The Miracle Mongers, An Expose'
Part 3 out of 4
His manner is to put three or four
stones into a spoon, and so putting them
into his mouth together, he swallows them
all down, one after another; then (first
spitting) he drinks a glass of beer after
them. He devours about half a peck of
these stones every day, and when he clinks
upon his stomach, or shakes his body, you
may hear the stones rattle as if they were
in a sack, all of which in twenty-four
hours are resolved. Once in three weeks
he voids a great quantity of sand, after
which he has a fresh appetite for these
stones, as we have for our victuals, and by
these, with a cup of beer, and a pipe of
tobacco, he has his whole subsistence.
From a modern point of view the Doctor
The Book of Wonderful Characters continues:
Platerus speaks of a beggar boy, who
for four farthings would suddenly swallow
many stones which he met with by
chance in any place, though they were big
as walnuts, so filling his belly that by the
collision of them while they were pressed,
the sound was distinctly heard. Father
Paulian says that a true lithophagus, or
stone-eater, was brought to Avignon in the
beginning of May, 1760. He not only
swallowed flints an inch and a half long,
a full inch broad, and half an inch thick,
but such stones as he could reduce to powder,
such as marble, pebbles, etc., he made
up into paste, which to him was a most
agreeable and wholesome food. Father
Paulian examined this man with all the
attention he possibly could, and found his
gullet very large, his teeth exceedingly
strong, his saliva very corrosive, and his
stomach lower than ordinary.
This stone eater was found on Good
Friday, in 1757, in a northern inhabited
island, by some of the crew of a Dutch
ship. He was made by his keeper to eat
raw flesh with his stones; but he never
could be got to swallow bread. He would
drink water, wine, and brandy, which last
liquor gave him infinite pleasure. He slept
at least twelve hours a day, sitting on the
ground with one knee over the other, and
his chin resting on his right knee. He
smoked almost all the time he was not
asleep or not eating. Some physicians at
Paris got him blooded; the blood had little
or no serum, and in two hours time it became
as fragile as coral.
He was unable to pronounce more than
a few words, such as Oui, Non, Caillou,
Bon. ``He has been taught,'' adds the
pious father, evidently pleased with the
docility of his interesting pupil, ``to make
the sign of the cross, and was baptized some
months ago in the church of St. Come, at
Paris. THE RESPECT HE SHOWS TO ECCLESIASTICS
AND HIS READY DISPOSITION TO PLEASE
THEM, afforded me the opportunity of
satisfying myself as to all these
particulars; and I AM FULLY CONVINCED THAT HE
IS NO CHEAT.''
Here is the advertisement of a stone-eater
who appeared in England in 1788.
An Extraordinary Stone-Eater
The Only One in the World,
Has arrived, and means to perform this,
and every day (Sunday excepted) at Mr.
Hatch's, trunk maker, 404 Strand,
And after the stones are swallowed may
be heard to clink in
the belly, the same as in a pocket.
The present is allowed to be the age of
Wonders and Improvements in the Arts.
The idea of Man's flying in the Air,
twenty years ago, before the discovery of
the use of the balloon, would have been
laughed at by the most credulous! Nor
does the History of Nature afford so
extraordinary a relation as that of the man's
eating and subsisting on pebbles, flints,
tobacco pipes and mineral excrescences;
but so it is and the Ladies and Gentlemen
of this Metropolis and its vicinity have
now an opportunity of witnessing this
extraordinary Fact by seeing the Most
Wonderful Phenomenon of the Age, who
Grinds and Swallows stones, etc., with as
much ease as a Person would crack a nut,
and masticate the kernel.
This Extraordinary Stone-eater
appears not to suffer the least Inconvenience
from so ponderous, and to all other persons
in the World, so indigestible a Meal,
which he repeats from twelve at noon to
Any Lady or Gentleman may bring
Black Flints or Pebbles with them.
N. B.--His Merit is fully demonstrated
by Dr. Monroe, who in his Medical
Commentary, 1772, and several other Gentlemen
of the Faculty. Likewise Dr. John
Hunter and Sir Joseph Banks can witness
the Surprising Performance of this most
Admittance, Two shillings and Six pence.
A Private Performance for five guineas
on short notice.
A Spanish stone-eater exhibited at the
Richmond Theater, on August 2nd, 1790, and
another at a later date, at the Great Room, late
Globe Tavern, corner of Craven Street,
All of these phenomenal gentry claimed to
subsist entirely on stones, but their modern
followers hardly dare make such claims, so
that the art has fallen into disrepute.
A number of years ago, in London,
I watched several performances of one of these
chaps who swallowed half a hatful of stones,
nearly the size of hen's eggs, and then jumped
up and down, to make them rattle in his stomach.
I could discover no fake in the performance,
and I finally gave him two and six for
his secret, which was simple enough. He
merely took a dose of powerful physic to clear
himself of the stones, and was then ready for
the next performance.
During my engagement in 1895 with Welsh
Bros. Circus I became quite well acquainted
with an aged Jap of the San Kitchy Akimoto
troupe and from him I learned the method of
swallowing quite large objects and bringing
them up again at will. For practice very small
potatoes are used at first, to guard against
accident; and after one has mastered the art
of bringing these up, the size is increased
gradually till objects as large as the throat will
receive can be swallowed and returned.
I recall a very amusing incident in connection
with this old chap.
In one number of the programme he sat
down on the ring bank and balanced a bamboo
pole, at the top of which little Massay went
through the regular routine of posturings.
After years spent in this work, my aged friend
became so used to his job that he did it
automatically, and scarcely gave a thought to the
boy at the top. One warm day, however, he
carried his indifference a trifle too far, and
dropped into a quiet nap, from which he woke
only to find that the pole was falling and had
already gone too far to be recovered, but the
agility of the boy saved him from injury. As
my knowledge of Japanese is limited to the
more polite forms, I cannot repeat the remarks
of the lad.
Until a comparatively recent date, incredible
as it may seem, frog-swallowers were far
from uncommon on the bills of the Continental
theaters. The most prominent, Norton, a
Frenchman, was billed as a leading feature in
the high-class houses of Europe. I saw him
work at the Apollo Theater, Nuremberg, where
I was to follow him in; and during my engagement
at the Circus Busch, Berlin, we were on
the same programme, which gave me an
opportunity to watch him closely.
One of his features was to drink thirty or
forty large glasses of beer in slow succession.
The filled glasses were displayed on shelves at
the back of the stage, and had handles so that
he could bring forward two or three in each
hand. When he had finished these he would
return for others and, while gathering another
handful, would bring up the beer and eject it
into a receptacle arranged between the shelves,
just below the line of vision of the audience.
Norton could swallow a number of half-
grown frogs and bring them up alive. I
remember his anxiety on one occasion when
returning to his dressing-room; it seems he had
lost a frog--at least he could not account for
the entire flock--and he looked very much
scared, probably at the uncertainty as to
whether or not he had to digest a live frog.
The Muenchen October Fest, is the annual
fair at that city, and a most wonderful show it
is. I have been there twice; once as the big
feature with Circus Carre, in 1901, and again
in 1913, with the Circus Corty Althoff. The
Continental Circuses are not, like those of this
country, under canvas, but show in wooden
buildings. At these October Fests I saw a number
of frog-swallowers, and to me they were
very repulsive indeed. In fact, Norton was
the only one I ever saw who presented his act
in a dignified manner.
Willie Hammerstein once had Norton
booked to appear at the Victoria Theater, New
York, but the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals would not allow him to
open; so he returned to Europe without
exhibiting his art (?) in America.
In my earlier days in the smaller theaters of
America, before the advent of the B. F. Keith
and E. F. Albee theaters, I occasionally ran
across a sailor calling himself English Jack,
who could swallow live frogs and bring them
up again with apparent ease.
I also witnessed the disgusting pit act of
that degenerate, Bosco, who ate living snakes,
and whose act gave rise to the well-known
barkers' cry HE EATS 'EM ALIVE! If the reader
wishes further description of this creature's
work, he must find it in my book, The Unmasking
of Robert Houdin, for I cannot bring myself
to repeat the nauseating details here.
During an engagement in Bolton, Eng., I
met Billington, the official hangman, who was
convinced that I could not escape from the
restraint he used to secure those he was about
Much to his astonishment, I succeeded in
releasing myself, but he said the time consumed
was more than sufficient to spring the
trap and launch the doomed soul into eternity.
Billington told me that he had hardened himself
to the demands of his office by killing rats
with his teeth.
During my engagement at the Winter Garten,
Berlin, Captain Veitro, a performer that I had
known for years in America, where he worked
in side shows and museums, came to Berlin
and made quite a stir by eating poisons. He
appeared only a few times, however, as his act
did not appeal to the public, presumably for
the reason that he had his stomach pumped out
at each performance, to prove that it
contained the poison. This may have been
instructive, but it possessed little appeal as
entertainment, and I rarely heard of the venturesome
captain after that.
Years ago I saw a colored poison-eater at
Worth's Museum, New York City, who told
me that he escaped the noxious effects of the
drugs by eating quantities of oatmeal mush.
Another colored performer took an ordinary
bottle, and, after breaking it, would bite off
chunks, crunch them with his teeth, and finally
swallow them. I have every reason to believe
that his performance was genuine.
The beer-drinking of Norton was a more
refined version of the so-called water-spouting of
previous generations, in which the returning
was done openly, a performance that could not
fail to disgust a modern audience. To be sure,
in the days of the Dime Museum, a Negro who
returned the water worked those houses; but
his performance met with little approval, and
it is years since I have heard of such an
The first water-spouter of whom I find a
record was Blaise Manfrede or de Manfre,
who toured Europe about the middle of the
seventeenth century. An interesting account
of this man may be found in my book The
Unmasking of Robert Houdin.
A pupil of Manfrede's, by the name of
Floram Marchand, who seems to have been
fully the equal of his master, appeared in
England in 1650. The following description of
Marchand's performance is from The Book of
Wonderful Characters, edition of 1869, page
In the summer of 1650, a Frenchman
named Floram Marchand was brought
over from Tours to London, who professed
to be able to ``turn water into
wine,'' and at his vomit render not only
the tincture, but the strength and smell of
several wines, and several waters. He
learnt the rudiments of this art from
Bloise, an Italian, who not long before
was questioned by Cardinal Mazarin, who
threatened him with all the miseries that
a tedious imprisonment could bring upon
him, unless he would discover to him by
what art he did it. Bloise, startled at the
sentence, and fearing the event, made a
full confession on these terms, that the
Cardinal would communicate it to no one
From this Bloise, Marchand received
all his instruction; and finding his teacher
the more sought after in France, he came
by the advice of two English friends to
England, where the trick was new. Here
--the cause of it being utterly unknown--
he seems for a time to have gulled and
astonished the public to no small extent, and
to his great profit.
Before long, however, the whole mystery
was cleared up by his two friends,
who had probably not received the share
of the profits to which they thought
themselves entitled. Their somewhat
circumstantial account runs as follows.
To prepare his body for so hardy a task,
before he makes his appearance on the
stage, he takes a pill about the quantity of
a hazel nut, confected with the gall of an
heifer, and wheat flour baked. After
which he drinks privately in his chamber
four or five pints of luke-warm water, to
take all the foulness and slime from his
stomach, and to avoid that loathsome
spectacle which otherwise would make thick
the water, and offend the eye of the
In the first place, he presents you with a
pail of luke-warm water, and sixteen
glasses in a basket, but you are to
understand that every morning he boils two
ounces of Brazil thin-sliced in three pints
of running water, so long till the whole
strength and color of the Brazil is
exhausted: of this he drinks half a pint in
his private chamber before he comes on
the stage: you are also to understand that
he neither eats nor drinks in the morning
on those days when he comes on the stage,
the cleansing pill and water only excepted;
but in the evening will make a
very good supper, and eat as much as two
or three other men who have not their
stomachs so thoroughly purged.
Before he presents himself to the
spectators, he washes all his glasses in the best
white-wine vinegar he can procure. Coming
on the stage, he always washes his first
glass, and rinses it two or three times, to
take away the strength of the vinegar, that
it may in no wise discolour the complexion
of what is represented to be wine.
At his first entrance, he drinks four and
twenty glasses of luke-warm water, the
first vomit he makes the water seems to be
a full deep claret: you are to observe that
his gall-pill in the morning, and so many
glasses of luke-warm water afterwards,
will force him into a sudden capacity to
vomit, which vomit upon so much warm
water, is for the most part so violent on
him, that he cannot forbear if he would.
You are again to understand that all
that comes from him is red of itself, or has
a tincture of it from the first Brazil water;
but by degrees, the more water he drinks,
as on every new trial he drinks as many
glasses of water as his stomach will contain,
the water that comes from him will
grow paler and paler. Having then made
his essay on claret, and proved it to be of
the same complexion, he again drinks
four or five glasses of luke-warm water,
and brings forth claret and beer at once
into two several glasses: now you are to
observe that the glass which appears to be
claret is rinsed as before, but the beer
glass not rinsed at all, but is still moist
with the white-wine vinegar, and the first
strength of the Brazil water being lost,
it makes the water which he vomits up to
be of a more pale colour, and much like
our English beer.
He then brings his rouse again, and
drinks up fifteen or sixteen glasses of
luke-warm water, which the pail will
plentifully afford him: he will not bring
you up the pale Burgundian wine, which,
though more faint of complexion than the
claret, he will tell you is the purest wine
in Christendom. The strength of the Brazil
water, which he took immediately before
his appearance on the stage, grows
fainter and fainter. This glass, like the
first glass in which he brings forth his
claret, is washed, the better to represent
the colour of the wine therein.
The next he drinks comes forth sack
from him, or according to that complexion.
Here he does not wash his glass
at all; for the strength of the vinegar
must alter what is left of the complexion
of the Brazil water, which he took in the
morning before he appeared on the stage.
You are always to remember, that in the
interim, he will commonly drink up four
or five glasses of the luke-warm water,
the better to provoke his stomach to a
disgorgement, if the first rouse will not
serve turn. He will now (for on every
disgorge he will bring you forth a new
colour), he will now present you with white
wine. Here also he will not wash his
glass, which (according to the vinegar in
which it was washed) will give it a colour
like it. You are to understand, that when
he gives you the colour of so many wines,
he never washes the glass, but at his first
evacuation, the strength of the vinegar being
no wise compatible with the colour of
the Brazil water.
Having performed this task, he will
then give you a show of rose-water; and
this indeed, he does so cunningly, that it
is not the show of rose-water, but rose-
water itself. If you observe him, you will
find that either behind the pail where his
luke-warm water is, or behind the basket
in which his glasses are, he will have on
purpose a glass of rose-water prepared
for him. After he has taken it, he will
make the spectators believe that he drank
nothing but the luke-warm water out of
the pail; but he saves the rose-water in the
glass, and holding his hand in an indirect
way, the people believe, observing the
water dropping from his fingers, that it is
nothing but the water out of the pail.
After this he will drink four or five glasses
more out of the pail, and then comes up
the rose-water, to the admiration of the
beholders. You are to understand, that
the heat of his body working with his
rose-water gives a full and fragrant smell
to all the water that comes from him as if
it were the same.
The spectators, confused at the novelty
of the sight, and looking and smelling on
the water, immediately he takes the
opportunity to convey into his hand another
glass; and this is a glass of Angelica
water, which stood prepared for him behind
the pail or basket, which having
drunk off, and it being furthered with
four or five glasses of luke-warm water,
out comes the evacuation, and brings with
it a perfect smell of the Angelica, as it was
in the rose-water above specified.
To conclude all, and to show you what
a man of might he is, he has an instrument
made of tin, which he puts between his
lips and teeth; this instrument has three
several pipes, out of which, his arms
a-kimbo, a putting forth himself, he will
throw forth water from him in three
pipes, the distance of four or five yards.
This is all clear water, which he does with
so much port and such a flowing grace,
as if it were his master-piece.
He has been invited by divers gentlemen
and personages of honour to make the
like evacuation in milk, as he made a
semblance in wine. You are to understand
that when he goes into another room, and
drinks two or three pints of milk. On his
return, which is always speedy, he goes
first to his pail, and afterwards to his
vomit. The milk which comes from him
looks curdled, and shows like curdled milk
and drink. If there be no milk ready to
be had, he will excuse himself to his
spectators, and make a large promise of what
he will perform the next day, at which
time being sure to have milk enough to
serve his turn, he will perform his promise.
His milk he always drinks in a withdrawing
room, that it may not be discovered,
for that would be too apparent,
nor has he any other shift to evade the
discerning eye of the observers.
It is also to be considered that he never
comes on the stage (as he does sometimes
three or four times in a day) but he first
drinks the Brazil water, without which he
can do nothing at all, for all that comes
from him has a tincture of the red, and
it only varies and alters according to the
abundance of water which he takes, and
the strength of the white-wine vinegar, in
which all the glasses are washed.
DEFIERS OF POISONOUS REPTILES: THARDO;
MRS. LEARN, DEALER IN RATTLESNAKES.
--SIR ARTHUR THURLOW CUNYNGHAME
ON ANTIDOTES FOR SNAKE-BITE.--JACK
THE VIPER.--WILLIAM OLIVER, 1735.--
THE ADVICE OF CORNELIUS HEINRICH
AGRIPPA, (1486-1535).--AN AUSTRALIAN
SNAKE STORY.--ANTIDOTES FOR
About twenty-two years ago, during one of
my many engagements at Kohl and
Middleton's, Chicago, there appeared at the same
house a marvelous ``rattle-snake poison
defier'' named Thardo. I watched her act with
deep interest for a number of weeks, never
missing a single performance. For the simple
reason that I worked within twelve feet from
her, my statement that there was absolutely
no fake attached to her startling performance
can be taken in all seriousness, as the details
are still fresh in my mind.
Thardo was a woman of exceptional beauty,
both of form and feature, a fluent speaker and
a fearless enthusiast in her devotion to her
art. She would allow herself to be repeatedly
bitten by rattle-snakes and received no harm
excepting the ordinary pain of the wound.
After years of investigation I have come to the
belief that this immunity was the result of an
absolutely empty stomach, into which a large
quantity of milk was taken shortly after the
wound was inflicted, the theory being that the
virus acts directly on the contents of the
stomach, changing it to a deadly poison.
It was Thardo's custom to give weekly
demonstrations of this power, to which the
medical profession were invited, and on these
occasions she was invariably greeted with a
packed house. When the moment of the supreme
test came, an awed silence obtained;
for the thrill of seeing the serpent flash up and
strike possessed a positive fascination for her
audiences. Her bare arms and shoulders presented
a tempting target for the death-dealing
reptile whose anger she had aroused. As soon
as he had buried his fangs in her expectant
flesh, she would coolly tear him from the wound
and allow one of the physicians present to
extract a portion of the venom and immediately
inject it into a rabbit, with the result that the
poor creature would almost instantly go into
convulsions and would soon die in great agony.
Another rattle-snake defier is a resident of
San Antonio, Texas. Her name is Learn, and
she once told me that she was the preceptor of
Thardo. This lady deals in live rattle-snakes
and their by-products--rattle-snake skin,
which is used for fancy bags and purses;
rattle-snake oil, which is highly esteemed in
some quarters as a specific for rheumatism;
and the venom, which has a pharmaceutical
She employs a number of men as snake
trappers. Their usual technique is to pin the
rattler to the ground by means of a forked
stick thrust dexterously over his neck, after
which he is conveyed into a bag made for the
purpose. Probably the cleverest of her trappers
is a Mexican who has a faculty of catching
these dangerous creatures with his bare hands.
The story goes that this chap has been bitten
so many times that the virus no longer has any
effect on him. Even that most poisonous of all
reptiles, the Gila monster, has no terrors for
him. He swims along the shore where venomous
reptiles most abound, and fearlessly
attacks any and all that promise any income to
In a very rare book by General Sir Arthur
Thurlow Cunynghame, entitled, My Command
in South Africa, 1880, I find the following:
The subject of snake bites is one of no
small interest in this country.
Liquid ammonia is, par excellence, the
best antidote. It must be administered
immediately after the bite, both internally,
diluted with water, and externally,
in its concentrated form.
The ``Eau de luce'' and other nostrums
sold for this purpose have ammonia for
their main ingredient. But it generally
happens in the case of a snake bite that the
remedy is not at hand, and hours may
elapse before it can be obtained. In this
case the following treatment will work
well. Tie a ligature tightly ABOVE the bite,
scarify the wound deeply with a knife, and
allow it to bleed freely. After having
drawn an ounce of blood, remove the ligature
and ignite three times successively
about two drams of gunpowder right on
If gunpowder be not at hand, an
ordinary fusee will answer the purpose: or,
in default of this, the glowing end of a
piece of wood from the fire. Having done
this, proceed to administer as much
brandy as the patient will take. Intoxicate
him as rapidly as possible, and, once
intoxicated, he is safe. If, however,
through delay in treatment, the poison has
once got into circulation no amount of
brandy will either intoxicate him or save
An odd character, rejoicing in the nick-name
of Jack the Viper, is mentioned on page 763 of
Hone's Table Book, 1829. In part the writer
Jack has traveled, seen the world, and
profited by his travels; for he has learned
to be contented.
He is not entirely idle, nor wholly industrious.
If he can get a crust sufficient for
the day, he leaves the evil of it should visit
him. The first time I saw him was in the
high noon of a scorching day, at an inn in
Laytonstone. He came in while a sudden
storm descended, and a rainbow of
exquisite majesty vaulted the earth. Sitting
down at a table, he beckoned the hostess
for his beer, and conversed freely with his
acquaintance. By his arch replies I found
that I was in company with an original--
a man that might stretch forth his arms in
the wilderness without fear, and like Paul,
grasp an adder without harm. He playfully
entwined his fingers with their coils
and curled crests, and played with their
forked tongues. He had unbuttoned his
waistcoat, and as cleverly as a fish-
woman handles her eels, let out several
snakes and adders, warmed by his breast,
and spread them on the table. He took off
his hat, and others of different sizes and
lengths twisted before me; some of them,
when he unbosomed his shirt, returned to
the genial temperature of his skin; and
some curled around the legs of the table,
and others rose in a defensive attitude.
He irritated and humored them, to express
either pleasure or pain at his will.
Some were purchased by individuals, and
Jack pocketed his gains, observing, ``A
frog, or a mouse, occasionally, is enough
for a snake's satisfaction.''
The Naturalist's Cabinet says, that ``In
presence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany,
while the philosophers were making elaborate
dissertations on the danger of the
poison of vipers, taken inwardly, a viper
catcher, who happened to be present,
requested that a quantity of it might be put
into a vessel; and then, with the utmost
confidence, and to the astonishment of the
whole company, he drank it off. Everyone
expected the man instantly to drop down
dead; but they soon perceived their mistake,
and found that, taken inwardly, the
poison was as harmless as water.''
William Oliver, a viper catcher at Bath,
was the first who discovered that, by the
application of olive oil, the bite of the
viper is effectually cured. On the first of
June, 1735, he suffered himself to be bitten
by an old black viper; and after enduring
the agonizing symptoms of approaching
death, by using olive oil he perfectly
Vipers' flesh was formerly esteemed for
its medicinal virtues, and its salt was
thought to exceed every other animal
product in giving vigor to a languid
According to Cornelius Heinrich Agrippa
(called Agrippa of Nettesheim), a German
philosopher, and student of alchemy and magic,
who was born in 1486, and died in 1535, ``if you
would handle adders and snakes without harm,
wash your hands in the juice of radishes, and
you may do so without harm.''
Even though it may seem a digression, I
yield to the temptation to include here an
extraordinary ``snake story'' taken from An Actor
Abroad, which Edmund Leathes published in
I will here relate the story of a sad
death--I might feel inclined to call it
suicide--which occurred in Melbourne
shortly before my arrival in the colonies.
About a year previous to the time of which
I am now writing, a gentleman of birth
and education, a Cambridge B. A., a barrister
by profession and a literary man by
choice, with his wife and three children
emigrated to Victoria. He arrived in
Melbourne with one hundred and fifty
pounds in his pocket, and hope unlimited
in his heart.
Poor man! He, like many another man,
quickly discovered that muscles in
Australia are more marketable than brains.
His little store of money began to melt
under the necessities of his wife and
family. To make matters worse he was visited
by a severe illness. He was confined to his
bed for some weeks, and during his
convalescence his wife presented him with
another of those ``blessings to the poor
man,'' a son.
It was Christmas time, his health was
thoroughly restored, he naturally
possessed a vigorous constitution; but his
heart was begining to fail him, and his
funds were sinking lower and lower.
At last one day, returning from a long
and solitary walk, he sat down with pen
and paper and made a calculation by
which he found he had sufficient money
left to pay the insurance upon his life for
one year, which, in the case of his death
occurring within that time, would bring to
his widow the sum of three thousand
pounds. He went to the insurance office,
and made his application--was examined
by the doctor--the policy was made out,
his life was insured. From that day he
grew moody and morose, despair had
At this time a snake-charmer came to
Melbourne, who advertised a wonderful
cure for snake-bites. This charmer took one
of the halls in the town, and there displayed
his live stock, which consisted of a great
number of the most deadly and venomous
snakes which were to be found in India
This man had certainly some most
wonderful antidote to the poison of a snake's
fangs. In his exhibitions he would allow
a cobra to bite a dog or a rabbit, and, in a
short time after he had applied his nostrum
the animal would thoroughly revive;
he advertised his desire to perform upon
humanity, but, of course, he could find no
one would be fool enough to risk his life
The advertisement caught the eye of the
unfortunate emigrant, who at once
proceeded to the hall where the snake
charmer was holding his exhibition. He
offered himself to be experimented upon;
the fanatic snake-charmer was delighted,
and an appointment was made for the
same evening as soon as the ``show''
should be over.
The evening came; the unfortunate man
kept his appointment, and, in the presence
of several witnesses, who tried to dissuade
him from the trial, bared his arm and
placed it in the cage of an enraged cobra
and was quickly bitten. The nostrum was
applied apparently in the same manner as
it had been to the lower animals which had
that evening been experimented upon,
but whether it was that the poor fellow
wilfully did something to prevent its taking
effect--or whatever the reason--he
soon became insensible, and in a couple of
hours he was taken home to his wife and
family--a corpse. The next morning the
snake-charmer had flown, and left his
snakes behind him.
The insurance company at first refused
payment of the policy, asserting that the
death was suicide; the case was tried and
the company lost it, and the widow
received the three thousand pounds. The
snake-charmer was sought in vain; he had
the good fortune and good sense to be seen
no more in the Australian colonies.
As several methods of combating the effects
of poisons have been mentioned in the foregoing
pages, I feel in duty bound to carry
the subject a little farther and present a list
of antidotes. I shall not attempt to educate
my readers in the art of medicine, but simply
to give a list of such ordinary materials as are
to be found in practically every household,
materials cited as antidotes for the more
common poisons. I have taken them from the
best authorities obtainable and they are offered
in the way of first aid, to keep the patient
alive till the doctor arrives; and if they should
do no good, they can hardly do harm.
The first great rule to be adopted is SEND FOR
THE DOCTOR AT ONCE and give him all possible
information about the case without delay. Use
every possible means to keep the patient at a
normal temperature. When artificial respiration
is necessary, always get hold of the tongue
and pull it well forward in order to keep the
throat clear, then turn the patient over on his
face and press the abdomen to force out the
air, then turn him over on the back so that the
lungs may fill again, repeating this again and
again till the doctor arrives. The best
stimulants are strong tea or coffee; but when these
are not sufficient, a tablespoon of brandy,
whisky, or wine may be added.
Vegetable and mineral poisons, with few exceptions,
act as efficiently in the blood as in the
stomach. Animal poisons act only through
the blood, and are inert when introduced into
the stomach. Therefore there is absolutely no
danger in sucking the virus from a snake bite,
except that the virus should not be allowed to
touch any spot where the skin is broken.
The following list of antidotes is taken largely
from Appleton's Medical Dictionary, and Sollmann's
A Manual of Pharmacology, Philadelphia,
1917, pages 56 and 57, and has been
verified by comparison with various other
authorities at the library of the Medical
Society of the County of New York:
Arsenic Induce vomiting with a dessert-spoonful
of ground mustard in tepid water. Also
put the finger in the throat to induce
retching. When the stomach has been
emptied, give the patient all the milk
he can take.
Aconite Induce vomiting as above. Also give
active purgative. Stimulate with strong
tea or coffee. Keep the patient roused.
Alcohol Same as for aconite.
Belladonna Same as for aconite.
Bitter-sweet Same as for aconite.
Blue vitriol Induce vomiting as in arsenic. Then give
milk, or white of egg, or mucilage.
Cantharides Induce vomiting. Give soothing drinks.
NO OIL. Rub abdomen with camphor,
or camphorated oil.
Chloral Same as for aconite.
Camphor Same as for aconite.
Conium (Hemlock) Same as for aconite.
Carbolic Acid White of egg in water, or olive oil,
followed by a large quantity of milk.
Calomel Give white of egg, followed by milk, or
Corrosive Sublimate Same as for calomel.
Croton Oil Induce vomiting. Also give strong purgative
AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Stimulate with
strong tea or coffee.
Colocynth Same as for croton oil.
Ergot Same as for aconite.
Food cooked in a
copper vessel Same as for blue vitriol.
Fish poison Same as for croton oil.
Gases Plenty of fresh air. Inhale ammonia
(not too strong). Artificial
respiration if necessary. Stimulate
with strong tea or coffee.
matter Same as for arsenic.
Hellebore Same as for aconite.
Hyoscyamus Same as for aconite.
Iodine Give starch.
Lobelia Same as for aconite.
Lead Same as for calomel.
Matches Induce vomiting. Give magnesia and
mucilage. NO OIL.
Mercury Same as for calomel.
Morphine Spasms may be quieted by inhaling ether.
Nitric Acid Induce vomiting. Give Carbonate of
Magnesia, or lime-water.
Nitrate of Silver Give common salt in water, or carbonate
of soda in solution, followed by milk,
or white of egg.
Nux Vomica Same as for aconite.
Oxalic Acid Same as for nitric acid.
Opium Same as for morphine.
Prussic Acid Not much can be done, as fatal dose kills
in from three to five minutes. Dilute
ammonia given instantly might save life.
Paris Green Same as for arsenic.
Phosphorus Same as for matches.
Rough on Rats Same as for arsenic.
Strychnin Same as for morphine.
Sulphuric Acid Strong soap-suds.
Toadstool Same as for morphine.
Turpentine Same as for morphine.
Tin Same as for nitrate of silver.
Verdigris Same as for arsenic.
Vermilion Same as for calomel.
White vitriol Same as for nitrate of silver.
Zinc Same as for nitrate of silver.
For Snake-bite The best general treatment for snake-bite
is to tie a ligature tightly ABOVE the
wound, then suck out as much of the
virus as possible. Give the patient
large quantities of whisky or brandy,
to induce intoxication. Incise the
wound with a red-hot nail, or knitting
needle. Keep the patient intoxicated
till the doctor arrives.
For Burns All burns are more painful when exposed
to the air. For lesser burns a cloth
saturated with a strong solution of
bicarbonate of soda (common cooking
soda) laid on the burn is probably best.
This is soothing and keeps out the air.
For burning clothes Do not allow the victim to run about, for
that increases the flames. Throw her--
these accidents usually occur to women
--on the floor and smother the flames
with a blanket, rug, or large garment.
Then, if the burns are severe, place
her in a bath at a temperature of 100
degrees or over, keeping her there till
the doctor arrives. Give stimulants.
Do not touch the burns more than is
For Burns of Acids Dash cold water on the burns, then cover
with lime-water and sweet oil, or
For Burns of
Caustic Alkalies Apply vinegar.
Glass, coarse or Give the patient large quantities of bread
powdered crumbs, and then induce vomiting.
Ivy poison Wash at once with soap and water; using
scrubbing brush. Then lay on cloths
saturated with strong solution bicarbonate
of soda. Give cooling drinks.
Keep the patient quiet and on a low diet.
STRONG MEN OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY:
THOMAS TOPHAM (died, 1749);
JOYCE, 1703; VAN ECKENBERG, 1718;
BARSABAS AND HIS SISTER; THE ITALIAN
FEMALE SAMPSON, 1724; THE ``LITTLE
WOMAN FROM GENEVA,'' 1751; BELZONI,
Bodily strength has won the admiration
--I might almost say, the worship--of
mankind from the days of Hercules and his
ten mythical labors, to the days of Sandow
with his scores of actual achievements. Each
generation has produced its quota of strongmen,
but almost all of them have resorted to
some sort of artifice or subterfuge in order to
appear superhumanly strong. That is to say,
they added brain to their brawn, and it is a
difficult question whether their efforts deserve
to be called trickery or good showmanship.
Many of the tricks of the profession were
laid bare by Dr. Desaguliers over a hundred
and fifty years ago and have been generally
discarded by athletes, only to be taken up and
vastly improved by women of the type of The
Georgia Magnet, who gave the world of science
a decided start about a generation ago. I shall
have more to say of her a little further on.
The jiu jitsu of the Japanese is, in part, a
development of the same principles, but here
again much new material has been added, so
that it deserves to be considered a new art.
The following, from Dr. Desaguliers'
Experimental Philosophy, London, 1763, Vol. 1,
page 289, contrasts feats of actual strength
with the tricks of the old-time performers:
Thomas Topham, born in London, and
now about thirty-one years of age, five feet
ten inches high, with muscles very hard
and prominent, was brought up a carpenter,
which trade he practiced till within
these six or seven years that he has shewed
feats of strength; but he is entirely
ignorant of any art to make his strength
appear more surprising; Nay, sometimes
he does things which become more difficult
by his disadvantageous situation;
attempting and often doing, what he hears
other strong men have done, without making
use of the same advantages.
About six years ago he pulled against
a horse, sitting on the ground with his feet
against two stumps driven into the
ground, but without the advantage
represented by the first figure, Plate 19; for
the horse pulling against him drew upwards
at a considerable angle, such as is
represented in the second figure in that
plate, when hN is the line of traction,
which makes the angle of traction to be
NhL: and in this case his strength was
no farther employed than to keep his legs
and thighs straight, so as to make them
act like the long arm of a bended lever,
represented by Lh, on whose end h the
trunk of his body rested as a weight,
against which the horse drew, applying
his power at right angles to the end l of
the short arm of said lever, the center of
the motion being a L at the bottom of the
stumps l, o (for to draw obliquely by a rope
fastened at h is the same as to draw by an
arm of a lever at l L, because l L is a line
drawn perpendicularly from the center of
motion to the line of direction hN) and
the horse not being strong enough to raise
the man's weight with such disadvantage,
he thought he was in the right posture for
drawing against a horse; but when in the
same posture he attempted to draw against
two horses, he was pulled out of his place
by being lifted up, and had one of his
knees struck against the stumps, which
shattered it so, that even to this day, the
patella or knee-pan is so loose, that the
ligaments of it seem either to be broken
or quite relaxed, which has taken away
most of the strength of that leg.
But if he had sat upon such a frame as is
represented in the first figure, (Plate 19)
he might (considering his strength) have
kept his situation against the pulling of
four strong horses without the least
The feats which I saw him perform, a
few days ago, were the following:
1. By the strength of his fingers (only
rubbed in coal-ashes to keep them from
slipping) he rolled up a very strong and
2. He broke seven or eight short and
strong pieces of tobacco-pipe with the
force of his middle finger, having laid them
on the first and third finger.
3. Having thrust under his garter the
bowl of a strong tobacco-pipe, his legs being
bent, he broke it to pieces by the tendons
of his hams, without altering the
bending of his leg.
4. He broke such another bowl between
his first and second finger, by pressing his
fingers together side-ways.
5. He lifted a table six feet long, which
had half a hundred weight hanging to the
end of it, with his teeth, and held it in a
horizontal position for a considerable
time. IT IS TRUE THE FEET OF THE TABLE RESTED
AGAINST HIS KNEES; BUT AS THE LENGTH OF THE
TABLE WAS MUCH GREATER THAN ITS HEIGHT,
THAT PERFORMANCE REQUIRED A GREAT
STRENGTH TO BE EXERTED BY THE MUSCLES OF
HIS LOINS, THOSE OF HIS NECK, THE MASSETER
AND TEMPORAL (MUSCLES OF THE JAWS)
BESIDES A GOOD SET OF TEETH.
6. He took an iron kitchen-poker, about
a yard long, and three inches in circumference,
and holding it in his right hand,
he struck upon his bare left arm, between
the elbow and the wrist till he bent the
poker nearly to a right angle.
7. He took such another poker, and
holding the ends in his hands, and the
middle against the back of his neck, he
brought both ends of it together before
him; and, what was yet more difficult, he
pulled it almost straight again: because
the muscles which separate the arms
horizontally from each other, are not so strong
as those that bring them together.
8. He broke a rope of about two inches in
circumference which was in part wound
about a cylinder of four inches diameter,
having fastened the other end of it to
straps that went over his shoulders; but
he exerted more force to do this than any
other of his feats, from his awkwardness
in going about it: as the rope yielded and
stretched as he stood upon the cylinder,
so that when the extensors of his legs and
thighs had done their office in bringing the
legs and thighs straight, he was forced to
raise his heels from their bearings, and
use other muscles that are weaker. But
if the rope had been so fixed, that the part
to be broken had been short, it would have
been broken with four times less difficulty.
9. I have seen him lift a rolling stone
of about 800 lib. with his hand only,
standing in a frame above it, and taking
hold of a chain that was fastened to it.
By this I reckon that he may be almost
as strong again as those who are generally
reckoned as the strongest men, they generally
lifting no more than 400 lib. in that
manner. The weakest men who are in
health and not too fat, lift about 125 lib.
having about half the strength of the
strongest. (N.B. This sort of comparison
is chiefly in relation to the muscles of
the loins; because in doing this one must
stoop forward a little. We must also add
the weight of the body to the weight lifted.
So that if the weakest man's body weighs
150 lib. that added to 125 lib. makes the
whole weight lifted by him 275 lib. Then
if the stronger man's body weighs also 150
lib. the whole weight lifted by him will be
550 lib. that is, 400 lib. and the 150 lib.
which his body weighs. Topham weighs
about 200 lib. which added to the 800 lib.
that he lifts, makes 1000 lib. But he ought
to lift 900 lib. besides the weight of his
body, to be as strong again as a man of
150 lib.-weight who can lift 400 lib.
Now as all men are not proportionably
strong in every part, but some are stronger
in the arms, some in the legs, and others
in the back, according to the work and
exercise which they use, we can't judge
of a man's strength by lifting only; but
a method may be found to compare together
the strength of different men in
the same parts, and that too without
straining the persons who try the experiment.
Here follows a long description of a machine
for the above purpose.
Topham was not endowed with a strength
of mind equal to the strength of his body. He
was married to a wanton who rendered existence
so insupportable that he committed
suicide before he was forty years of age, on
August 10th, 1749.
 Interesting accounts of Topham's career may be found
in Wonders of Bodily Strength, New York, 1873, a translation
from the French of Depping, by Charles Russell; Sir David
Brewster's, Letters on Natural Magic; London, 1838; Wanley's
Wonders of the Little World, London, 1806; Wilson's
Wonderful Characters, London, 1821, (but not in the reprint
About the year 1703 there appeared in
London a native of Kent, by the name of Joyce,
who won the name of a second Samson by a
series of feats of strength that to the people
of that day seemed little short of superhuman.
Dr. Desaguliers, in his Experimental Philosophy,
gives the following account of Joyce and
About thirty years ago one Joyce, a
Kentish man, famous for his great
strength (tho' not quite so strong as the
King of Poland, by the accounts we have
of that Prince) shewed several feats in
London and the country, which so much
surprised the spectators, that he was by
most people called the second Sampson.
But tho' the postures which he had learned
to put his body into, and found out by
practice without any mechanical theory,
were such as would make a man of common
strength do such feats as would appear
surprising to everybody that did not
know the advantages of those positions of
the body; yet nobody then attempted to
draw against horses, or raise great
weights, or to do anything in imitation
of him; because, as he was very strong in
the arms, and grasped those that try'd his
strength that way so hard, that they were
obliged immediately to desire him to desist,
his other feats (wherein his manner
of acting was chiefly owing to the
mechanical advantages gained by the position
of his body) were entirely attributed
to his extraordinary strength.
 Or William Joy.
 This is the spelling used by Joyce, Eckenberg and others,
for the Samson of the Bible.
But when he had gone out of England,
or had ceased to shew his performances,
for eight or ten years; men of ordinary
strength found out the way of making
such advantage of the same postures as
Joyce had put himself into, as to pass for
men of more than common strength, by
drawing against horses, breaking ropes,
lifting vast weights, &c. (tho' they cou'd
in none of the postures really perform so
much as Joyce; yet they did enough to
amaze and amuse, and get a great deal of
money) so that every two or three years
we have a new SECOND SAMPSON.
Some fifteen years subsequent to Joyce's
advent, another so-called Samson, this time a
German named John Charles Van Eckenberg,
toured Europe with a remarkable performance
along the same lines as Joyce's. Dr. Desaguliers
saw this man and has this to say of him:
After having seen him once, I guessed
at his manner of imposing on the multitude;
and being resolved to be fully satisfied
in the matter, I took four very curious
persons with me to see him again, viz. the
Lord Marquis of Tullibardine, Dr.
Alexander Stuart, Dr. Pringle, and a
mechanical workman, who used to assist me
in my courses of experiments. We placed
ourselves in such a manner round the
operator, as to be able to observe nicely
all that he did, and found it so practicable
that we performed several of his feats that
evening by ourselves, and afterwards I did
most of the rest as soon as I had a frame
made to fit in to draw, and another to
stand in and lift great weights, together
with a proper girdle and hooks.
Dr. Desaguliers illustrates Van Eckenberg's
methods in a very exhaustive set of notes and
plates, which are too technical and voluminous
to repeat here, but I will quote sufficiently
from them to make the modus operandi clear.
The figures will be found on plate 19.
Figs. 1 and 2 have already been explained.
In breaking the rope one thing is to be
observ'd, which will much facilitate the
performance; and that is to place the iron
eye L, (Fig. 3) thro' which the rope goes,
in such a situation, that a plane going
thro' its ring shall be parallel to the two
parts of the rope; because then the rope
will in a manner be jamm'd in it, and not
slipping thro' it, the whole force of the
man's action will be exerted on that part
of the rope which is in the eye, which will
make it break more easily than if more
parts of the rope were acted upon. So
the eye, tho' made round and smooth, may
be said in some measure to CUT THE ROPE.
And it is after this manner that one may
break a whip cord, nay, a small jack-line
with one's hand without hurting it; only
by bringing one part of the rope to cut
the other; that is, placing it so round one's
left hand, that by a sudden jerk, the whole
force exerted shall act on one point of the
B is a feather bed upon which the performer
The posture of Fig. 4 Plate 19 (where
the strong man having an anvil on his
breast or belly, suffers another man to
strike with a sledge hammer and forge
a piece of iron, or cut a bar cold with
chizzels) tho' it seems surprising to some
people, has nothing in it to be really
wondered at; for sustaining the anvil is
the whole matter, and the heavier the anvil
is, the less the blows are felt: And if the
anvil was but two or three times heavier
than the hammer, the strong man would
be killed by a few blows; for the more
matter the anvil has, the more INERTIA and
the less liable it is to be struck out of its
place; because when it has by the blow
receiv'd the whole MOMENTUM of the hammer,
its velocity will be so much less than
that of the hammer as it has more matter
than the hammer. Neither are we to
attribute to the anvil a velocity less than the
hammer in a reciprocal proportion of
their masses or quantities of matter; for
that would happen only if the anvil was
to hang freely in the air (for example)
by a rope, and it was struck horizontally
by the hammer. Thus is the velocity given
by the hammer distributed to all parts of
a great stone, when it is laid on a man's
breast to be broken; but when the blow is
given, the man feels less of the weight of
the stone than he did before, because in
the reaction of the stone, all the parts of
it round about the hammer rise towards
the blow; and if the tenacity of the parts
of the stone, is not stronger than the force
with which it moves towards the hammer,
the stone must break; which it does when
the blow is strong, and struck upon the
centre of gravity of the stone.
In the 6th Fig. of Plate 19, the man
IHL (the chairs IL, being made fast)
makes so strong an arch with his backbone
and the bones of his legs and thighs,
as to be able not only to sustain one man,
but three or four, if they had room to
stand; or, in their stead, a great stone
to be broken with one blow.
In the 6th and 7th Fig. of the same
plate, a man or two are raised in the direction
CM, by the knees of the strong man
IHL lying upon his back. A trial will
suffice to show that this is not a difficult
feat for a man of ordinary strength.
Wanley  enumerates thirty men of might,
each of whom was famous in his time. Notable
among them was Barsabas, who first made a
reputation in Flanders, where he lifted the
coach of Louis XIV, which had sunk to the
nave in the mud, all the oxen and horses yoked
to it having exerted their strength in vain.
For this service the king granted him a
pension, and being soon promoted, he at length
rose to be town-major of Valenciennes.
 Wonders of the little World, by Nathaniel Wanley,
London, 1806. Vol. I., page 76.
Barsabas entering one day a farrier's
shop in a country village, asked for horse
shoes, the farrier showed him some, which
Barsabas snapped in pieces as if they had
been rotten wood, telling the farrier at
the same time that they were too brittle,
and good for nothing. The farrier wanted
to forge some more, but Barsabas took up
the anvil and hid it under his cloak. The
farrier, when the iron was hot, could not
conceive what had become of his anvil, but
his astonishment was still increased when
he saw Barsabas deposit it in its place
with the utmost ease. Imagining that he
had got the devil in his shop, he ran out
as fast as he could, and did not venture
to return till his unwelcome visitor had
Barsabas had a sister as strong as
himself, but as he quitted his home very
young, and before his sister was born, he
had never seen her. He met with her in
a small town of Flanders, where she
carried on a rope manufactury. The modern
Sampson bought some of her largest ropes
which he broke like pack-thread, telling
her they were very bad.--``I will give
some better,'' replied she, ``but will you
pay a good price for them?''--``Whatever
you choose,'' returned Barsabas, showing
her some crown pieces. His sister took
them, and breaking two or three of them
said, ``Your crowns are as little worth as
my ropes, give me better money.'' Barsabas,
astonished at the strength exhibited
by this female, then questioned her
respecting her country and family, and soon
learned that she belonged to the same
The dauphin being desirous to see Barsabas
exhibit some of his feats, the latter
said, ``My horse has carried me so long
that I will carry him in my turn.'' He
then placed himself below the animal and
raising him up, carried him more than
fifty paces, and then placed him on the
ground without being the least hurt.
Barsabas' sister was not unique in her
century. I quote from a magazine called The
Parlor Portfolio or Post-Chaise Companion,
published in London in 1724:
To be seen, at Mr. John Syme's, Peruke
maker, opposite the Mews, Charing Cross,
the surprising and famous Italian Female
Sampson, who has been seen in several
courts of Europe with great applause.
She will absolutely walk, barefoot, on a
red-hot bar of iron: a large block of
marble of between two and three thousand
weight she will permit to lie on her for
some time, after which she will throw it
off at about six feet distance, without
using her hands, and exhibit several other
curious performances, equally astonishing,
which were never before seen in England.
She performs exactly at twelve
o'clock, and four, and six in the afternoon.
Price half-a-crown, servants and children
From the spelling, I judge that the person
who selected this lady's title must have been
more familiar with the City Directory than
with the Scriptures.
In Edward J. Wood's Giants and Dwarfs,
London, 1868, I find the following:
A newspaper of December 19th, 1751,
announces as follows:
At the new theatre in the Haymarket,
this day, will be performed a concert of
musick, in two acts. Boxes 3s., pit 2s.,
gallery 1s. Between the acts of the concert
will be given, gratis, several exercises
of rope-dancing and tumbling. There is
also arrived the little woman from Geneva,
who, by her extraordinary strength, performs
several curious things, viz. 1st. She
beats a red-hot iron that is made crooked
straight with her naked feet. 2ndly. She
puts her head on one chair, and her feet
on another, in an equilibrium, and suffers
five or six men to stand on her body, which
after some time she flings off. 3rdly. An
anvil is put on her body, on which two men
strike with large hammers. 4thly. A
stone of a hundred pounds weight is put
on her body, and beat to pieces with a
hammer. 5thly. She lies down on the
ground, and suffers a stone of 1500 pounds
weight to be laid on her breasts, in which
position she speaks to the audience, and
drinks a glass of wine, then throws the
stone off her body by mere strength, without
any assistance. Lastly, she lifts an anvil
of 200 pound weight from the ground
with her own hair. To begin exactly at six
At present the stunt with the two chairs and
the six men is being exhibited as a hypnotic
Giovanni Battista Belzoni, the famous
Egyptian archeologist, who was a man of
gigantic stature, began his public career as a
strongman at the Bartholomew Fair, under the
management of Gyngell, the conjuror, who
dubbed him The Young Hercules. Shortly
afterward he appeared at Sadler's Wells
Theater, where he created a profound sensation,
under the name of The Patagonian Samson.
The feature of his act was carrying a
pyramid of from seven to ten men in a manner
never before attempted. He wore a sort of
harness with footholds for the men, and when
all were in position he moved about the stage
with perfect ease, soliciting ``kind applause''
by waving a flag. He afterwards became a
magician, and after various other ventures he
finally landed in Egypt, where his discoveries
were of such a nature as to secure for him
an enviable position in ``Who's Who in
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
Feats of strength have always interested
me greatly, so that in my travels around
the world I have made it a point to come in
contact with the most powerful human beings
of my generation. The one among these who
deserves first mention is Charles Jefferson,
with whose achievements I became quite
familiar while we were working in the same
museum many years ago. I am convinced that
he must have been the strongest man of his
time at lifting with the bare hands alone. He
had two feats that he challenged any mortal
to duplicate. One was picking up a heavy
blacksmith's anvil by the horn and placing it
on a kitchen table; for the other he had a block
of steel, which, as near as I can remember,
must have been about 14 inches long, 12 inches
wide, and 7 inches thick. This block lay on
the floor, and his challenge was for anyone to
pick it up with bare hands. I noticed that it
required unusually long fingers to grasp it,
since one could get only the thumb on one side.
Though thousands tried, I never saw, or heard,
of anyone else who could juggle his anvil or
pick up the weight. True, I saw him surreptitiously
rub his fingers with resin, to assist in
the gripping, but that could have been only
of slight assistance to the marvelous grip the
It is generally conceded that Louis Cyr was,
in his best days, the strongest man in the
known world at all-round straight lifting. Cyr
did not give the impression of being an athlete,
nor of a man in training, for he appeared to
be over-fat and not particularly muscular; but
he made records in lifting which, to the best
of my knowledge, no other man has been able
John Grun Marx, a Luxemberger, must have
been among the strongest men in the world at
the time I knew him. We worked on the same
bill several times; but it was at the Olympia,
in Paris, that he shone supreme as a
strongman--and at the same time as a weak one.
For, in spite of his sovereign strength, Mars
was no match for a pair of bright eyes; all
a pretty woman had to do was to smile and
John would wilt. And--Paris was Paris.
Marx's strength was prodigious, and he
juggled hundreds, and toyed with thousands,
of pounds as a child plays with a rattle. He
must have weighed in the neighborhood of
three hundred pounds, and he walked like a
veritable colossus. In fact, he reminded me
of a two-footed baby elephant.
Always good-natured, he made a host of
friends both in the profession and out of it.
After years of professional work he settled
down as landlord of a public house in England,
where, finally, he was prostrated by a mortal
illness. Wishing to die in his native city, he
returned to Luxemberg. He did not realize
that he was bereft of his enormous strength,
and those about him humored him: the doctor
and the nurses would pretend that he hurt
them when he grasped their hands. He died
almost forgotten except by his brother artists,
but they (myself among them) built a monument
to this good-natured Hercules, whose
only care was to entertain.
Among the strongmen that I met during my
days with the museums, one whom I found
most interesting was William Le Roy, known
as The Nail King and The Human Claw-Hammer,
whose act appealed to me for its originality.
So far as I could learn, it had never been
Le Roy was born in Cincinnati, Ohio,
October 3rd, 1873. He was about 5 feet 10
inches in height, and well set up. The
inordinate strength of his jaws, teeth, and neck,
enabled him to push a nail, held between his
teeth, through a one-inch board; or to nail
together, with his teeth, two 3/4-inch boards.
He could draw with his teeth a large nail that
had been driven completely through a two-inch
plank. Then he would screw an ordinary two-
inch screw into a hardwood plank with his
teeth, pull it out with his teeth, and then screw
it into the plank again and offer $100 to any
man who could pull it out with a large pair
of pincers which he proffered for the purpose.
When he had performed these stunts in
various positions, he would bend his body
backward till his head pointed toward the floor, and
in that position push a nail through a one-inch
board held perpendicularly in a metal frame.
I saw no chance for trickery in Le Roy's act.
Another nail act was that of Alexander
Weyer, who, either by superior strength or by
a peculiar knack, could hold a nail between
the middle fingers of his right hand with the
head against the palm, and drive it through
a one-inch board. But since this act did not
get him very far either on the road to fame,
or toward the big money--he turned to magic
and finally became one of the leading
Continental magicians, boasting that he was one
of the few really expert sleight-of-hand
magicians of the world.
I met Weyer at Liege, Belgium, where we
had an all-night match with playing cards. He
admitted that there were some tricks he did
not know, but he claimed that after once seeing
any magician work he could duplicate the
tricks. On this occasion, however, he was
unable to make the boast good.
Another clever performer of those days was
Mexican Billy Wells, who worked on the Curio
platform. His act was the old stone-breaking
stunt, already explained, except that he had
the stones broken on his head instead of on
his body. He protected his head with a small
blanket, which he passed for examination, and
this protection seemed excusable, considering
that he had to do at least seven shows a day.
A strong man from the audience did the real
work of the act by swinging the heavy sledge-
hammer on the stone, as shown in the accompanying
illustration. Usually the stone would
be riven by a single blow; but if it was not,
Wells would yell, ``Harder! harder! hit
harder!'' until the stone was broken.
The last I saw of Billy was during one of
my engagements at the Palace Theater, New
York. He was then soliciting orders for some
photograph firm, the halcyon days of his big
money having faded to a memory. But he had
been a good showman and his was one of the
best liked working acts in the Curio, as the
dime-museum profession was called.
Of all the acts of this nature that I have
ever seen I think the most foolhardy was that
of an under-sized Italian who lay on his back
on the floor and let fall from his hands,
extended upward at arm's length heavy weights
upon his chest--the silly fool! I said as
much to him--and some other things too.
His act had little entertainment to show
as compared with the pain and danger
involved. I do not know what became of him,
but I can guess.
Among the museum attractions of those
years was a man named Wilson who had the
incredible chest expansion of twenty-one
inches. This man would allow a strong leather
strap, about the size of a trunk-strap, to be
buckled round his chest; and then, inflating
his lungs, would break it with very little
apparent exertion. An imitator, named Herman,
worked the side shows for a long time with a
similar act, and was fairly successful, although
his expansion was only about sixteen inches.
The last time I heard of Wilson, he was working
in the shipyards at Newport News, Virginia.
Another ``Samson,'' a German, among other
sensational feats, such as breaking coins with
his fingers, used to flex his muscles and break
a dog-chain that had been fastened round the
biceps of his right arm. While he was
performing at the Aquarium, in London, he issued
a challenge. Sandow, then a youth without
reputation, accepted the challenge, went upon
the stage, defeated him, and, since Samson's
act had been the talk of the town, thus brought
himself into instant notice, the beginning of a
career in which he rose to the top of his
profession. After several successful years on the
stage, Sandow settled down in London, where
I last heard of him as conducting a school of
instruction in health and strength methods.
In the tradition of the ``Female Sampsons''
noted in Chapter Eleven, I recall two strong-
women who were notably good; Yucca, who
lifted a horse by means of a harness over the
shoulders; and La Blanche, who toyed with
heavy articles in a most entertaining way. I
remember these ladies particularly because
both were remarkably good talkers--and I am
referring to conversational quality, not to
Lulu Hurst--known variously as The
Georgia Magnet, The Electric Girl, The
Georgia Wonder, etc.--created a veritable
sensation a generation ago by a series of feats
which seemed to set the law of gravitation at
defiance. Her methods consisted in utilizing
the principles of the lever and fulcrum in a
manner so cleverly disguised that it appeared
to the audience that some supernatural power
must be at work. Although she was exposed
many times, her success was so marked that
several other muscular ladies entered her
province with acts that were, in several
instances, superior to the original.
One of the cleverest of these was Annie
Abbott, who, if I remember rightly, also called
herself The Georgia Magnet. She took the act
to England and her opening performance at
the Alhambra is recorded as one of the three
big sensations of the London vaudeville stage
of those days. The second sensation was
credited to the Bullet-Proof Man. This chap
wore a jacket that rifle bullets, fired point-
blank, failed to penetrate. The composition
of this jacket was a secret, but after the
owner's death the garment was ripped open
and found to contain-ground glass! The
third sensation I must, with all due modesty,
(business of bowing) claim for myself.
The Magnet failed to attract after about
forty-eight hours, for a keen-witted reporter
discovered her methods and promptly published
them. The bullet detainer also lasted
only a short time only. When my opening
added a third sensational surprise, one of the
London dailies asked, ``Is this going to be
another Georgia Magnet fiasco?''
That they were gunning for me is proved
by the fact that the same newspaper
investigator who exposed the Magnet, came upon
the stage of the Alhambra at my press
performance--the same stage where the unhappy
Dixie lode-stone had collapsed--and though he
brought along an antique slave iron, which
he seemed to think would put an end to my
public career on the spot, I managed to escape
in less than three minutes. When I passed
back his irons, he grinned at me and said, ``I
don't know how you did it, but you did!'' and
he shook me cordially by the hand.
Some twenty-six years ago I was on the bill
with Mattie Lee Price, who, though less well
known, was in many ways superior to either
Miss Hurst or Miss Abbott. For a time she
was a sensation of the highest order, for which
thanks were largely due to the management of
her husband, a wonderful lecturer and a thorough
showman. I think his name was White.
He ``sold'' the act as no other man has sold
an act before or since.
We worked together at Kohl and Middleton's,
Chicago, and the following week at Burton's
Museum, Milwaukee; but when we made
the next jump I found that White was not
along. They had had a family squabble, the
other apex of the triangle being a circus
grafter who ``shibbolethed'' at some of the
``brace games,'' which at that time had police
protection, so far as that could be given. He
had interfered between the couple, and was,
I am sorry to say, quite successful as an
interferer; but he was a diabolical failure when
he attempted to duplicate White's work as
lecturer, and the act, after playing a date or two,
sank out of sight and I have heard nothing
more of her professionally. Lately I have
learned that she died in London in 1900 and
is buried in Clements Cemetery, Fulham.
This was one of the most positive
demonstrations I have ever seen of the fact that
showmanship is the largest factor in putting
an act over. Miss Price was a marvelous
performer, but without her husband-lecturer she
was no longer a drawing card, and dropped
to the level of an ordinary entertainer even
lower, for her act was no longer even entertaining.
In Chapter Eleven we read Dr. Desaguliers'
analysis of the mechanics of what may be
called strongmanship. Similar investigations
have attended the appearance of more recent
For instance, reviewing one of Lulu Hurst's
performances, the New York Times, of July
13th, 1884, said:
The ``Phenomenon of the Nineteenth
Century,'' which may be seen nightly at
Wallack's, is not so much the famous
Georgia girl, with her mysterious muscle,
as is the audience which gathers to wonder
at her performance. It is a phenomenon
of stupidity, and it only goes to show how
willingly people will be fooled, and with
what cheerful asininity they will help on
Then follows a description of her performance,
which was far from successful, thanks
to the efforts of one of the committee, a man
described as ``Mr. Thomas Johnson, a powerfully-
built engraver connected with the Century
magazine.'' Mr. Johnson had evidently
caught her secret, and he got the better of
her in all the tests in which he was allowed to
A disclosure of the methods employed in a
few of her ``tests'' will serve to convince the
reader of the fact that she possessed no
supernormal power, the same general principles
shown here being used throughout her performance.
These explanations are taken from the
French periodical La Nature, in which Mr.
Nelson W. Perry thus sums up the attitude
of the public in regard to this class of
performance: ``Electricity is a mysterious agent;
therefore everything mysterious is electric.''
Of the performance of the Electric Girl this
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