Swordswallowers Who Swallow More Than Just Swords
Swallowing is perhaps a process we take for granted. Once our food has entered our mouths, our saliva begins to break down the food. You chew and then swallow, meaning the food has passed through your mouth, down your pharynx, and into your esophagus. We certainly do not give the process of swallowing much thought, likely because we are mostly passing food through our mouths and pharynges and esophagi. Yet, there are groups of people who put much thought into the process of swallowing because neglecting the step by step process could mean death.
Sword swallowers began their perilous acts around the 1st century AD. They spread first in parts of Greece and Rome, but soon found homes in India, Japan, and much of Europe. Sword swallowing has been an entertaining facet and testament to humanity’s odd fascination with grotesque bodily extremes. Even today, the sword swallowing community is flourishing and teaching newer and newer generations how to safely entertain the curious masses at modern day circuses, side shows, and festivals.
By the early 1900s, circuses and traveling side shows had their very own sword swallowers. These performers would often be billed alongside famous magicians of the time, including Harry Houdini. There was even a difference in how sword swallowers performed depending on what continent the circuses and sideshows were performing in. For example, Europeans were fascinated by the number of swords a swallower could swallow. The United States was fascinated with the bizarre and novel, such as swallowing objects like knives, snakes, or fire.
Injuries ranging from mild to severe often result from sword swallowing. Mild injuries such as sore throats or minor lacerations often occur, but such small pains and cuts can lead to major infections or larger wounds if the area is not rested and taken care of. A minor injury could potentially predispose the swallower to obtaining major injury, such as perforations of the esophagus, stomach, heart, lungs, and other organs, or intestinal bleeding. Since 1880, there is a record of 29 deaths from this strangely unique and fascinating piece of ancient entertainment.