Memoirs of a Sword Swallower Excerpt: Krinko the Fakir; the Human Ostrich
After working in carnivals for several months, I finally decided that there is almost no limit to the remarkable things that can be done with the human body. But before I realized this profound truth, I got the mistaken idea that because I knew a few carny routines, I was an authority on carny acts. When I was able to run half a dozen skewers through my arms and do the nail-in-the-eye act, I decided that there was nothing left for old man Krinko to teach me. Then one evening the old fakir resolved to show me up.
I was finishing my sword swallowing routine when Krinko called casually, “Hi, son, I want you to help me.” I knew that after forty years in the show business, the old man needed my help like he needed a third leg, but I came over to his platform. Krinko was holding up a yard of red silk ribbon. After the tip had left my catwalk and collected around him, Krinko gravely rolled up the ribbon into a small ball and swallowed it.
Then Krinko pulled up his shirt, disclosing his great hairy belly. He picked up a razor blade and made a slight ct in his skin just above the navel. Reaching into the cut, he began to pull out the ribbon, inch by inch.
When he’d produced about a foot of it, I said, “Let me pull it out.” I was certain that he must be palming the ribbon. Krinko instantly put his hands on his sides so I’d have a clear field. I took the ribbon and began to work it out. There wasn’t the slightest doubt that the ribbon was coming from inside of him. I thought he might have made a small cut in his body, rolled up a duplicate into a ball, and stuck it into the wound. But this ribbon was paying out from somewhere inside the old man’s body. I pulled out the whole yard of silk and was more astonished than anyone in the crowd.
Krinko knew he had me completely fooled and got a big kick out of it. For the next few days, he kept making cracks about Johnny-come-latelies who know all about torture acts and asking me if I’d mind giving him lessons in fakirism. The other members of the troupe took up the gag. Lu gave me a hot dog with a ribbon tied around it and asked me to produce the ribbon after I’d eaten the dog. I spent hours trying to figure out the stunt, but as far as I was concerned, it was still a miracle.
Krinko had never done the ribbon trick before in America, but after he saw the effect it produced on me, he started introducing it as a regular part of his act. As we were all working crowded together in the pit, he couldn’t keep the effect a secret for long. So I soon discovered how the ribbon trick was done.
“I enjoy the life, but my work is not without its dangers,” the Ostrich admitted to me. “One of my best flourishes is to swallow a watch borrowed from the audience and then allow people to put their ears against my chest and listen to the ticking. Old and young enjoy this. While playing in Texas once, I experienced a good deal of difficulty as people refused to contribute watches, feeling they might not get them back. I offered to allow anyone to keep hold of the chain, but even this produced no results. At last, the manager of the side show I was with had an inspiration.
“I’ll post a reward of one hundred dollars to anyone who can produce a watch you can’t swallow,’ he told me. ‘Everyone will be combing the family attics and the local pawn shops for giant watches. The publicity will be tremendous.’
“I felt a little nervous over this prospect as I was afraid someone might come in with an alarm clock tied to his wrist and I knew the manager would never forfeit that hundred dollars even if it killed me. For several days, everything went well. Then the blow came. An old cattleman stood up one evening holding a gigantic watch covered with an embossed scene of cattle punching. The sculptor had even included the cows’ horns which stuck out from the surface of the case.
“This would be difficult for some people to swallow,’ said the manager, holding it up, ‘But for the Ostrich it’s just a joke,’ and he handed the machine to me.
“I swallowed it bravely and immediately knew I was going to have trouble. Long experience has given me a sixth sense about these things. When I tried to bring it up, the cows’ horns got stuck in my throat. I began to gasp for breath. I could feel myself turning blue in the face. I made one more effort and only succeeded in lodging the watch firmly in my throat, shutting off my windpipe. I began to suffocate…