5 Penetrating Facts About Sword Swallowing

TIME

On the last Saturday of every February, sword swallowers gather at Ripley’s Believe It or Not museums throughout America to commemorate World Sword Swallower’s Day. It’s a sideshow so dangerous there are only a few dozen full-time professionals, according to trade association Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI). The society claims sword swallowing takes 3-10 years to learn, though some say they mastered it in six months. We talked to five professionals about how it’s done and how it has almost killed them.

Beginners practice using wire coat hangers.

“Most people start with a coat hanger stretched out in the outline of a sword,” says Todd Robbins, 56, a sword swallower who has lectured about the history of sideshows at Yale. Beginners also use paint brushes, spoons and knitting needles to desensitize their gag reflexes.

Here’s how Dan Meyer, 57, Tampa, Fla.-based SSAI president and former America’s Got Talent contestant whose…

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