Because sword swallowing is a little odd and unusual, it’s not uncommon for people to think the 4,000-year-old art is a joke, said Dan Meyer, himself a sword swallower, as well as the founder and president of Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI).
But not only is sword swallowing not a trick, its practitioners take the profession, the association, and safety very seriously. Meyer founded SSAI in part to highlight the medical breakthroughs that sword swallowers helped advance, including the world’s first rigid endoscopy — developed after a German physician tested a prototype on a sword swallower in 1868 — and the first electrocardiogram.
THE SWALLOWERS RETURN
In 2002, when SSAI held its first meeting, in conjunction with a tattoo and sideshow convention in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 19 sword swallowers attended. That wasn’t bad, given the fact that there are estimated to be only a few dozen in the world. But Meyer bet, correctly, that participation might be even higher if SSAI could cut down on the amount of travel required of participants. In 2009, World Sword Swallowers Day debuted at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums around the world — partly because the original Ripley’s in Chicago featured three sword swallowers at the 1933–34 World’s Fair. Approximately 50 sword swallowers participated this year.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME
Although SSAI’s mission is to connect with the world’s sword swallowers, the last thing it wants to do is encourage anyone to try and pick up the dangerous skill, Meyer said. There are up to nine serious injuries every year, and 29 people have died swallowing swords. It’s also hard. Meyer made 13,000 unsuccessful attempts before he swallowed his first sword.
World Sword Swallowers Day may lack keynoters and exhibitors, but the gatherings serve the same purpose as any other profession’s conferences. “We may not run into each other for years,” Meyer said, but when they get together for World Sword Swallowers Day, practitioners compare notes on technique and equipment, and share new stunts. “You can’t learn this from a book or a video.”
DOWN THE HATCH
On World Sword Swallowers Day, Sword Swallowers Association International President Dan Meyer helped break a standing record for most swords swallowed and twisted at once by two people — 24! — at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in Orlando. He also swallowed a car axle.
World Sword Swallowers Day
Feb. 28, 2015
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
50 sword swallowers