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Man Swallows 100-Year-Old Museum Exhibit

Nov 17, 2010 – 2:13 PM
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Marc Hartzman

Marc Hartzman Contributor

(Nov. 17) -- Invite a sword swallower to a museum and it's bound to happen: He's going to swallow an exhibit. On Sunday, Dan Meyer did just that when he dropped a 100-year-old serrated saw down his throat.

Meyer, president of Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI), swallowed the tool in front of a packed lecture hall during his presentation on the history and science of sword swallowing at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn.

"It felt kind of bumpy on the edges and it kinda hurt," Meyer told AOL News. "I had to go very slowly and carefully. My throat's a little sore after doing it. The saw is probably more painful than anything I've swallowed."
Marc Hartzman
Dan Meyer swallowed a 100-year-old saw once owned by an early 20th-century sword swallower named Edith Clifford. Meyer performed the feat during a lecture on sword swallowing at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., where the saw is on display.

The sharp-toothed saw once belonged to an early 20th-century sword swallower named Edith Clifford. Elegantly clad in Victorian dress, she was billed as the "Champion Sword Swallower of the World" from 1899 to 1922.

"It's a privilege for me," Meyer said. "This creates a connection for me to Edith Clifford, now that I've swallowed the same prop she's swallowed. It's like doing a straitjacket escape using Houdini's straitjacket."

The saw, along with a dozen other long, sharp objects, was on loan from Meyer for display at the museum's "Circus! Art and Science Under the Big Top" exhibit.
Sword Swallowers Association International
Clifford, billed as the "Champion Sword Swallower of the World" holds the 3-foot long serrated saw she was famous for swallowing. Meyer swallowed the same saw Sunday.

It is believed to be the first artifact pulled from an exhibit to be swallowed.

"I definitely think sword swallowing is one of those things that absolutely fascinates people," the museum's director of education, Robin Garr, said before the event. "I think that's proven by the sheer fact that this program is sold out. It's a strange feat, that's for sure -- I don't know if I'll actually be able to watch it."

But everyone else did.

After discussing the history of sword swallowing, along with its many obvious dangers, Meyer put an end to any lingering doubt that the stunt is faked as he lowered an arsenal of steel into his stomach.

He eased the crowd into it, starting with swords of various lengths before making the audience truly wince with a pair of giant hedge clippers and the historic saw.

As a grand finale, Meyer attempted a personal record by simultaneously swallowing 15 swords, six of which once belonged to Clifford. It took a few moments to prepare the blades in a bunch -- and elicited concern from an ear, nose and throat doctor in the audience, who reminded Meyer of the fragility of the esophagus.

Fearing no danger, Meyer tilted his back and successfully dropped the stack of swords down his gullet.

"I'm elated," he said afterward. He more than doubled his previous record of seven at once.
Marc Hartzman
Meyer set a personal record by swallowing 15 swords at once.

It was another tribute to Clifford, who often swallowed multiple swords at once. During shows she gulped down a giant straight razor and had a bayonet shot down her throat by the recoil of a fired rifle.

Meyer swallows a replica of the giant straight razor but has yet to attempt the bayonet stunt.

"I thought that might be the next thing to work up to, but you know how hard it is to carry a gun around these days? Getting on a plane or even getting into a venue for an event?" he said. "It's almost not worth the hassle. If I start becoming an Edith Clifford protege, I may have to work up to that. But I'm not wearing any of her skirts."

Meyer, 53, began swallowing swords nearly 10 years ago.

"Some people have a midlife crisis and buy a Corvette. Me? I took up swallowing steel," he said.

For Meyer, the feat added to his already unusual repertoire of skills, including juggling, stilt-walking, unicycling, glass eating and fire eating. He had spent years working in various circuses.

Clifford learned to swallow swords at a much younger age. In 1899, at 13, she learned the craft from Delno Fritz -- who was trained at age 11 by his father. While swallowing sharp objects ran in Fritz's family, no reasons for Clifford's interest in swords is known. She was, however, very good at it.

Even Harry Houdini was impressed after witnessing her act in a 1919 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show. In his book, "Miracle Mongers and Their Methods," published a year later, he wrote about various women sword swallowers and said Clifford was "perhaps, the most generously endowed. Possessed of more than ordinary personal charms, a refined taste for dressing both herself and her stage, and an unswerving devotion to her art, she has perfected an act that has found favor even in the Royal Courts of Europe."

After retiring in 1922, Clifford and her husband, German trapeze artist Karl Bauer, left show business far behind. The couple moved to Canton, Ohio, and opened a corner grocery store.

Though Clifford had proved immune to the many blades thrust into her body, a cancerous right ovary eventually claimed her life in 1942.

Sometime later, the swords, the saw and other pointy props were sold at a garage sale and hidden from history in the home of an elderly couple in Canton until 2002. The couple learned about Meyer and SSAI and sold the collection to him.

In addition to the museum event, Meyer lectures around the world on the art and science of sword swallowing and has appeared on numerous TV programs, including "The Today Show" and "America's Got Talent." He's also gobbled blades underwater in a tank of sharks for "Ripley's Believe It Or Not!"

But swallowing the saw was a first.

"Most of the other swords I swallow pretty regularly week in and week out," Meyer said. "But Edith's saw is historical, a one-time deal. I hope the museum grasps the uniqueness of it. This was a special event."

ALSO SEE: In Celebration of Sword Swallowing: Open Wide!

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