The Miracle Mongers, An Expose'

Part 2 out of 4

Ling Soo. Robinson was very successful in
the classic trick of apparently eating large
quantities of cotton and blowing smoke and
sparks from the mouth. His teeth were finally
quite destroyed by the continued performance
of this trick, the method of which may be
found in Chapter Six.

The employment of fire-eaters by magicians
began a century ago; for in 1816 the magician
Sieur Boaz, K. C., featured a performer who
was billed as the ``Man-Salamander.'' The
fact that Boaz gave him a place on his
programme is proof that this man was clever, but
the effects there listed show nothing original.

In 1818 a Mr. Carlton, Professor of Chemistry,
toured England in company with Rae,
the Bartholomew Fair magician. As will be
seen by the handbill reproduced here, Carlton
promised to explain the ``Deceptive Part'' of
the performance, ``when there is a sufficient

In 1820 a Mr. Cassillis toured England with
a juvenile company, one of the features of
which was Miss Cassillis, aged nine years,
whose act was a complete reproduction of the
programme of Boaz, concluding her performance
with the ``Chinese Fire Trick.''

A Negro, Carlo Alberto, appeared in a benefit
performance given by Herr Julian, who
styled himself the ``Wizard of the South,'' in
London, on November 28th, 1843. Alberto was
billed as the ``Great African Wonder, the Fire
King'' and it was promised that he would ``go
through part of his wonderful performance as
given by him in the principal theaters in
America, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia,

A later number on the same bill reads: ``The
African Wonder, Carlo Alberto, will sing several
new and popular Negro melodies.'' Collectors
of minstrel data please take notice!

In more recent times there have been a number
of Negro fire-eaters, but none seems to
have risen to noticeable prominence.

Ling Look, one of the best of contemporary
fire performers, was with Dean Harry Kellar
when the latter made his famous trip around
the world in 1877. Look combined fire-eating
and sword-swallowing in a rather startling
manner. His best effect was the swallowing
of a red-hot sword.[1] Another thriller consisted
in fastening a long sword to the stock of a
musket; when he had swallowed about half the
length of the blade, he discharged the gun and
the recoil drove the sword suddenly down his
throat to the very hilt. Although Look always
appeared in a Chinese make-up, Dean Kellar
told me that he thought his right name was
Dave Gueter, and that he was born in Buda

[1] I never saw Ling Look's work, but I know that some of
the sword swallowers have made use of a sheath which was
swallowed before the performance, and the swords were simply
pushed into it. A sheath of this kind lined with asbestos
might easily have served as a protection against the red-hot

Yamadeva, a brother of Ling Look, was also
with the Kellar Company, doing cabinet
manifestations and rope escapes. Both brothers
died in China during this engagement, and a
strange incident occurred in connection with
their deaths. Just before they were to sail
from Shanghai on the P. & O. steamer Khiva
for Hong Kong, Yamadeva and Kellar visited
the bowling alley of The Hermitage, a pleasure
resort on the Bubbling Well Road. They were
watching a husky sea captain, who was using
a huge ball and making a ``double spare'' at
every roll, when Yamadeva suddenly remarked,
``I can handle one as heavy as that big
loafer can.'' Suiting the action to the word,
he seized one of the largest balls and drove
it down the alley with all his might; but he
had misjudged his own strength, and he paid
for the foolhardy act with his life, for he had
no sooner delivered the ball than he grasped
his side and moaned with pain. He had hardly
sufficient strength to get back to the ship,
where he went immediately to bed and died
shortly afterward. An examination showed
that he had ruptured an artery.

Kellar and Ling Look had much difficulty
in persuading the captain to take the body to
Hong Kong, but he finally consented. On the
way down the Yang Tse Kiang River, Look
was greatly depressed; but all at once he
became strangely excited, and said that his
brother was not dead, for he had just heard
the peculiar whistle with which they had always
called each other. The whistle was several
times repeated, and was heard by all on
board. Finally the captain, convinced that
something was wrong, had the lid removed
from the coffin, but the body of Yamadeva gave
no indication of life, and all save Ling Look
decided that they must have been mistaken.

Poor Ling Look, however, sobbingly said to
Kellar, ``I shall never leave Hong Kong alive.
My brother has called me to join him.'' This
prediction was fulfilled, for shortly after their
arrival in Hong Kong he underwent an operation
for a liver trouble, and died under the
knife. The brothers were buried in Happy
Valley, Hong Kong, in the year 1877.

All this was related to me at the Marlborough-
Blenheim, Atlantic City, in June, 1908,
by Kellar himself, and portions of it were
repeated in 1917 when Dean Kellar sat by me
at the Society of American Magicians' dinner.

In 1879 there appeared in England a
performer who claimed to be the original Ling
Look. He wore his make-up both on and off
the stage, and copied, so far as he could, Ling's
style of work. His fame reached this country
and the New York Clipper published, in its
Letter Columns, an article stating that Ling
Look was not dead, but was alive and working
in England. His imitator had the nerve to
stick to his story even when confronted by
Kellar, but when the latter assured him that
he had personally attended the burial of Ling,
in Hong Kong, he broke down and confessed
that he was a younger brother of the original
Ling Look.

Kellar later informed me that the resemblance
was so strong that had he not seen the
original Ling Look consigned to the earth, he
himself would have been duped into believing
that this was the man who had been with him
in Hong Kong.

The Salambos were among the first to use
electrical effects in a fire act, combining these
with the natural gas and ``human volcano''
stunts of their predecessors, so that they were
able to present an extremely spectacular
performance without having recourse to such
unpleasant features as had marred the effect of
earlier fire acts. Bueno Core, too, deserves
honorable mention for the cleanness and snap
of his act; and Del Kano should also be named
among the cleverer performers.

One of the best known of the modern fire-
eaters was Barnello, who was a good business
man as well, and kept steadily employed at
a better salary than the rank and file of his
contemporaries. He did a thriving business
in the sale of the various concoctions used in
his art, and published and sold a most complete
book of formulas and general instructions
for those interested in the craft. He had,
indeed, many irons in the fire, and he kept
them all hot.

It will perhaps surprise the present
generation to learn that the well-known circus man
Jacob Showles was once a fire-eater, and that
Del Fugo, well-known in his day as a dancer
in the music halls, began as a fire-resister, and
did his dance on hot iron plates. But the
reader has two keener surprises in store for
him before I close the long history of the heat-
resisters. The first concerns our great American
tragedian Edwin Forrest (1806-1872) who,
according to James Rees (Colley Cibber), once
essayed a fire-resisting act. Forrest was
always fond of athletics and at one time made
an engagement with the manager of a circus
to appear as a tumbler and rider. The engagement
was not fulfilled, however, as his friend
Sol Smith induced him to break it and return
to the legitimate stage. Smith afterwards
admitted to Cibber that if Forrest had remained
with the circus he would have become one of
the most daring riders and vaulters that ever
appeared in the ring.

His adventure in fire-resistance was on the
occasion of the benefit to ``Charley Young,'' on
which eventful night, as the last of his acrobatic
feats, he made a flying leap through a
barrel of red fire, singeing his hair and
eyebrows terribly. This particular leap through
fire was the big sensation of those days, and
Forrest evidently had a hankering to show his
friends that he could accomplish it--and he

The second concerns an equally popular
actor, a comedian this time, the elder Sothern
(1826-1881). On March 20, 1878, a writer in
the Chicago Inter-Ocean communicated to that
paper the following curiously descriptive article:

Is Mr. Sothern a medium?

This is the question that fifteen puzzled
investigators are asking themselves this
morning, after witnessing a number of
astounding manifestations at a private
seance given by Mr. Sothern last night.

It lacked a few minutes of 12 when a
number of Mr. Sothern's friends, who had
been given to understand that something
remarkable was to be performed, assembled
in the former's room at the Sherman
House and took seats around a marble-top
table, which was placed in the center of
the apartment. On the table were a number
of glasses, two very large bottles, and
five lemons. A sprightly young gentleman
attempted to crack a joke about spirits
being confined in bottles, but the company
frowned him down, and for once Mr.
Sothern had a sober audience to begin

There was a good deal of curiosity
regarding the object of the gathering, but
no one was able to explain. Each gentleman
testified to the fact Mr. Sothern's
agent had waited upon him, and solicited
his presence at a little exhibition to be
given by the actor, NOT of a comical nature.

Mr. Sothern himself soon after
appeared, and, after shaking hands with the
party, thus addressed them:

``Gentlemen, I have invited you here
this evening to witness a few manifestations,
demonstrations, tests, or whatever
you choose to call them, which I have
accidentally discovered that I am able to

``I am a fire-eater, as it were. (Applause).

``I used to DREAD the fire, having been
scorched once when an innocent child. (A

Mr. Sothern (severely)--``I HOPE there
will be no levity here, and I wish to say
now that demonstrations of any kind are
liable to upset me, while demonstrations
of a particular kind may upset the audience.''

Silence and decorum being restored,
Mr. Sothern thus continued:

``Thirteen weeks ago, while walking up
Greenwich Street, in New York, I stepped
into a store to buy a cigar. To show you
there is no trick about it, here are cigars
out of the same box from which I selected
the one I that day lighted.'' (Here Mr.
Sothern passed around a box of tolerable

``Well, I stepped to the little hanging
gas-jet to light it, and, having done so,
stood contemplatively holding the gas-jet
and the cigar in either hand, thinking
what a saving it would be to smoke a pipe,
when, in my absent-mindedness, I dropped
the cigar and put the gas-jet into my
mouth. Strange as it may appear, I felt
no pain, and stood there holding the thing
in my mouth and puffing till the man in
charge yelled out to me that I was swallowing
his gas. Then I looked up, and,
sure enough, there I was pulling away at
the slender flame that came from the glass

``I dropped it instantly, and felt of my
mouth, but noticed no inconvenience or
unpleasant sensation whatever.

`` `What do you mean by it?' said the

``As I didn't know what I meant by it
I couldn't answer, so I picked up my cigar
and went home. Once there I tried the
experiment again, and in doing so I found
that not only my mouth, but my hands and
face, indeed, all of my body, was proof
against fire. I called on a physician, and
he examined me, and reported nothing
wrong with my flesh, which appeared to be
in normal condition. I said nothing about
it publicly, but the fact greatly surprised
me, and I have invited you here to-night
to witness a few experiments.''

Saying this, Mr. Sothern, who had lit a
cigar while pausing in his speech, turned
the fire end into his mouth and sat down,
smoking unconcernedly.

``I suppose you wish to give us the fire-
test,'' remarked one of the company.

Mr. Sothern nodded.

There was probably never a gathering
more dumbfounded than that present in
the room. A few questions were asked,
and then five gentlemen were appointed to
examine Mr. Sothern's hands, etc., before
he began his experiments. Having
thoroughly washed the parts that he proposed
to subject to the flames, Mr. Sothern
began by burning his arm, and passing it
through the gas-jet very slowly, twice
stopping the motion and holding it still in
the flames. He then picked up a poker
with a sort of hook on the end, and proceeded
to fish a small coil of wire from the
grate. The wire came out fairly white
with the heat. Mr. Sothern took the coil
in his hands and cooly proceeded to wrap
it round his left leg to the knee. Having
done so, he stood on the table in the center
of the circle and requested the committee
to examine the wrappings and the
leg and report if both were there. The
committee did so and reported in the

While this was going on, there was a
smile, almost seraphic in its beauty, on
Mr. Sothern's face.

After this an enormous hot iron, in the
shape of a horseshoe, was placed on Mr.
Sothern's body, where it cooled, without
leaving a sign of a burn.

As a final test, a tailor's goose was put
on the coals, and, after being thoroughly
heated, was placed on Mr. Sothern's chair.
The latter lighted a fresh cigar, and then
coolly took a seat on the goose without the
least seeming inconvenience. During the
last experiment Mr. Sothern sang in an
excellent tone and voice, ``I'm Sitting on
the Stile, Mary.''

The question now is, were the fifteen
auditors of Mr. Sothern fooled and
deceived, or was this a genuine manifestation
of extraordinary power? Sothern is
such an inveterate joker that he may have
put the thing upon the boys for his own
amusement; but if so, it was one of the
nicest tricks ever witnessed by yours truly,

P. S.--What is equally marvellous to
me is that the fire didn't burn his clothes
where it touched them, any more than his
flesh. P. C.

(There is nothing new in this. Mr.
Sothern has long been known as one of the
most expert jugglers in the profession.
Some years ago he gained the soubriquet
of the ``Fire King!'' He frequently
amuses his friends by eating fire, though
he long ago ceased to give public
exhibitions. Probably the success of the
experiments last night were largely owing to the
lemons present. There is a good deal of
trickery in those same lemons.--Editor

which suggests that the editor of the Inter-
Ocean was either pretty well acquainted with
the comedian's addiction to spoofing, or else
less susceptible to superstition than certain
scientists of our generation.

The great day of the Fire-eater--or, should
I say, the day of the great Fire-eater--has
passed. No longer does fashion flock to his
doors, nor science study his wonders, and he
must now seek a following in the gaping
loiterers of the circus side-show, the pumpkin-
and-prize-pig country fair, or the tawdry
booth at Coney Island. The credulous, wonder-
loving scientist, however, still abides with
us and, while his serious-minded brothers are
wringing from Nature her jealously guarded
secrets, the knowledge of which benefits all
mankind, he gravely follows that perennial
Will-of-the-wisp, spiritism, and lays the
flattering unction to his soul that he is investigating
``psychic phenomena,'' when in reality he
is merely gazing with unseeing eyes on the
flimsy juggling of pseudo-mediums.



The yellow thread of exposure seems to be
inextricably woven into all fabrics whose
strength is secrecy, and experience proves that
it is much easier to become fireproof than to
become exposure proof. It is still an open
question, however, as to what extent exposure
really injures a performer. Exposure of the
secrets of the fire-eaters, for instance, dates
back almost to the beginning of the art itself.
The priests were exposed, Richardson was
exposed, Powell was exposed and so on down the
line; but the business continued to prosper, the
really clever performers drew quite fashionable
audiences for a long time, and it was probably
the demand for a higher form of entertainment,
resulting from a refinement of the
public taste, rather than the result of the many
exposures, that finally relegated the Fire-
eaters to the haunts of the proletariat.

How the early priests came into possession of
these secrets does not appear, and if there were
ever any records of this kind the Church would
hardly allow them to become public. That
they used practically the same system which
has been adopted by all their followers is
amply proved by the fact that after trial by
ordeal had been abolished Albertus Magnus, in
his work De Mirabilibus Mundi, at the end of
his book De Secretis Mulierum, Amstelod,
1702, made public the underlying principles of
heat-resistance; namely, the use of certain
compounds which render the exposed parts
to a more or less extent impervious to heat.
Many different formulas have been discovered
which accomplish the purpose, but the principle
remains unchanged. The formula set
down by Albertus Magnus was probably the
first ever made public: the following translation
of it is from the London Mirror:

Take juice of marshmallow, and white
of egg, flea-bane seeds, and lime; powder
them and mix juice of radish with the
white of egg; mix all thoroughly and with
this composition annoint your body or
hand and allow it to dry and afterwards
annoint it again, and after this you may
boldly take up hot iron without hurt.

``Such a paste,'' says the correspondent to
the Mirror, ``would indeed be very visible.''

Another early formula is given in the 1763
edition of Hocus Pocus. Examination of the
different editions of this book in my library
discloses the fact that there are no fire formulas
in the second edition, 1635, which is the
earliest I have (first editions are very rare and
there is only one record of a sale of that edition
at auction). From the fact that this formula
was published during the time that Powell was
appearing in England I gather that that
circumstance may account for its addition to the
book. It does not appear in the German or
Dutch editions.

The following is an exact copy:


Take half an ounce of samphire, dissolve
it in two ounces of aquaevitae, add to
it one ounce of quicksilver, one ounce of
liquid storax, which is the droppings of
Myrrh and hinders the camphire from
firing; take also two ounces of hematitus,
a red stone to be had at the druggist's, and
when you buy it let them beat it to powder
in their great mortar, for it is so very hard
that it cannot be done in a small one; put
this to the afore-mentioned composition,
and when you intend to walk on the bar
you must annoint your feet well therewith,
and you may walk over without danger:
by this you may wash your hands in boiling

This was the secret modus operandi made
use of by Richardson, the first notably successful
fire artist to appear in Europe, and it was
disclosed by his servant.[2]

[2] Such disloyalty in trusted servants is one of the most
disheartening things that can happen to a public performer.
But it must not be thought that I say this out of personal
experience: for in the many years that I have been before
the public my secret methods have been steadily shielded
by the strict integrity of my assistants, most of whom have
been with me for years. Only one man ever betrayed my
confidence, and that only in a minor matter. But then, so
far as I know, I am the only performer who ever pledged
his assistants to secrecy, honor and allegiance under a notarial

Hone's Table Book, London, 1827, page 315,
gives Richardson's method as follows:

It consisted only in rubbing the hands
and thoroughly washing the mouth, lips,
tongue, teeth and other parts which were
to touch the fire, with pure spirits of
sulphur. This burns and cauterizes the
epidermis or upper skin, till it becomes as
hard and thick as leather, and each time
the experiment is tried it becomes still
easier. But if, after it has been very often
repeated the upper skin should grow so
callous and hard as to become troublesome,
washing the parts affected with very
warm water, or hot wine, will bring away
all the shrivelled or parched epidermis.
The flesh, however, will continue tender
and unfit for such business till it has been
frequently rubbed over with the same

This preparation may be rendered much
stronger and more efficacious by mixing
equal quantities of spirit of sulphur, sal
ammoniac, essence of rosemary and juice
of onions. The bad effects which
frequently swallowing red-hot coals, melted
sealing wax, rosin, brimstone and other
calcined and inflammable matter, might
have had upon his stomach were prevented
by drinking plentifully of warm
water and oil, as soon as he left the
company, till he had vomited it all up again.

This anecdote was communicated to the
author of the Journal des Savants by Mr.
Panthot, Doctor of Physics and Member of the
College at Lyons. It appeared at the time
Powell was showing his fire-eating stunts in
London, and the correspondent naively added:

Whether Mr. Powell will take it kindly
of me thus to have published his secret I
cannot tell; but as he now begins to drop
into years, has no children that I know of
and may die suddenly, or without making
a will, I think it a great pity so genteel an
occupation should become one of the artes
perditae, as possibly it may, if proper care
is not taken, and therefore hope, after this
information, some true-hearted ENGLISHMAN
will take it up again, for the honor of
his country, when he reads in the newspapers,
``Yesterday, died, much lamented,
the famous Mr. Powell. He was the best,
if not the only, fire-eater in the world, and
it is greatly to be feared that his art is
dead with him.''

After a couple of columns more in a similar
strain, the correspondent signs himself
Philopyraphagus Ashburniensis.
In his History of Inventions, Vol. III, page
272, 1817 edition, Beckmann thus describes the

The deception of breathing out flames,
which at present excites, in a particular
manner, the astonishment of the ignorant,
is very ancient. When the slaves in Sicily,
about a century and a half before our era,
made a formidable insurrection, and
avenged themselves in a cruel manner, for
the severities which they had suffered,
there was amongst them a Syrian named
Eunus--a man of great craft and courage;
who having passed through many scenes
of life, had become acquainted with a
variety of arts. He pretended to have
immediate communication with the gods;
was the oracle and leader of his fellow-
slaves; and, as is usual on such occasions
confirmed his divine mission by miracles.
When heated by enthusiasm and desirous
of inspiring his followers with courage, he
breathed flames or sparks among them
from his mouth while he was addressing
them. We are told by historians that for
this purpose he pierced a nut shell at both
ends, and, having filled it with some burning
substance, put it into his mouth and
breathed through it. This deception, at
present, is performed much better. The
juggler rolls together some flax or hemp,
so as to form a ball about the size of a
walnut; sets it on fire; and suffers it to burn
until it is nearly consumed; he then rolls
round it, while burning, some more flax;
and by these means the fire may be
retained in it for a long time. When he
wishes to exhibit he slips the ball
unperceived into his mouth, and breathes
through it; which again revives the fire,
so that a number of weak sparks proceed
from it; and the performer sustains no
hurt, provided he inspire the air not
through the mouth, but the nostrils. By
this art the Rabbi Bar-Cocheba, in the
reign of the Emperor Hadrian, made the
credulous Jews believe that he was the
hoped-for Messiah; and two centuries
after, the Emperor Constantius was
thrown into great terror when Valentinian
informed him that he had seen one
of the body-guards breathing out fire and
flames in the evening.

Since Beckmann wrote, the method of
producing smoke and sparks from the mouth has
been still further improved. The fire can now
be produced in various ways. One way is by
the use of a piece of thick cotton string which
has been soaked in a solution of nitre and then
thoroughly dried. This string, when once
lighted, burns very slowly and a piece one inch
long is sufficient for the purpose. Some performers
prefer a small piece of punk, as it requires
no preparation. Still others use tinder
made by burning linen rags, as our forefathers
used to do. This will not flame, but merely
smoulders until the breath blows it into a glow.
The tinder is made by charring linen rags, that
is, burning them to a crisp, but stopping the
combustion before they are reduced to ashes.

Flames from the lips may be produced by
holding in the mouth a sponge saturated with
the purest gasoline. When the breath is
exhaled sharply it can be lighted from a torch
or a candle. Closing the lips firmly will
extinguish the flame. A wad of oakum will give
better results than the sponge.

Natural gas is produced as simply. A T-shaped
gas pipe has three or four gas tips on
the cross-piece. The long end is placed in the
mouth, which already holds concealed a
sponge, or preferably a ball of oakum, saturated
with pure gasoline. Blowing through
the pipe will force the gas through the tips,
where it can be ignited with a match. It will
burn as long as the breath lasts.

In a London periodical, The Terrific Record,
appears a reprint from the Mercure de France,
giving an account of experiments in Naples
which led to the discovery of the means by
which jugglers have appeared to be incombustible.
They first gradually habituate the skin,
the mouth, throat and stomach to great degrees
of heat, then they rub the skin with hard soap.
The tongue is also covered with hard soap and
over that a layer of powdered sugar. By this
means an investigating professor was enabled
to reproduce the wonders which had puzzled
many scientists.

The investigating professor in all probability,
was Professor Sementini, who experimented
with Lionetto. I find an account of
Sementini's discoveries in an old newspaper
clipping, the name and date of which have
unfortunately been lost:

Sementini's efforts, after performing
several experiments upon himself, were
finally crowned with success. He found
that by friction with sulphuric acid
deluted with water, the skin might be made
insensible to the action of the heat of red-
hot iron; a solution of alum, evaporated
till it became spongy, appeared to be more
effectual in these frictions. After having
rubbed the parts which were thus rendered
in some degree insensible, with hard
soap, he discovered, on the application of
hot iron, that their insensibility was
increased. He then determined on again
rubbing the parts with soap, and after
that found that the hot iron not only
occasioned no pain but that it actually did
not burn the hair.

Being thus far satisfied, the Professor
applied hard soap to his tongue until it
became insensible to the heat of the iron;
and having placed an ointment composed
of soap mixed with a solution of alum
upon it, burning oil did not burn it; while
the oil remained on the tongue a slight
hissing was heard, similar to that of hot
iron when thrust into water; the oil soon
cooled and might then be swallowed without

Several scientific men have since
repeated the experiments of Professor
Sementini, but we would not recommend
any except professionals to try the experiments.

Liquid storax is now used to anoint the
tongue when red-hot irons are to be placed
in the mouth. It is claimed that with this
alone a red-hot poker can be licked until it
is cold.

Another formula is given by Griffin, as
follows: 1 bar ivory soap, cut fine, 1
pound of brown sugar, 2 ounces liquid
storax (not the gum). Dissolve in hot
water and add a wine-glassful of carbolic
acid. This is rubbed on all parts liable
to come in contact with the hot articles.
After anointing the mouth with this solution
rinse with strong vinegar.

No performer should attempt to bite off red-
hot iron unless he has a good set of teeth. A
piece of hoop iron may be prepared by bending
it back and forth at a point about one inch
from the end, until the fragment is nearly
broken off, or by cutting nearly through it
with a cold chisel. When the iron has been
heated red-hot, the prepared end is taken
between the teeth, a couple of bends will
complete the break. The piece which drops from
the teeth into a dish of water will make a puff
of steam and a hissing sound, which will
demonstrate that it is still very hot.

The mystery of the burning cage, in which
the Fire King remains while a steak is thoroughly
cooked, is explained by Barnello as follows:

Have a large iron cage constructed
about 4 x 6 feet, the bottom made of heavy
sheet iron. The cage should stand on iron
legs or horses. Wrap each of the bars of
the cage with cotton batting saturated
with oil. Now take a raw beefsteak in
your hand and enter the cage, which is now
set on fire. Remain in the cage until the
fire has burned out, then issue from the
cage with the steak burned to a crisp.

Explanation: On entering the cage the
performer places the steak on a large iron
hook which is fastened in one of the upper
corners. The dress worn is of asbestos
cloth with a hood that completely covers
the head and neck. There is a small hole
over the mouth through which he breathes.

As soon as the fire starts the smoke and
flames completely hide the performer
from the spectators, and he immediately
lies down on the bottom of the cage, placing
the mouth over one of the small air
holes in the floor of the same.

Heat always goes up and will soon cook
the steak.

I deduce from the above that the performer
arises and recovers the steak when the fire
slackens but while there is still sufficient flame
and smoke to mask his action.

It is obvious that the above explanation
covers the baker's oven mystery as well. In
the case of the oven, however, the inmate is
concealed from start to finish, and this gives
him much greater latitude for his actions. M.
Chabert made the oven the big feature of his
programme and succeeded in puzzling many of
the best informed scientists of his day.

Eating coals of fire has always been one of
the sensational feats of the Fire Kings, as it
is quite generally known that charcoal burns
with an extremely intense heat. This fervent
lunch, however, like many of the feasts of the
Fire Kings, is produced by trick methods.
Mixed with the charcoal in the brazier are a
few coals of soft white pine, which when burnt
look exactly like charcoal. These will not burn
the mouth as charcoal will. They should be
picked up with a fork which will penetrate the
pine coals, but not the charcoal, the latter
being brittle.

Another method of eating burning coals
employs small balls of burned cotton in a dish of
burning alcohol. When lifted on the fork
these have the appearance of charcoal, but are
harmless if the mouth be immediately closed,
so that the flame is extinguished.

In all feats of fire-eating it should be noted
that the head is thrown well back, so that the
flame may pass out of the open mouth instead
of up into the roof, as it would if the head were
held naturally.

To drink burning oil set fire to a small
quantity of kerosene in a ladle. Into this dip an
iron spoon and bring it up to all appearance,
filled with burning oil, though in reality the
spoon is merely wet with the oil. It is carried
blazing to the mouth, where it is tipped, as if to
pour the oil into the mouth, just as a puff of
breath blows out all the flame. The process is
continued until all the oil in the ladle has been
consumed; then the ladle is turned bottom up,
in order to show that all the oil has been drunk.
A method of drinking what seems to be
molten lead is given in the Chambers' Book of
Days, 1863, Vol. II, page 278:

The performer taking an iron spoon,
holds it up to the spectators, to show that
it is empty; then, dipping it into a pot
containing melted lead, he again shows it
to the spectators full of the molten metal;
then, after putting the spoon in his mouth,
he once more shows it to be empty; and
after compressing his lips, with a look
expressive of pain, he, in a few moments,
ejects from his mouth a piece of lead
impressed with the exact form of his teeth.
Ask a spectator what he saw, and he will
say that the performer took a spoonful of
molten lead, placed it in his mouth, and
soon afterwards showed it in a solid state,
bearing the exact form and impression of
his teeth. If deception be insinuated, the
spectator will say. ``No! Having the
evidence of my senses, I cannot be
deceived; if it had been a matter of opinion
I might, but seeing, you know, is believing.''
Now the piece of lead, cast from a
plaster mould of the performer's teeth,
has probably officiated in a thousand
previous performances, and is placed in the
mouth between the gum and the cheek,
just before the trick commences. The
spoon is made with a hollow handle
containing quicksilver, which, by a simple
motion, can be let run into the bowl, or
back again into the handle at will.

The spoon is first shown with the quicksilver
concealed in the handle, the bowl is
then dipped just within the rim of the pot
containing the molten lead, but not into
the lead itself, and, at the same instant the
quicksilver is allowed to run into the bowl.
The spoon is then shown with the quicksilver
(which the audience takes to be the
melted lead) in the bowl, and when placed
in the mouth, the quicksilver is again
allowed to run into the handle.

The performer, in fact, takes a spoonful
of nothing, and soon after exhibits the
lead bearing the impression of the teeth.

Molten lead, for fire-eating purposes, is
made as follows:

Bismuth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 oz.
Lead. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 oz.
Block tin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 oz.

Melt these together. When the metal has
cooled, a piece the size of a silver quarter can
be melted and taken into the mouth and held
there until it hardens. This alloy will melt in
boiling water. Robert-Houdin calls it Arcet's
metal, but I cannot find the name elsewhere.

The eating of burning brimstone is an
entirely fake performance. A number of small
pieces of brimstone are shown, and then
wrapped in cotton which has been saturated
with a half-and-half mixture of kerosene and
gasoline, the surplus oil having been squeezed
out so there shall be NO DRIP. When these are
lighted they may be held in the palm of any
hand which has been anointed with one of the
fire mixtures described in this chapter. Then
throw back the head, place the burning ball in
the mouth, and a freshly extinguished candle
can be lighted from the flame. Close the lips
firmly, which will extinguish the flame, then
chew and pretend to swallow the brimstone,
which can afterwards be removed under cover
of a handkerchief.

Observe that the brimstone has not been
burned at all, and that the cotton protects the
teeth. To add to the effect, a small piece of
brimstone may be dropped into the furnace, a
very small piece will suffice to convince all that
it is the genuine article that is being eaten.

To cause the face to appear in a mass of
flame make use of the following: mix together
thoroughly petroleum, lard, mutton tallow and
quick lime. Distill this over a charcoal fire,
and the liquid which results can be burned on
the face without harm.[3]

[3] Barnello's Red Demon.

To set paper on fire by blowing upon it,
small pieces of wet phosphorus are taken into
the mouth, and a sheet of tissue paper is held
about a foot from the lips. While the paper
is being blown upon the phosphorus is ejected
on it, although this passes unnoticed by the
spectators, and as soon as the continued blowing
has dried the phosphorus it will ignite the

Drinking boiling liquor is accomplished by
using a cup with a false bottom, under which
the liquor is retained.

A solution of spermaceti in sulphuric ether
tinged with alkanet root, which solidifies at
50 degrees F., and melts and boils with the heat of
the hand, is described in Beckmann's History
of Inventions, Vol. II., page 121.

Dennison's No. 2 sealing wax may be melted
in the flame of a candle and, while still blazing,
dropped upon the tongue without causing a
burn, as the moisture of the tongue instantly
cools it. Care must be used, however, that
none touches the hands or lips. It can be
chewed, and apparently swallowed, but removed
in the handkerchief while wiping the

The above is the method practiced by all the
Fire-Eaters, and absolutely no preparation is
necessary except that the tongue must be well
moistened with saliva.

Barnello once said, ``A person wishing to
become a Fire-Eater must make up his or her
mind to suffer a little at first from burns, as
there is no one who works at the business but
that gets burns either from carelessness or
from accident.''

This is verified by the following, which I
clip from the London Globe of August 11th,

Accident to a Fire-Eater. A correspondent
telegraphs: A terrible scene was
witnessed in the market place, Leighton
Buzzard, yesterday. A travelling Negro
fire eater was performing on a stand,
licking red-hot iron, bending heated pokers
with his naked foot, burning tow in his
mouth, and the like. At last he filled his
mouth with benzolene, saying that he
would burn it as he allowed it to escape.
He had no sooner applied a lighted match
to his lips than the whole mouthful of spirit
took fire and before it was consumed the
man was burned in a frightful manner,
the blazing spirit running all over his
face, neck and chest as he dashed from his
stand and raced about like a madman
among the assembled crowd, tearing his
clothing from him and howling in most
intense agony. A portion of the spirit was
swallowed and the inside of his mouth was
also terribly burnt. He was taken into a
chemist's shop and oils were administered
and applied, but afterwards in agonizing
frenzy he escaped in a state almost of
nudity from a lodging house and was captured
by the police and taken to the work-
house infirmary, where he remains in a
dreadful condition.

REMEMBER! Always have a large blanket at
hand to smother flames in burning clothing--
also a bucket of water and a quantity of sand.
A siphon of carbonic water is an excellent fire

The gas of gasoline is heavier than air, so
a container should never be held ABOVE a flame.
Keep kerosene and gasoline containers well
corked and at a distance from fire.

Never inhale breath while performing with

So much for the entertaining side of the art.
There are, however, some further scientific
principles so interesting that I reserve them
for another chapter.



The spheroidal condition of liquids was
discovered by Leidenfrost, but M. Boutigny
was the first to give this singular subject careful
investigation. From time out of mind the test
of letting a drop of water fall on the face of
a hot flat-iron has been employed to discover
whether it may safely be used. Everybody
knows that if it is not too hot the water will
spread over the surface and evaporate; but if
it is too hot, the water will glance off without
wetting the iron, and if this drop be allowed
to fall on the hand it will be found that it is
still cool. The fact is that the water never
touches the hot iron at all, provided the heat
is sufficiently intense, but assumes a slightly
elliptical shape and is supported by a cushion
of vapor. If, instead of a flat-iron, we use a
concave metal disk about the size and shape
of a watch crystal, some very interesting results
may be obtained. If the temperature of
the disk is at, or slightly above, the boiling
point, water dropped on it from a medicine
dropper will boil; but if the disk is heated to
340 degrees F., the drop practically retains its
roundness--becoming only slightly oblate--and does
not boil. In fact the temperature never rises
above 206 degrees F., since the vapor is so rapidly
evaporated from the surface of the drop that
it forms the cushion just mentioned. By a
careful manipulation of the dropper, the disk
may be filled with water which, notwithstanding
the intense heat, never reaches the boiling
point. On the other hand, if boiling water be
dropped on the superheated disk its temperature
will immediately be REDUCED to six degrees
below the boiling point; thus the hot
metal really cools the water.

By taking advantage of the fact that different
liquids assume a spheroidal form at
widely different temperatures, one may obtain
some startling results. For example, liquid
sulphurous acid is so volatile as to have a
temperature of only 13 degrees F. when in that state,
or 19 degrees below the freezing point of water, so
that if a little water be dropped into the acid,
it will immediately freeze and the pellet of
ice may be dropped into the hand from the
still red-hot disk. Even mercury can be frozen
in this way by a combination of chemicals.

Through the action of this principle it is
possible to dip the hand for a short time into
melted lead, or even into melted copper, the
moisture of the skin supplying a vapor which
prevents direct contact with the molten metal;
no more than an endurable degree of heat
reaches the hand while the moisture lasts,
although the temperature of the fusing copper
is 1996 degrees. The natural moisture of the hand
is usually sufficient for this result, but it is
better to wipe the hand with a damp towel.

In David A. Wells' Things not Generally
Known, New York, 1857, I find a translation
of an article by M. Boutigny in The Comptes
Rendus, in which he notes that ``the portion
of the hands which are not immersed in the
fused metal, but are exposed to the action of
the heat radiated from its surface, experience
a painful sensation of heat.'' He adds that
when the hand was dampened with ether
``there was no sensation of heat, but, on the
contrary, an agreeable feeling of coolness.''

Beckmann, in his History of Inventions,
Vol. II., page 122, says:

In the month of September, 1765, when
I visited the copper works at Awested,
one of the workmen, for a little drink
money, took some of the melted copper in
his hand, and after showing it to us, threw
it against the wall. He then squeezed the
fingers of his horny hand close together,
put it for a few minutes under his armpit,
to make it sweat, as he said; and, taking
it again out, drew it over a ladle filled with
melted copper, some of which he skimmed
off, and moved his hand backwards and
forwards, very quickly, by way of ostentation.

While I was viewing this performance,
I remarked a smell like that of singed
horn or leather, though his hand was not

The workmen at the Swedish melting-
house showed the same thing to some
travellers in the seventeenth century; for
Regnard saw it in 1681, at the copper-
works in Lapland.

My friend Quincy Kilby, of Brookline,
Mass., saw the same stunt performed by workmen
at the Meridan Brittania Company's
plant. They told him that if the hand had
been wet it would have been badly scalded.

Thus far our interest in heat-resistance has
uncovered secrets of no very great practical
value, however entertaining the uses to which
we have seen them put. But not all the
investigation of these principles has been dictated
by considerations of curiosity and entertainment.
As long ago as 1829, for instance,
an English newspaper printed the following:

Proof against Fire--On Tuesday week
an experiment was made in presence of
a Committee of the Academy of Sciences
at Paris, by M. Aldini, for the purpose of
showing that he can secure the body
against the action of flames so as to enable
firemen to carry on their operations with
safety. His experiment is stated to have
given satisfaction. The pompiers were
clothed in asbestos, over which was a network
of iron. Some of them, it was stated,
who wore double gloves of amianthus, held
a red-hot bar during four minutes.

Sir David Brewster, in his Letters on
Natural Magic, page 305, gives a more detailed
account of Aldini, from which the natural
deduction is that the Chevalier was a showman
with an intellect fully up to the demands of
his art. Sir David says:

In our own times the art of defending
the hands and face, and indeed the whole
body, from the action of heated iron and
intense fire, has been applied to the nobler
purpose of saving human life, and rescuing
property from the flames. The revival
and the improvement of this art we owe
to the benevolence and the ingenuity of
the Chevalier Aldini of Milan, who has
travelled through all Europe to present
this valuable gift to his species. Sir H.
Davy had long ago shown that a safety
lamp for illuminating mines, containing
inflammable air, might be constructed of
wire-gauze, alone, which prevented the
flame within, however large or intense,
from setting fire to the inflammable air
without. This valuable property, which
has been long in practical use, he ascribed
to the conducting and radiating power of
the wire-gauze, which carried off the heat
of the flame, and deprived it of its power.
The Chevalier Aldini conceived the idea of
applying the same material, in combination
with other badly conducting substances,
as a protection against fire. The
incombustible pieces of dress which he
uses for the body, arms, and legs, are
formed out of strong cloth, which has been
steeped in a solution of alum, while those
for the head, hands, and feet, are made
of cloth of asbestos or amianthus. The
head dress is a large cap which envelops
the whole head down to the neck, having
suitable perforations for the eyes, nose,
and mouth. The stockings and cap are
single, but the gloves are made of double
amianthus cloth, to enable the fireman to
take into his hand burning or red-hot
bodies. The piece of ancient asbestos
cloth preserved in the Vatican was formed,
we believe, by mixing the asbestos with
other fibrous substances; but M. Aldini
has executed a piece of nearly the same
size, 9 feet 5 inches long, and 5 feet
3 inches wide, which is much stronger
than the ancient piece, and possesses
superior qualities, in consequence of
having been woven without the introduction
of any foreign substance. In this
manufacture the fibers are prevented
from breaking by action of steam, the
cloth is made loose in its fabric, and the
threads are about the fiftieth of an inch
in diameter.

The metallic dress which is superadded
to these means of defence consists of five
principal pieces, viz., a casque or cap, with
a mask large enough to leave a proper
space between it and the asbestos cap; a
cuirass with its brassets; a piece of armour
for the trunk and thighs; a pair of boots
of double wire-gauze; and an oval shield
5 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide, made by
stretching the wire-gauze over a slender
frame of iron. All these pieces are made
of iron wire-gauze, having the interval
between its threads the twenty-fifth part of
an inch.

In order to prove the efficacy of this
apparatus, and inspire the firemen with
confidence in its protection, he showed
them that a finger first enveloped in
asbestos, and then in a double case of wire-
gauze, might be held a long time in the
flame of a spirit-lamp or candle before the
heat became inconvenient. A fireman having
his hand within a double asbestos
glove, and its palm protected by a piece of
asbestos cloth, seized with impunity a
large piece of red hot iron, carried it
deliberately to the distance of 150 feet,
inflamed straw with it, and brought it back
again to the furnace. On other occasions
the fireman handled blazing wood and
burning substances, and walked during
five minutes upon an iron grating placed
over flaming fagots.

In order to show how the head, eyes, and
lungs are protected, the fireman put on
the asbestos and wire-gauze cap, and the
cuirass, and held the shield before his
breast. A fire of shavings was then lighted,
and kept burning in a large raised chafing-
dish; the fireman plunged his head into the
middle of the flames with his face to the
fuel, and in that position went several
times round the chafing-dish for a period
longer than a minute. In a subsequent
trial, at Paris, a fireman placed his head
in the middle of a large brazier filled with
flaming hay and wood, and resisted the
action of the fire during five or six
minutes and even ten minutes.

In the experiments which were made at
Paris in the presence of a committee of
the Academy of Sciences, two parallel
rows of straw and brushwood supported
by iron wires, were formed at the
distance of 3 feet from each other, and
extended 30 feet in length. When this
combustible mass was set on fire, it was
necessary to stand at a distance of 8
or 10 yards to avoid the heat. The flames
from both the rows seemed to fill up the
whole space between them, and rose to
the height of 9 or 10 feet. At this moment
six firemen, clothed in the incombustible
dresses, and marching at a slow
pace behind each other, repeatedly passed
through the whole length between the two
rows of flame, which were constantly fed
with additional combustibles. One of the
firemen carried on his back a child eight
years old, in a wicker-basket covered with
metallic gauze, and the child had no other
dress than a cap made of amianthine cloth.

In February, 1829, a still more striking
experiment was made in the yard of the
barracks of St. Gervais. Two towers were
erected two stories high, and were
surrounded with heaps of inflamed materials
consisting of fagots and straw. The firemen
braved the danger with impunity. In
opposition to the advice of M. Aldini, one
of them, with the basket and child, rushed
into a narrow place, where the flames were
raging 8 yards high. The violence of
the fire was so great that he could not be
seen, while a thick black smoke spread
around, throwing out a heat which was
unsupportable by spectators. The fireman
remained so long invisible that serious
doubts were entertained of his safety. He
at length, however, issued from the fiery
gulf uninjured, and proud of having succeeded
in braving so great a danger.

It is a remarkable result of these
experiments, that the firemen are able to
breathe without difficulty in the middle of
the flames. This effect is owing not only
to the heat being intercepted by the wire-
gauze as it passes to the lungs, in consequence
of which its temperature becomes
supportable, but also to the singular power
which the body possesses of resisting great
heats, and of breathing air of high temperatures.

A series of curious experiments were
made on this subject by M. Tillet, in
France, and by Dr. Fordyce and Sir
Charles Blagden, in England. Sir Joseph
Banks, Dr. Solander, and Sir Charles
Blagden entered a room in which the air
had a temperature of 198 degrees Fahr., and
remained ten minutes; but as the thermometer
sunk very rapidly, they resolved to
enter the room singly. Dr. Solander went
in alone and found the heat 210 degrees, and Sir
Joseph entered when the heat was 211 degrees.
Though exposed to such an elevated
temperature, their bodies preserved their
natural degree of heat. Whenever they
breathed upon a thermometer it sunk
several degrees; every expiration, particularly
if strongly made, gave a pleasant
impression of coolness to their nostrils,
and their cold breath cooled their fingers
whenever it reached them. On touching
his side, Sir Charles Blagden found it cold
like a corpse, and yet the heat of his body
under his tongue was 98 degrees. Hence they
concluded that the human body possesses the
power of destroying a certain degree of
heat when communicated with a certain
degree of quickness. This power, however,
varies greatly in different media.
The same person who experienced no
inconvenience from air heated to 211 degrees, could
just bear rectified spirits of wine at 130 degrees,
cooling oil at 129 degrees, cooling water at 123 degrees,
and cooling quicksilver at 118 degrees. A familiar
instance of this occurred in the heated
room. All the pieces of metal there, even
their watch-chains, felt so hot that they
could scarcely bear to touch them for a
moment, while the air from which the
metal had derived all its heat was only
unpleasant. M. Duhamel and Tillet
observed, at Rochefoucault in France, that
the girls who were accustomed to attend
ovens in a bakehouse, were capable of
enduring for ten minutes a temperature of
270 degrees.

The same gentleman who performed the
experiments above described ventured to
expose themselves to still higher
temperatures. Sir Charles Blagden went into a
room where the heat was 1 degree or 2 degrees above
260 degrees, and remained eight minutes in this
situation, frequently walking about to all
the different parts of the room, but standing
still most of the time in the coolest spot,
where the heat was above 240 degrees. The air,
though very hot, gave no pain, and Sir
Charles and all the other gentlemen were
of opinion that they could support a much
greater heat. During seven minutes Sir
C. Blagden's breathing continued perfectly
good, but after that time he felt an
oppression in his lungs, with a sense of
anxiety, which induced him to leave the
room. His pulse was then 144, double its
ordinary quickness. In order to prove
that there was no mistake respecting the
degree of heat indicated by the thermometer,
and that the air which they breathed
was capable of producing all the well-
known effects of such a heat on inanimate
matter, they placed some eggs and a beef-
steak upon a tin frame near the thermometer,
but more distant from the furnace
than from the wall of the room. In the
space of twenty minutes the eggs were
roasted quite hard, and in forty-seven
minutes the steak was not only dressed,
but almost dry. Another beef-steak,
similarly placed, was rather overdone in
thirty-three minutes. In the evening,
when the heat was still more elevated, a
third beef-steak was laid in the same
place, and as they had noticed that the
effect of the hot air was greatly increased
by putting it in motion, they blew upon
the steak with a pair of bellows, and thus
hastened the dressing of it to such a degree,
that the greatest portion of it was
found to be pretty well done in thirteen

Our distinguished countryman, Sir F.
Chantrey, has very recently exposed himself
to a temperature still higher than any
which we have mentioned. The furnace
which he employs for drying his moulds
is about 14 feet long, 12 feet high, and
12 feet broad. When it is raised to its
highest temperature, with the doors closed,
the thermometer stands at 350 degrees, and the
iron floor is red hot. The workmen often
enter it at a temperature of 340 degrees, walking
over the iron floor with wooden clogs,
which are of course charred on the surface.
On one occasion Sir F. Chantrey,
accompanied by five or six of his friends,
entered the furnace, and, after remaining
two minutes, they brought out a thermometer
which stood at 320 degrees. Some of the
party experienced sharp pains in the tips
of their ears, and in the septum of the
nose, while others felt a pain in their eyes.



It has sometimes been noted in the foregoing
pages, that fire-eaters, finding it difficult
to invent new effects in their own sphere,
have strayed into other fields of endeavor in
order to amplify their programmes. Thus we
find them resorting to the allied arts of poison-
eating, sword-swallowing and the stunts of the
so-called Human Ostrich.

In this connection I consider it not out of
place for me to include a description of a number
of those who have, either through unusual
gifts of nature or through clever artifice,
seemingly submitted to tests which we have been
taught to believe were far and away beyond
the outposts of human endurance. By the
introduction of these thrills each notable
newcomer has endeavored to go his predecessors
one better, and the issue of challenges to all
comers to match these startling effects has
been by no means infrequent, but I fail to
discover a single acceptance of such a challenge.

To accomplish the sword-swallowing feat,
it is only necessary to overcome the nausea
that results from the metal's touching the
mucous membrane of the pharynx, for there
is an unobstructed passage, large enough to
accommodate several of the thin blades used,
from the mouth to the bottom of the stomach.
This passage is not straight, but the passing
of the sword straightens it. Some throats are
more sensitive than others, but practice will
soon accustom any throat to the passage of
the blade. When a sword with a sharp point
is used the performer secretly slips a rubber
cap over the point to guard against accident.

It is said that the medical fraternity first
learned of the possibility of overcoming the
sensitiveness of the pharynx by investigating
the methods of the sword-swallowers.

Cliquot, who was one of the most prominent
sword-swallowers of his time, finally ``reformed''
and is now a music hall agent in England.
The Strand Magazine (1896) has this
to say of Cliquot and his art:

The Chevalier Cliquot (these fellows
MUST have titles) in the act of swallowing
the major part of a cavalry sword 22
inches long.

Cliquot, whose name suggests the
swallowing of something much more grateful
and comforting than steel swords, is a
French Canadian by birth, and has been
the admitted chief in his profession for
more than 18 years. He ran away from
his home in Quebec at an early age, and
joined a travelling circus bound for South
America. On seeing an arrant old humbug
swallow a small machete, in Buenos
Ayres, the boy took a fancy to the
performance, and approached the old humbug
aforesaid with the view of being
taught the business. Not having any
money, however, wherewith to pay the
necessary premium, the overtures of the
would-be apprentice were repulsed; whereupon
he set about experimenting with his
own aesophagus with a piece of silver wire.

To say the preliminary training for this
sort of thing is painful, is to state the
fact most moderately; and even when stern
purpose has triumphed over the laws of
anatomy, terrible danger still remains.

On one occasion having swallowed a
sword, and then bent his body in different
directions, as an adventurous sensation,
Cliquot found that the weapon also had
bent to a sharp angle; and quick as
thought, realizing his own position as well
as that of the sword, he whipped it out,
tearing his throat in a dreadful manner.
Plainly, had the upper part of the weapon
become detached, the sword swallower's
career must infallibly have come to an
untimely end. Again, in New York, when
swallowing 14 nine-inch bayonet swords
at once, Cliquot had the misfortune to
have a too sceptical audience, one of whom,
a medical man who ought to have known
better, rushed forward and impulsively
dragged out the whole bunch, inflicting
such injuries upon this peculiar entertainer
as to endanger his life, and incapacitate
him for months.

In one of his acts Cliquot swallows a
real bayonet sword, weighted with a cross-
bar, and two 18-lb. dumb bells. In order
to vary this performance, the sword-swallower
allows only a part of the weapon to
pass into his body, the remainder being
``kicked'' down by the recoil of a rifle,
which is fixed to a spike in the centre of
the bar, and fired by the performer's

The last act in this extraordinary
performance is the swallowing of a gold
watch. As a rule, Cliquot borrows one,
but as no timepiece was forthcoming at
the private exhibition where I saw him, he
proceeded to lower his own big chronometer
into his aesophagus by a slender
gold chain. Many of the most eminent
physicians and surgeons in this country
immediately rushed forward with various
instruments, and the privileged few took
turns in listening for the ticking of the
watch inside the performer's body.
``Poor, outraged nature is biding her
time,'' remarked one physician, ``but
mark me, she will have a terrible revenge
sooner or later!''

Eaters of glass, tacks, pebbles, and like
objects, actually swallow these seemingly
impossible things, and disgorge them after the
performance is over. That the disgorging is not
always successful is evidenced by the hospital
records of many surgical operations on performers
of this class, when quantities of solid
matter are found lodged in the stomach.

Delno Fritz was not only an excellent sword-
swallower, but a good showman as well. The
last time I saw him he was working the ``halls''
in England. I hope he saved his money, for
he was a clean man with a clean reputation,
and, I can truly say, he was a master in his
manner of indulging his appetite for the cold

Deodota, an Italian Magician, was also a
sword-swallower of more than average ability.
He succumbed to the lure of commercialism
finally, and is now in the jewelry business in
the ``down-town district'' of New York City.

Sword-swallowing may be harmlessly
imitated by the use of a fake sword with a
telescopic blade, which slides into the handle.
Vosin, the Paris manufacturer of magical
apparatus, made swords of this type, but they
were generally used in theatrical enchantment

scenes, and it is very doubtful if they were
ever used by professional swallowers.

It is quite probable that the swords now most
generally used by the profession, which are
cut from one piece of metal-handle and all--
were introduced to show that they were free
from any telescoping device. Swords of this
type are quite thin, less than one-eighth of an
inch thick, and four or five of them can be
swallowed at once. Slowly withdrawing them
one at a time, and throwing them on the stage
in different directions, makes an effective

A small, but strong, electric light bulb
attached to the end of a cane, is a very effective
piece of apparatus for sword swallowers, as,
on a darkened stage, the passage of the light
down the throat and into the stomach can be
plainly seen by the audience. The medical
profession now make use of this idea.

By apparently swallowing sharp razors, a
dime-museum performer, whose name I do not
recall, gave a variation to the sword-swallowing
stunt. This was in the later days, and
the act was partly fake and partly genuine.
That is to say, the swallowing was fair enough,
but the sharp razors, after being tested by
cutting hairs, etc., were exchanged for dull
duplicates, in a manner that, in better hands,
might have been effective. This chap belonged
to the great army of unconscious exposers, and
the ``switch'' was quite apparent to all save
the most careless observers.

His apparatus consisted of a fancy rack on
which three sharp razors were displayed, and
a large bandanna handkerchief, in which there
were several pockets of the size to hold a razor,
the three dull razors being loaded in this. After
testing the edge of the sharp razors, he pretended
to wipe them, one by one, with the handkerchief,
and under cover of this he made the
``switch'' for the dull ones, which he proceeded
to swallow in the orthodox fashion. His work
was crude, and the crowd was inclined to poke
fun at him.

I have seen one of these performers on the
street, in London, swallow a borrowed
umbrella, after carefully wiping the ferrule, and
then return it to its owner only slightly dampened
from its unusual journey. A borrowed
watch was swallowed by the same performer,
and while one end of the chain hung from the
lips, the incredulous onlookers were invited to
place their ears against his chest and listen
to the ticking of the watch, which had passed
as far into the aesophagus as the chain would

The following anecdote from the Carlisle
Journal, shows that playing with sword-swallowing
is about as dangerous as playing with


On Monday evening last, a man named
William Dempster, a juggler of inferior
dexterity while exhibiting his tricks in a
public house in Botchergate, kept by a person
named Purdy, actually accomplished
the sad reality of one of those feats, with the
semblance only of which he intended to
amuse his audience. Having introduced
into his throat a common table knife which
he was intending to swallow, he accidentally
slipped his hold, and the knife passed
into his stomach. An alarm was immediately
given, and surgical aid procured,
but the knife had passed beyond the reach
of instruments, and now remains in his
stomach. He has since been attended by
most of the medical gentlemen of this
city; and we understand that no very
alarming symptoms have yet appeared,
and that it is possible he may exist a
considerable time, even in this awkward state.
His sufferings at first were very severe,
but he is now, when not in motion,
comparatively easy. The knife is 9 1/2 inches
long, 1 inch broad in the blade, round
pointed, and a handle of bone, and may
generally be distinctly felt by applying
the finger to the unfortunate man's belly;
but occasionally, however, from change of
its situation it is not perceptible. A brief
notice of the analogous case of John
Cumming, an American sailor, may not be
unacceptable to our readers. About the year
1799 he, in imitation of some jugglers
whose exhibition he had then witnessed, in
an hour of intoxication, swallowed four
clasp knives such as sailors commonly use;
all of which passed from him in a few days
without much inconvenience. Six years
afterward, he swallowed FOURTEEN knives
of different sizes; by these, however, he
was much disordered, but recovered; and
again, in a paroxysm of intoxication, he
actually swallowed SEVENTEEN, of the
effects of which he died in March, 1809.
On dissection, fourteen knife blades were
found remaining in his stomach, and the
back spring of one penetrating through
the bowel, seemed the immediate cause of
his death.

Several women have adopted the profession
of sword-swallowing, and some have won much
more than a passing fame. Notable among
these is Mlle. Edith Clifford, who is, perhaps,
the most generously endowed. Possessed of
more than ordinary personal charms, a refined
taste for dressing both herself and her stage,
and an unswerving devotion to her art, she
has perfected an act that has found favor even
in the Royal Courts of Europe.

Mlle. Clifford was born in London in 1884
and began swallowing the blades when only
15 years of age. During the foreign tour of
the Barnum & Bailey show she joined that
Organization in Vienna, 1901, and remained
with it for five years, and now, after eighteen
years of service, she stands well up among the
stars. She has swallowed a 26-inch blade, but
the physicians advise her not to indulge her
appetite for such luxuries often, as it is quite
dangerous. Blades of 18 or 20 inches give her
no trouble whatever.

In the spring of 1919 I visited the Ringling
Bros., and the Barnum & Bailey Show especially
to witness Mlle. Clifford's act. In addition
to swallowing the customary swords
and sabers she introduced such novelties as a
specially constructed razor, with a blade five
or six times the usual length, a pair of scissors
of unusual size, a saw which is 2 1/2 inches wide
at the broadest point, with ugly looking teeth,
although somewhat rounded at the points, and
several other items quite unknown to the bill-
of-fare of ordinary mortals. A set of ten thin
blades slip easily down her throat and are
removed one at a time.

The sensation of her act is reached when the
point of a bayonet, 23 1/2 inches long, fastened
to the breech of a cannon, is placed in her
mouth and the piece discharged; the recoil
driving the bayonet suddenly down her throat.
The gun is loaded with a 10 gauge cannon

Mlle. Clifford's handsomely arranged stage
occupied the place of honor in the section devoted
to freaks and specialties.

Cliquot told me that Delno Fritz was his
pupil, and Mlle. Clifford claims to be a pupil
of Fritz.

Deserving of honorable mention also is a
native of Berlin, who bills herself as Victorina.
This lady is able to swallow a dozen sharp-
bladed swords at once. Of Victorina, the Boston
Herald of December 28th, 1902, said:

By long practice she has accustomed
herself to swallow swords, daggers, bayonets,
walking sticks, rods, and other dangerous

Her throat and food passages have
become so expansive that she can swallow
three long swords almost up to the hilts,
and can accommodate a dozen shorter

This woman is enabled to bend a blade
after swallowing it. By moving her head
back and forth she may even twist instruments
in her throat. To bend the body
after one has swallowed a sword is a
dangerous feat, even for a professional
swallower. There is a possibility of severing
some of the ligaments of the throat or else
large arteries or veins. Victorina has
already had several narrow escapes.

On one occasion, while sword-swallowing
before a Boston audience, a sword
pierced a vein in her throat. The blade
was half-way down, but instead of immediately
drawing it forth, she thrust it
farther. She was laid up in a hospital
for three months after this performance.

In Chicago she had a still narrower
escape. One day while performing at a
museum on Clark Street, Victorina passed
a long thin dagger down her throat. In
withdrawing it, the blade snapped in two,
leaving the pointed portion some distance
in the passage. The woman nearly fainted
when she realized what had occurred, but,
by a masterful effort, controlled her
feelings. Dropping the hilt of the dagger on
the floor, she leaned forward, and placing
her finger and thumb down her throat,
just succeeded in catching the end of the
blade. Had it gone down an eighth of an
inch farther her death would have been



That the genesis of stone-eating dates back
hundreds of years farther than is generally
supposed, is shown by a statement in Wanley's
Wonders of the Little World, London, 1906,
Vol. II, page 58, which reads as follows:

Anno 1006, there was at Prague a
certain Silesian, who, for a small reward in
money, did (in the presence of many persons)
swallow down white stones to the
number of thirty-six; they weighed very
near three pounds; the least of them was
of the size of a pigeon's egg, so that I
could scarce hold them all in my hand at
four times: this rash adventure he divers
years made for gain, and was sensible of
no injury to his health thereby.

The next man of this type of whom I find
record lived over six hundred years later.
This was an Italian named Francois Battalia.
The print shown here is from the Book of
Wonderful Characters, and is a reproduction
from an etching made by Hollar in 1641.

Doctor Bulwer, in his Artificial Changeling,
tells a preposterous story of Battalia's being
born with two pebbles in one hand and one in
the other; that he refused both the breast and
the pap offered him, but ate the pebbles and
continued to subsist on stones for the
remainder of his life. Doctor Bulwer thus
describes his manner of feeding:


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