We all have our own interests and hobbies we engage in. Some are completely normal while others are considered to be unconventional or even repulsive. Regardless if some are looked at as odd, there are people that practice their unusual hobbies on a regular basis.
People choose to engage in their strange choice of hobby for not only the fun and adventure, but also for the risky thrill and adrenaline they get out of it. Every time they attempt their act, they are taking the chance of a serious injury or even a fatality. Please do not try any of these crazy stunts at home. They should only be done by experienced professionals with many years of good practice under their belt.
Sword swallowing is an ancient skill dating way back to south India before 2,000 BC. The performer passes a sword (of various sizes) in their mouth, to their esophagus and then to the stomach. The performer skillfully creates an illusion that they are actually swallowing the sword. Today, there are only dozens of modern sword swallowers in the world.
According to Swordswallow.com, with our current global population of 7 billion, sword swallowers would make only about 1 out of every 250 million people in the entire world. You likely have a better chance winning a lottery jackpot than running into a sword swallower.
So what are the usual sizes of the swords used in performances? According to the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI), a sword swallower is defined as a person that can swallow a 15-inch sword without entering the stomach. Their maximum recommended length for a sword swallower is a 24-inch that would put the sharp tip into their stomach.
A successful and safe performer requires plenty of physical and psychological preparation. Each step must be done with perfection. Even one mistake can be the end of the performance and maybe the performer. Here are the basic steps the successful performer takes:
1. To align the mouth with the esophagus, they will tilt their head back while hyper-extending the neck.
2. The next step is to ignore their gag reflex and relax the upper esophageal sphincter while simultaneously moving their tongue out of the way.
3. The sword is then aligned with the GI tract and is moved through the mouth, throat, upper esophageal sphincter and into the esophagus. The saliva acts as a natural lubricant for the sword. However, some performers prefer to use a jelly as a lubricant.
4. As the sword makes its way down and passes by several organs, the curves of the esophagus (assisted by gravity) actually begin to straighten out. As the sword enters through the cardiac opening, the stomach is at an angle to the esophagus and is brought into line. At this point, the performer’s sword is just millimeters away vital organs such as the lungs and heart.
Below are some of the possible mild to serious dangers of sword swallowing:
- Throat pain
- Lower chest pains
- Irritation of the diaphragm
- Perforations of the esophagus
- Throat laceration
- Inflammation of the lungs
- Inflammation of the sac that covers and the protects the heart
- Internal bleeding and even death (there are 29 known deaths over the last 150 years)
Of course, the risks increase when a performer uses multiple or unusual swords.
Sword swallowing is considered to be one of the most dangerous arts still being performed after more than 4,000 years. These brave artists risk mild to severe injuries and still continue to engage. There are still performers in various countries around the world. The art came to America in 1817 and although its popularity has decreased over the years, there are still many people who count the days down to see sideshow tours of rare and dangerous performances.
The Human Blockhead
A human blockhead is a person that performs a trick in a sideshow or circus by hammering a nail (or other object) into their nasal cavity via the nostril. The nail appears like it is being hammered into the skull when in reality it is just goes straight through the nasopharynx (hollow space that widens at the back of the nose and eventually becomes the throat). The head of the performer is tilted back to make the nail look like it is going up into the bone.
The origins of this strange stunt is said to have been developed by a famous magician named Melvin Burkhardt. After getting his nose broken in a boxing match, he became very fascination by the way the doctors were putting various instruments into his nose. Since Burkhardt, the act has been performed in various sideshows. Some performers prefer to use other objects besides nails such as a running power drill, bradawl and even a lollipop.
Below is an interesting video with footage of real human blockheads.
Lying On A Bed Of Nails
If done properly, this strange hobby is probably the safest of the others we have discussed. If you are a spectator watching a performer on a bed of nails, you will likely think they are literally stabbing themselves with a bunch of nails. However, this is not the case. It is the pressure per unit area of skin that will actually determine if a nail will pierce the skin.
Of course, if you lay on a bed with one nail, you are going to get your skin punctured. The force that was created by the performer’s weight would be distributed into the single nail.
Lay down on a bed filled with nails and you’re not going to have to worry about your skin being punctured. This is because if there are numerous nails, the weight is evenly distributed between them making the pressure applied by each nail too weak to break their skin. So if you happen to weigh 100 pounds and lay on a bed of at about 100 nails, there is only about one pound of pressure on each nail.
Some people prefer to just practice these acts as a strange hobby so they can show off to their friends and family. However, others take it seriously by making it not only a hobby, but also a profitable career.
They can work for a circus or sideshow and make a good living. They can make money by stunning curious spectators eager to see the most rare and dangerous performances on the planet.