Sword Swallower's Day: Last Saturday in February

Did you know that those sword swallowers, at least the one who aren’t merely fakes and phonies, really do actually send the sword down their gullet? There are some phony sword swallowers use retractable swords but you almost have to be blind to be taken in by them. The real difference between faker and a real swallower is that the real sword swallower is able to control the natural gag reflex that separates him from the rest of us. In other words, when it comes to sword swallowing this is one magic trick that has nothing to do with illusion. David Copperfield may need a rotating stage to make the Statue of Liberty disappear, but it only takes practice to learn to swallow a sword.

The trick to learning to swallowing a sword is taking the time to practice, carefully mind you, so that you desensitize yourself to the urge to gag when the tip of the sword reaches the point in the throat at which the fear that you won’t be able to breathe kicks in. Of course, there is also the trick to learning that you must create a straight path down the gullet for the sword to travel. The path from the lips down the throat is not totally unobstructed and when the tip of the sword reaches a certain point there will be a quite natural reflex reaction to gasp for breath because of the fear that you will not be able to breathe. It takes practice to master control over this reflex; often years of practice before you can get that sword down to the deep recesses that will amaze your friends and earn you dollars.

If you are a man, the first obstacle to get past is the Adam’s Apple and that can be a real doozy. Depending on the size of your Adam’s Apple, this may well by the single biggest obstruction you’ll have to learn to move your sword past. Once you are able to swallow the sword past the Adam’s Apple, however, it is usually pretty smooth sailing from there. Only with practice will you finally be able to move that sword down through the esophagus and into your stomach. The actual length of the sword that you will be able to swallow after these long hard months of desensitizing yourself to the gag reflex is dependent upon only one thing: the distance between your mouth and your stomach. If you are going for the world record be aware that you’ll have to swallow nearly three feet of metal blade.

The last Saturday in February is World Sword Swallowers Day. Sword swallowing is not a trick, but an art. A very dangerous art. For this reason, I cannot advise heartily enough against your observing World Sword Swallowing Day by actually undertaking the practice. A much better way is swallow your pride, admit you don’t yet have the necessary knowledge to actively engage in the process and instead admire the skills of those who do. At the same time you can enjoy some movies that would actually be worth watching even if they didn’t contain sword swallowers.


Believe it not, but the sword swallower played by Delno Fitz, an actual sword swallower from a very young age, is not the most unusual titular examples in “Freaks.” This is the movie that essentially destroyed the career of director Tod Browning and was shielded from the eyes of polite audiences so that it developed a reputation as the ultimate exploitation movie. Time has dulled the senses of exploitation and revealed it to be one of the greatest films ever made about, quite literally, the little man exacting his due respect from his oppressors. And, yeah, it has sword swallowing.

Nightmare Alley

I cannot figure out of the life of me while “Nightmare Alley” has not been remade in recent years. The Prince of Swords, Alex Linton, is the guy swallowing the swords in this movie. I love carny movies and I love film noir and what could be better than a film noir set in a carny atmosphere? Tyrone Power plays an unusually unsympathetic protagonist; a huckster who fits right into the 21st century world of American entertainment. Once he falls for a young and strikingly beautiful Coleen Gray, all manner of hell breaks loose.


“Houdini” is an enormously entertaining Tony Curtis movie that has absolutely nothing in common with the real life story of Harry Houdini. One of the things that makes “Houdini” an interesting choice for World Sword Swallowers Day is as a reminder that sword swallowing is not some magical illusion. The sword actually does go down the throat; it is swallowed and then, in a sense, regurgitated. This movie is a great deal of fun with two very charming leads, but do not attempt to learn anything about the real Harry Houdini from it.