a steak
was properly done, and again returned to his
fiery den and continued for a period of thirty
minutes, in complete triumph over the power
of an element so much dreaded by humankind,
and so destructive to animal nature. It has
been properly observed, that there are
preparations which so indurate the cuticle, as to
render it insensible to the heat of either boiling
oil or melted lead; and the fatal qualities
of certain poisons may be destroyed, if the
medium through which they are imbibed, as
we suppose to be the case here, is a strong
alkali. Many experiments, as to the extent to
which the human frame could bear heat, without
the destruction of the vital powers, have
been tried from time to time; but so far as
recollection serves, Monsieur Chabert's fire-
resisting qualities are greater than those
professed by individuals who, before him, have
undergone this species of ordeal.''

It was announced some time ago, in one of
the French journals, that experiments had
been tried with a female, whose fire-standing
qualities had excited great astonishment. She,
it appears, was placed in a heated oven, into
which live dogs, cats, and rabbits were
conveyed. The poor animals died in a state of
convulsion almost immediately, while the Fire-
queen bore the heat without complaining. In
that instance, however, the heat of the oven
was not so great as that which M. Chabert encountered.

Much of the power to resist greater degrees
of heat than can other men may be a natural
gift, much the result of chemical applications,
and much from having the parts indurated by
long practice; probably all three are combined
in this phenomenon, with some portion of

In Timbs' Curiosities of London, published
in 1867, I find the following:

At the Argyle Rooms, London, in 1829,
Mons. Chabert, the Fire-King, exhibited
his powers of resisting poisons, and
withstanding extreme heat. He swallowed
forty grains of phosphorus, sipped oil at
333 degrees with impunity, and rubbed a red-hot
fire-shovel over his tongue, hair, and face,

On September 23d, on a challenge of
L50, Chabert repeated these feats and won
the wager; he next swallowed a piece of
burning torch; and then, dressed in coarse
woolen, entered an oven heated to 380 degrees,
sang a song, and cooked two dishes of beef

Still, the performances were suspected,
and in fact, proved to be a chemical juggle.

Another challenge in the same year is
recorded under the heading, ``Sights of
London,'' as follows:

We were tempted on Wednesday to the
Argyle Rooms by the challenge of a person
of the uncommon name of J. Smith
to M. Chabert, our old friend the Fire
King, whom this individual dared to
invite to a trial of powers in swallowing
poison and being baked! The audacity
of such a step quite amazed us; and
expecting to see in the competitor at
least a Vulcan, the God of all Smiths,
was hastened to the scene of strife.
Alas, our disappointment was complete!
Smith had not even the courage of a
blacksmith for standing fire, and yielded
a stake of L50, as was stated, without
a contest, to M. Chabert, on the latter
coming out of his oven with his own two
steaks perfectly cooked. On this occasion
Chabert took 20 grains of phosphorus,
swallowed oil heated to nearly 100 degrees above
boiling water, took molten lead out of a
ladle with his fingers and cooled it on his
tongue; and, besides performing other
remarkable feats, remained five minutes in
the oven at a temperature of between 300
and 400 degrees by the thermometer. There was
about 150 persons present, many of them
medical men; and being convinced that
these things were fairly done, without
trickery, much astonishment was expressed.

The following detailed account of the latter
challenge appeared in the Chronicle, London,
September, 1829.

CHALLENGER.--An advertisement appeared
lately in one of the papers, in which a
Mr. J. Smith after insinuating that M.
Chabert practised some juggle when he
appeared to enter an oven heated to five
hundred degrees, and to swallow twenty
grains of phosphorus, challenged him to
perform the exploits which he professed
to be performing daily. In consequence
M. Chabert publicly accepted Mr. J.
Smith's challenge for L50, requesting him
to provide the poison himself. A day was
fixed upon which the challenge was to be
determined, and at two o'clock on that
day, a number of gentlemen assembled in
the Argyle-rooms, where the exhibition
was to take place. At a little before three
the fire-king made his appearance near his
oven, and as some impatience had been
exhibited, owing to the non-arrival of Mr.
J. Smith, he offered to amuse the company
with a few trifling experiments. He made
a shovel red-hot and rubbed it over his
tongue, a trick for which no credit, he said,
was due, as the moisture of the tongue was
sufficient to prevent any injury arising
from it. He next rubbed it over his hair
and face, declaring that anybody might
perform the same feat by first washing
themselves in a mixture of spirits of
sulphur and alum, which, by cauterising the
epidermis, hardened the skin to resist the

He put his hand into some melted lead,
took a small portion of it out, placed it in
his mouth, and then gave it in a solid state
to some of the company. This performance,
according to his account, was also
very easy; for he seized only a very small
particle, which, by a tight compression
between the forefinger and the thumb,
became cool before it reached the mouth. At
this time Mr. Smith made his appearance,
and M. Chabert forthwith prepared himself
for mightier undertakings. A cruse
of oil was brought forward and poured
into a saucepan, which was previously
turned upside down, to show that there
was no water in it. The alleged reason
for this step was, that the vulgar
conjurors, who profess to drink boiling oil,
place the oil in water, and drink it when
the water boils, at which time the oil is
not warmer than an ordinary cup of tea.
He intended to drink the oil when any
person might see it bubbling in the
saucepan, and when the thermometer would
prove that it was heated to three hundred
and sixty degrees. The saucepan was
accordingly placed on the fire, and as it was
acquiring the requisite heat, the fire-king
challenged any man living to drink a
spoonful of the oil at the same temperature
as that at which he was going to drink
it. In a few minutes afterwards, he
sipped off a spoonful with greatest
apparent ease, although the spoon, from
contact with the boiling fluid, had become too
hot for ordinary fingers to handle.

``And now, Monsieur Smith,'' said the
fire-king, ``now for your challenge. Have
you prepared yourself with phosphorus,
or will you take some of mine, which is
laid on that table?'' Mr. Smith, walked
up to the table, and pulling a vial bottle
out of his pocket, offered it to the poison-

Fire-king--``I ask you, on your honor
as a gentleman, is this genuine unmixed

Mr. Smith--``It is, upon my honor.''

Fire-king--``Is there any medical
gentleman here who will examine it?''

A person in the room requested that
Dr. Gordon Smith, one of the medical
professors in the London University,
would examine the vial, and decide
whether it contained genuine phosphorus.

The professor went to the table, on
which the formidable collection of poisons
--such as red and white arsenic,
hydrocyanic acid, morphine and phosphorus--
was placed, and, examining the vial,
declared, that, to the best of his judgment,
it was genuine phosphorus.

M. Chabert asked Mr. Smith, how many
grains he wished to commence his first
draught with. Mr. Smith--``Twenty
grains will do as a commencement.''

A medical gentleman then came forward
and cut off two parcels of phosphorus,
containing twenty grains each. He was
placing them in the water, when the fire-
king requested that his phosphorus might
be cut into small pieces, as he did not wish
the pieces to stop on their way to his
stomach. The poisons were now prepared.
A wine-glass contained the portion
set aside for the fire-king--a tumbler the
portion reserved for Mr. Smith.

The Fire-king--``I suppose, gentlemen,
I must begin, and to convince you that
I do not juggle, I will first take off my
coat, and then I will trouble you, doctor
(speaking to Dr. Gordon Smith), to tie my
hands together behind me. After he had
been bandaged in this manner, he planted
himself on one knee in the middle of the
room, and requested some gentleman to
place the phosphorus on his tongue and
pour the water down his throat. This was
accordingly done, and the water and
phosphorus were swallowed together. He then
opened his mouth and requested the company
to look whether any portion of the
phosphorus remained in his mouth. Several
gentlemen examined his mouth, and
declared that there was no phosphorus
perceptible either upon or under his
tongue. He was then by his own desire
unbandaged. The fire-king forthwith
turned to Mr. Smith and offered him the
other glass of phosphorus. Mr. Smith
started back in infinite alarm--`Not for
worlds, Sir, not for worlds; I beg to
decline it.'

The Fire-king--``Then wherefore did
you send me a challenge? You pledged
your honor to drink it, if I did; I have
done it; and if you are a gentleman, you
must drink it too.''

Mr. Smith--``No, no, I must be excused:
I am quite satisfied without it.''

Here several voices exclaimed that the
bet was lost. Some said there must be a
confederacy between the challenger and
the challenged, and others asked whether
any money had been deposited? The fire-
king called a Mr. White forward, who
deposed that he held the stakes, which had
been regularly placed in his hands, by both
parties, before twelve o'clock that morning.

The fire-king here turned round with
great exultation to the company, and pulling
a bottle out of his pocket, exclaimed,
``I did never see this gentleman before this
morning, and I did not know but that he
might be bold enough to venture to take
this quantity of poison. I was determined
not to let him lose his life by his foolish
wager, and therefore I did bring an
antidote in my pocket, which would have
prevented him from suffering any harm.''
Mr. Smith said his object was answered by
seeing twenty grains of genuine phosphorus
swallowed. He had conceived it
impossible, as three grains were quite
sufficient to destroy life. The fire-king then
withdrew into another room for the
professed purpose of putting on his usual
dress for entering the oven, but in all
probability for the purpose of getting the
phosphorus out of his stomach.

After an absence of twenty minutes, he
returned, dressed in a coarse woolen coat,
to enter the heated oven. Before he
entered it, a medical gentleman ascertained
that his pulse was vibrating ninety-eight
times a minute. He remained in the oven
five minutes, during which time he sung
Le Vaillant Troubadour, and superintended
the cooking of two dishes of beef
steaks. At the end of that time he came
out, perspiring profusely, and with a pulse
making one hundred and sixty-eight
vibrations in a minute. The thermometer,
when brought out of the oven, stood at
three hundred and eighty degrees; within
the oven he said it was above six hundred.

Although he was suspected of trickery by
many, was often challenged, and had an army
of rivals and imitators, all available records
show that Chabert was beyond a doubt the
greatest fire and poison resister that ever
appeared in London.

Seeking new laurels, he came to America in
1832, and although he was successful in New
York, his subsequent tour of the States was
financially disastrous. He evidently saved
enough from the wreck, however, to start in
business, and the declining years of his eventful
life were passed in the comparative obscurity
of a little drug store in Grand Street.

As his biographer I regret to be obliged to
chronicle the fact that he made and sold an
alleged specific for the White Plague, thus
enabling his detractors to couple with his name
the word Quack. The following article, which
appeared in the New York Herald of September
1st, 1859, three days after Chabert's death,
gives further details of his activities in this

We published among the obituary
notices in yesterday's Herald the death of
Dr. Julian Xavier Chabert, the ``Fire
King,'' aged 67 years, of pulmonary
consumption. Dr. C. was a native of France,
and came to this country in 1832, and was
first introduced to the public at the lecture
room of the old Clinton Hall, in Nassau
Street, where he gave exhibitions by entering
a hot oven of his own construction,
and while there gave evidence of his
salamander qualities by cooking beef
steaks, to the surprise and astonishment
of his audiences.

It was a question to many whether the
Doctor's oven was red-hot or not, as he
never allowed any person to approach him
during the exhibition or take part in the
proceedings. He made a tour of the
United States in giving these exhibitions,
which resulted in financial bankruptcy.
At the breaking out of the cholera in 1832
he turned Doctor, and appended M.D., to
his name, and suddenly his newspaper
advertisements claimed for him the title of
the celebrated Fire King, the curer of
consumption, the maker of Chinese
Lotion, etc.

While the Doctor was at the height of
his popularity, some wag perpetrated the
following joke in a newspaper paragraph:
``During some experiments he was making
in chemistry last week, an explosion
took place which entirely bewildered his
faculties and left him in a condition
bordering on the grave. He was blown into
a thousand atoms. It took place on
Wednesday of last week and some accounts
state that it grew out of an experiment
with phosphoric ether, others that it was
by a too liberal indulgence in Prussic acid,
an article which, from its resemblance to
the peach, he was remarkably fond of having
about him.''

The Doctor was extensively accused of
quackery, and on one occasion when the
Herald touched on the same subject, it
brought him to our office and he exhibited
diplomas, certificates and medical honors
without number.

The Doctor was remarkable for his
prolific display of jewelry and medals of
honor, and by his extensive display of
beard. He found a rival in this city in
the person of another French ``chemist,''
who gave the Doctor considerable opposition
and consequently much trouble.

The Doctor was famous, also, for his
four-horse turnouts in Broadway,
alternating, when he saw proper, to a change
to the ``tandem'' style. He married an
Irish lady whom he at first supposed to
be immensely rich, but after the nuptials
it was discovered that she merely had a
life interest in a large estate in common
with several others.

The Doctor, it appears, was formerly a
soldier in the French Army, and quite
recently he received from thence a medal
of the order of St. Helena, an account of
which appeared in the Herald. Prior to
his death he was engaged in writing his
biography (in French) and had it nearly
ready for publication.

Here follows a supposedly humorous speech
in broken English, quoted from the London
Lancet, in which the Doctor is satirized.
Continuing, the articles says:

``The Doctor was what was termed a
`fast liver,' and at the time of his death
he kept a drug store in Grand Street, and
had very little of this world's goods. He
leaves three children to mourn his loss,
one of them an educated physician, residing
in Hoboken, N. J.

Dr. C. has `gone to that bourne whence
no traveller returns,' and we fervently
trust and hope that the disembodied
spirits of the tens of thousands whom he
has treated in this sphere will treat him
with the same science with which he
treated them while in this wicked world.''



Many of our most noted magicians have
considered it not beneath their dignity
to introduce fire-eating into their programmes,
either in their own work or by the employment
of a ``Fire Artist.'' Although seldom presenting
it in his recent performances, Ching Ling
Foo is a fire-eater of the highest type, refining
the effect with the same subtle artistry that
marks all the work of this super-magician.

Of Foo's thousand imitators the only
positively successful one was William E. Robinson,
whose tragic death while in the performance of
the bullet-catching trick is the latest addition to
the long list of casualties chargeable to that
ill-omened juggle. He carried the imitation
even as far as the name, calling himself Chung


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