jueves, 2 de septiembre de 2010

Sword Swallowing Ladies: throughout the ages

Unlike the majority of sideshow tricks, there really is no secret to sword swallowing that makes it appear more impressive, dangerous or painful; you just have to do it. 

It is a fairly risky act with ancient roots, and most famous sword-swallowers have had one or two notable injuries.

In the 1890s Miss Victorina (Kitty Fisher, a native of Berlin) swallowed swords in her act along with her husband Kar-mi.

Kar-mi would swallow a loaded gun barrel, and while it was down his throat, would shoot a cracker off a man's head, while Miss Victorina was said to have swallowed a record 16 swords at once around the turn of the century.

In 1899 the Victorinas put out a "Text Book On The Art of Sword Swallowing - Explaining How To Do It Sixteen Different Ways" with some mythical tips on how to swallow swords, some written in an untranslatable ancient script! I would love to get my hands on a copy...

The Boston Herald of December 28th, 1902, described Victorina's performance:

"By long practice she has accustomed herself to swallow swords, daggers, bayonets, walking sticks, rods, and other dangerous articles. 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 blades." On one occasion, while sword-swallowing in Boston, a sword pierced a vein in her throat.

The blade was half-way down, but instead of immediately pulling it out, she pushed it further in.

She was laid up in a hospital for 3 months after this performance. In Chicago she had an even 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 her passage.

Dropping the hilt on the floor, she leaned forward, and placing her finger and thumb down her throat, she succeeded in catching the end of the blade and pulled it out.

Many gutsy ladies during this time period were making a living swallowing swords at a time when it was quite risque to reveal your ankle in public.

Miss Edith Clifford Williams is another famous American performer who held the impressive title "Champion Sword Swallower of the World." Clifford began swallowing swords in 1899 at the age of 13 after learning from sword swallower Delno Fritz

Clifford was said to be "generously endowed" and "possessed of more than ordinary personal charms, a refined taste for dressing both herself and her stage, and an unswerving devotion to her art." 

Clifford married Thomas Holmes who was known as the "Elastic Stretch Man."

They worked for Barnum & Bailey Circus in Vienna Austria in 1901, where Clifford became famous for swallowing razor blades, scissors, saw blades and bayonets.  was said to have swallowed 18 to 20 inch blades without a problem, and a longer blade up to 26 inches long, as well as 10, 16, and up to 24 swords at one time.

During one of Clifford's performances she swallowed a bayonet that was shot down her throat with a gun. By this time, she had been sword swallowing for over 20 years.

The legacy lives on in modern performers of today such as the lovely Miss Behave (Amy Saunders) who bills herself as "one of the last living female sword swallowers in the world!"

She is in fact one of five female sword swallowers currently performing worldwide (she gets extra points in my book for dressing only in latex).

Miss Behave spoke of her past in an interview with the Telegraph, "I taught myself to sword-swallow about 10 years ago, after a friend bought me Memoirs of a Sword-Swallower. I'm quite gobby, and he thought it would shut me up - but I read it and thought that it sounded like a damn fine idea."

Her current act (yes she is available for hire!) includes scissors, switchblades, chair legs, and the World Record for swallowing up to 5 swords simultaneously! A normal 10 minute show will include Rose through tongue, sword swallowing, table swallowing, fire eating and glove act. 

Miss Behave says of her act "Whenever I swallow a sword, I do exercises to warm up, but a shot of tequila also helps."

Throughout the ages technique for sword-swallowing has not changed, 
it's an art that takes years of fearless practice and conditioning.

Images, Sources: 1 2

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