Material: metal, heart
Collection Location: UCL Pathology Museum
Catalogue Number: OESOPHAGUS 15
Period: probably Victorian England
Date: probably mid or late 19th century
Condition: Well preserved
Dimensions: 1.5*28.5 cm; 11*20 cm
Dan Meyer talks about how to swallow a sword
Dan Meyer, 57, Fla.-based SSAI president who describes the technique at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting: "When I put the sword in my mouth, I will repress the gag reflex in the back of the throat. Then I have to go behind my Adam’s apple, my prominentia laryngea, behind the voice box, the larynx, down about through the crichopharyngeal sphincter, up in the upper part of the mouth here. Then down into the esophagus, repress the peristalsis reflex, [muscular contractions] that swallow your food. From there relax the esophageal muscles, relax the lower esophageal sphincter, and slip the blade down into my stomach, repress the wretch reflex in my stomach." （Waxman, 2015）
The sword-swallower Waxwork. Dresden 1900. Courtesy of Deutsches Hygiene-Museum.
About the objects
“Last century an Indian sword-swallower hiccupped during a performance in London. His beautifully dissected esophagus and the sword are on display at University College Hospital.” (The Sword, July, 1995, p.5.)
The identity of the sword-swallower is hardly known. He may be this poor Indian performer. The sword cut through the wall of the oesophagus and then pierced the membrane around the heart.
The dangers of sword-swallowing
The performance does not really mean swallowing the sword but taking a good control of mood and body muscles to put the sword in the oesophagus and then withdraw it. The whole body of the performer should be very relaxed and he should repress himself to help the passage to the end of stomach keep open. It is very hard to bear the strong gag reflex sometimes even for experienced veteran performers. Any emotional distractions or incidental events can be fatal.
Its side-effects are recorded. In the process of exercising sword-swallowing, performers have to endure sore throat. When the frequency of training or performance is high, they will experience different degrees of pain in chests or shoulders.
Many assumptions can be made about the reason for the death of the performer. He may unfortunately move his body in the crucial moment of the performance, which gave rise to the rupture of the oesophagus and the subsequent massive hemorrhage. Incidents are always unexpected. It is noted (Houdini, 2007) that when a performer named Victoria was withdrawing her dagger, the blade unexpectedly snapped into two parts, which nearly made her die if the end of the blade had gone one eighth inch further.
Medical Innovations inspired by sword-swallowers
Sword-swallowing gave doctors inspirations that they can put a long tube with mirror on the end into patients’ mouth to view oesophagus and stomach.
In 1868, Adolph Kussmaul made tests on a sword swallower to look inside his stomach, which was the first esophagoscopy. He was seen as one of the pioneers who push forward the development of gastroscopy to shift towards safer and direct approaches. It is Kussmaul's insightful decision to invite a professional sword swallower to help him complete the medical procedure. The sword swallower is experienced in swallowing foreign objects. In this way, Kussmaul understood precisely how to navigate through the whole part of the stomach by a 47-mm-long and 13-mm-wide tubing.
In 1932, Rudolph Schindler invented the first flexible gastroscope. It could examine at the inside of the stomach carefully through many lenses and a tiny light bulb.
In the 1950s, the gastrocamera allows recording of an examination on film.
Cohen, R. (2010). By the Sword: Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai Warriors, Swashbucklers and Olympians. London: Pocket Books.
Houdini, H. (2007). Miracle Mongers and Their Methods: A Complete Exposé. New York: Cosimo.
Nezhat, C. (2011). Nezhat's History of Endoscopy: A Historical Analysis of Endoscopy's Ascension Since Antiquity. Germany: Endo: Press.
Meet the future of endoscopy. (2016). [online]. Invendo medical. Available from: http://www.invendo-medical.com/invendo-e200-system/
Down the Hatch: The History and Anatomy of Sword Swallowing. (30 Sep 2015). [online]. Morbid Anatomy Museum. Available from: http://morbidanatomymuseum.org/event/down-the-hatch-the-history-and-anatomy-of-sword-swallowing-an-illustrated-lecture-with-ilise-s-carter-aka-the-lady-aye/
Peddle, M. (21 Feb 2017). Anatomical Considerations of Sword Swallowing. [online]. Available from: http://www.bodymybody.com/sword-swallowing/
Exhibitions. [online]. Morbid Anatomy Museum. Available from: http://morbidanatomymuseum.org/event/down-the-hatch-the-history-and-anatomy-of-sword-swallowing-an-illustrated-lecture-with-ilise-s-carter-aka-the-lady-aye/
Cabinets of Curiosity: ‘House of Wax’ At the Morbid Anatomy Museum. [online]. Morbid Anatomy Museum. Available from: http://bklyner.com/cabinets-of-curiosity-house-of-wax-at-the-morbid-anatomy-museum-parkslopestoop/