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Sword swallowing

Sword swallowing is a skill in which the performer passes a sword through the mouth and down the esophagus to the stomach. This feat is not swallowing in the traditional sense; the natural processes that constitute swallowing do not take place, but are repressed in order to keep the passage from the mouth to the stomach open for the sword. The practice is dangerous and there is risk of injury.

Sword swallowing spread to Greece and Rome in the 1st century AD and to China in the 8th century. In Japan, it became a part of the Japanese acrobatic theatre, Sangaku, which included fire eating, tightrope walking, juggling and early illusion. In Europe it developed into yet a third distinct type of performance associated with the medieval jongleurs, that of the street performance.

Sword swallowing was performed during the Middle Ages as part of street theatre and was popular at festivals and other large gatherings. It began to die out in the mid-19th century, and was outlawed in Scandinavia in 1893.

According to an early-19th century English magazine article the abilities of sword-swallowers in India were considered incredible when first reported in England. In 1813 'swallowing the sword' was advertised as among the new and astonishing feats performed by the Indian Jugglers then appearing in London. The troupe was led by the famous juggler and sword swallower Ramo Samee, who continued to perform until his death in London in August 1850, having at times also toured Europe and America. From 1850 to the 1890s a small number of sword swallowers performed in the UK, such as Martha Mitchell (c 1855) and Benedetti (1863–95), and in the US, including Lawson Peck (c 1850s), Ling Look (c 1872), Wandana (died May 9, 1875), and Harry Parsons (died December 1880). The best-known North American sword swallower of this time was Fred McLone, better known to the public as "Chevalier Cliquot", who performed from 1878 to the early 20th century.

  • A 59-year-old man experienced chest pain and severe dysphagia following practice for his sword swallowing act. An esophageal perforation was found and surgically repaired; 19 days later a leak at the site required a transhiatal esophagectomy with a left cervical esophagogastrostomy. The patient recovered normally, but ceased the practice of sword swallowing.
  • A 27-year-old woman reported neck pain and a single episode of hematemesis (vomiting blood) after pricking her throat while practicing her sword swallowing act with a sharp dagger. The injury was found to be immediately below the esophageal sphincter, and the patient was admitted to intensive care and placed on intravenous antibiotics and a proton-pump inhibitor. She recovered well and returned to all previous activities with the exception of sword swallowing.


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