Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

Swallowing swords takes a steady hand and the willingness to hazard the occasional sore throat and pierced esophagus. And fortunately for those readers who won't risk the taste of broadsword, the folks at the Sword Swallowing Hall of Fame are compiling the histories of sword swallowers past and present.

Some of the best photos in their archive date back to the 1800s, when sword swallowers like Edith Clifford, who learned the art at the age of 13 and could swallow 24 swords simultaneously, razor blades, bayonets, and saws. When she was a veteran, Harry Houdini witnessed her act and described her routine as such:

Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

The sensation of her act was when the point of a bayonet 23 1/2 inches long and fastened to the breech of a cannon was placed in her mouth and the cannon discharged with the recoil driving the bayonet down her throat.


Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s
Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s
Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s
Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s
Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

Here's Kitty Fisher, who worked alongside her husband in the 1890's. In 1902, The Boston Herald touted her abilities as follows:

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."

Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

And despite her practice, Fisher survived occupational mishaps such as piercing a vein in her throat and having a dagger break in half midway down her gullet.


Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

And finally — as we jump ahead a few decades — we meet Edna Price, who worked with Ringling Bros. and retired from the profession in 1939. Here, she swallows glowing neon lights for Ripley's Believe It Or Not at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

And for more information on the many saber-eaters and epee-tasters over the centuries, see the Sword Swallower Hall of Fame.

Awesome portraits of female sword swallowers in the 1800s

Related: Charles Eisenmann's sideshow employment photography. The 1870 photo at left is from this collection, as is "Lady Attira, Sword Walker."

[Via Turn of the Century]