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Houdini, Harry / The Miracle Mongers, an Exposé
Produced by Charles Keller. HTML version by Al Haines.






My Wife


"All wonder," said Samuel Johnson, "is the effect of novelty on
ignorance." Yet we are so created that without something to wonder at
we should find life scarcely worth living. That fact does not make
ignorance bliss, or make it "folly to be wise." For the wisest man
never gets beyond the reach of novelty, nor can ever make it his boast
that there is nothing he is ignorant of; on the contrary, the wiser he
becomes the more clearly he sees how much there is of which he remains
in ignorance. The more he knows, the more he will find to wonder at.

My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and
many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day
commonplaces of my business. But I have never been without some
seeming marvel to pique my curiosity and challenge my investigation. In
this book I have set down some of the stories of strange folk and
unusual performers that I have gathered in many years of such research.

Much has been written about the feats of miracle-mongers, and not a
little in the way of explaining them. Chaucer was by no means the
first to turn shrewd eyes upon wonder-workers and show the clay feet of
these popular idols. And since his time innumerable marvels, held to
be supernatural, have been exposed for the tricks they were. Yet
to-day, if a mystifier lack the ingenuity to invent a new and startling
stunt, he can safely fall back upon a trick that has been the favorite
of pressagents the world over in all ages. He can imitate the Hindoo
fakir who, having thrown a rope high into the air, has a boy climb it
until he is lost to view. He can even have the feat photographed. The
camera will click; nothing will appear on the developed film; and this,
the performer will glibly explain, "proves" that the whole company of
onlookers was hypnotized! And he can be certain of a very profitable
following to defend and advertise him.

So I do not feel that I need to apologize for adding another volume to
the shelves of works dealing with the marvels of the miracle-mongers.
My business has given me an intimate knowledge of stage illusions,
together with many years of experience among show people of all types.
My familiarity with the former, and what I have learned of the
psychology of the latter, has placed me at a certain advantage in
uncovering the natural explanation of feats that to the ignorant have
seemed supernatural. And even if my readers are too well informed to
be interested in my descriptions of the methods of the various
performers who have seemed to me worthy of attention in these pages, I
hope they will find some amusement in following the fortunes and
misfortunes of all manner of strange folk who once bewildered the wise
men of their day. If I have accomplished that much, I shall feel amply
repaid for my labor.




I. Fire worship.--Fire eating and heat resistance.--The Middle
Ages.--Among the Navajo Indians.--Fire-walkers of Japan.--The Fiery
Ordeal of Fiji

II. Watton's Ship-swabber from the Indies.-Richardson, 1667.--De
Heiterkeit, 1713.--Robert Powell, 1718-1780.--Dufour,
1783.--Quackensalber, 1794

III. The nineteenth century.--A "Wonderful Phenomenon."--"The
Incombustible Spaniard, Senor Lionetto," 1803.--Josephine Girardelli,
1814.--John Brooks, 1817.--W. C. Houghton, 1832.--J. A. B. Chylinski,
1841.--Chamouni, the Russian Salamander, 1869.--Professor Rel Maeub,
1876. Rivelli (died 1900)

IV. The Master--Chabert, 1792-1859

V. Fire-eating magicians. Ching Ling Foo and Chung Ling
Soo.--Fire-eaters employed by magicians: The Man-Salamander, 1816.-Mr.
Carlton, Professor of Chemistry, 1818.--Miss Cassillis, aged nine,
1820. The African Wonder, 1843.--Ling Look and Yamadeva die in China
during Kellar's world tour, 1877.--Ling Look's double,
1879.--Electrical effects, The Salambos.--Bueno Core.--Del
Kano.--Barnello.--Edwin Forrest as a heat-resister--The Elder Sothern
as a fire-eater.--The Twilight of the Art

VI. The Arcana of the fire-eaters: The formula of Albertus
Magnus.--Of Hocus Pocus.--Richardson's method.--Philopyraphagus
Ashburniensis.--To breathe forth sparks, smoke and flames.--To spout
natural gas.--Professor Sementini's discoveries.--To bite off red-hot
iron.--To cook in a burning cage.--Chabert's oven.--To eat coals of
fire.--To drink burning oil.--To chew molten lead.--To chew burning
brimstone.--To wreathe the face in flames.--To ignite paper with the
breath.--To drink boiling liquor and eat flaming wax

VII. The spheroidal condition of liquids.--Why the hand may be dipped
in molten metals.--Principles of heat resistance put to practical uses:
Aldini, 1829.--In early fire-fighting.--Temperatures the body can endure

VIII. Sword-swallowers: Cliquot, Delno Fritz, Deodota, a
razor-swallower, an umbrella-swallower, William Dempster, John Cumming,
Edith Clifford, Victorina

IX. Stone-eaters: A Silesian in Prague, 1006; Francois Battalia, ca.
1641; Platerus' beggar boy; Father Paulian's lithophagus of Avignon,
1760; "The Only One in the World," London, 1788; Spaniards in London,
1790; a secret for two and six; Japanese training.--Frog-swallowers:
Norton; English Jack; Bosco; the snake-eater; Billington's prescription
for hangmen; Captain Veitro.--Water spouters; Blaise Manfrede, ca.
1650; Floram Marchand, 1650

X. Defiers of poisonous reptiles: Thardo; Mrs. Learn, dealer in
rattle-snakes.--Sir Arthur Thurlow Cunynghame on antidotes for
snake-bite.--Jack the Viper.--William Oliver, 1735.--The advice of
Cornelius Heinrich Agrippa, (1480-1535).--An Australian snake
story.--Antidotes for various poisons

XI. Strongmen of the eighteenth century: Thomas Topham (died, 1749);
Joyce, 1703; Van Eskeberg, 1718; Barsabas and his sister; The Italian
Female Sampson, 1724; The "little woman from Geneva," 1751; Belzoni,

XII. Contemporary strong people: Charles Jefferson; Louis Cyr; John
Grun Marx; William Le Roy.--The Nail King, The Human Claw-hammer;
Alexander Weyer; Mexican Billy Wells; A foolhardy Italian; Wilson;
Herman; Sampson; Sandow; Yucca; La Blanche; Lulu Hurst.--The Georgia
Magnet, The Electric Girl, etc.; Annie Abbott; Mattie Lee Price.--The
Twilight of the Freaks.--The dime museums



Fire has always been and, seemingly, will always remain, the most
terrible of the elements. To the early tribes it must also have been
the most mysterious; for, while earth and air and water were always in
evidence, fire came and went in a manner which must have been quite
unaccountable to them. Thus it naturally followed that the custom of
deifying all things which the primitive mind was unable to grasp, led
in direct line to the fire-worship of later days.

That fire could be produced through friction finally came into the
knowledge of man, but the early methods entailed much labor.
Consequently our ease-loving forebears cast about for a method to "keep
the home fires burning" and hit upon the plan of appointing a person in
each community who should at all times carry a burning brand. This
arrangement had many faults, however, and after a while it was
superseded by the expedient of a fire kept continually burning in a
building erected for the purpose.

The Greeks worshiped at an altar of this kind which they called the
Altar of Hestia and which the Romans called the Altar of Vesta. The
sacred fire itself was known as Vesta, and its burning was considered a
proof of the presence of the goddess. The Persians had such a building
in each town and village; and the Egyptians, such a fire in every
temple; while the Mexicans, Natches, Peruvians and Mayas kept their
"national fires" burning upon great pyramids. Eventually the keeping
of such fires became a sacred rite, and the "Eternal Lamps" kept
burning in synagogues and in Byzantine and Catholic churches may be a
survival of these customs.

There is a theory that all architecture, public and private, sacred and
profane, began with the erection of sheds to protect the sacred fire.
This naturally led men to build for their own protection as well, and
thus the family hearth had its genesis.

Another theory holds that the keepers of the sacred fires were the
first public servants, and that from this small beginning sprang the
intricate public service of the present.

The worship of the fire itself had been a legacy from the earliest
tribes; but it remained for the Rosicrucians and the fire philosophers
of the Sixteenth Century under the lead of Paracelsus to establish a
concrete religious belief on that basis, finding in the Scriptures what
seemed to them ample proof that fire was the symbol of the actual
presence of God, as in all cases where He is said to have visited this
earth. He came either in a flame of fire, or surrounded with glory,
which they conceived to mean the same thing.

For example: when God appeared on Mount Sinai (Exod. xix, 18) "The Lord
descended upon it in fire." Moses, repeating this history, said: "The
Lord spake unto you out of the midst of fire" (Deut. iv, 12). Again,
when the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses out of the flaming bush,
"the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed" (Exod. iii,
3). Fire from the Lord consumed the burnt offering of Aaron (Lev. ix,
24), the sacrifice of Gideon (Judg. vi, 21), the burnt offering of
David (1 Chron. xxxi, 26), and that at the dedication of King Solomon's
temple (Chron. vii, 1). And when Elijah made his sacrifice to prove
that Baal was not God, "the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the
burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust and the
water that was in the trench." (1 Kings, xviii, 38.)

Since sacrifice had from the earliest days been considered as food
offered to the gods, it was quite logical to argue that when fire from
Heaven fell upon the offering, God himself was present and consumed His
own. Thus the Paracelsists and other fire believers sought, and as
they believed found, high authority for continuing a part of the fire
worship of the early tribes.

The Theosophists, according to Hargrave Jennings in "The Rosicrucians,"
called the soul a fire taken from the eternal ocean of light, and in
common with other Fire-Philosophers believed that all knowable things,
both of the soul and the body, were evolved out of fire and finally
resolvable into it; and that fire was the last and only-to-be-known God.

In passing I might call attention to the fact that the Devil is
supposed to dwell in the same element.

Some of the secrets of heat resistance as practiced by the dime-museum
and sideshow performers of our time, secrets grouped under the general
title of "Fire-eating," must have been known in very early times. To
quote from Chambers' "Book of Days": "In ancient history we find
several examples of people who possessed the art of touching fire
without being burned. The Priestesses of Diana, at Castabala, in
Cappadocia, commanded public veneration by walking over red-hot iron.
The Herpi, a people of Etruria, walked among glowing embers at an
annual festival held on Mount Soracte, and thus proved their sacred
character, receiving certain privileges, among others, exemption from
military service, from the Roman Senate. One of the most astounding
stories of antiquity is related in the 'Zenda-Vesta,' to the effect
that Zoroaster, to confute his calumniators, allowed fluid lead to be
poured over his body, without receiving any injury."

To me the "astounding" part of this story is not in the feat itself,
for that is extremely easy to accomplish, but in the fact that the
secret was known at such an early date, which the best authorities
place at 500 to 1000 B.C.

It is said that the earliest recorded instance, in our era, of ordeal
by fire was in the fourth century. Simplicius, Bishop of Autun, who
had been married before his promotion, continued to live with his wife,
and in order to demonstrate the Platonic purity of their intercourse
placed burning coals upon their flesh without injury.

That the clergy of the Middle Ages, who caused accused persons to walk
blindfold among red-hot plowshares, or hold heated irons in their
hands, were in possession of the secret of the trick, is shown by the
fact that after trial by ordeal had been abolished the secret of their
methods was published by Albert, Count of Bollstadt, usually called
Albertus Magnus but sometimes Albertus Teutonicus, a man distinguished
by the range of his inquiries and his efforts for the spread of

These secrets will be fully explained in the section of this history
devoted to the Arcana of the Fire-Eaters (Chapter Six).

I take the following from the New York Clipper-Annual of 1885:

The famous fire dance of the Navajo Indians, often described as though
it involved some sort of genuine necromancy, is explained by a
matter-of-fact spectator. It is true, he says, that the naked
worshipers cavort round a big bonfire, with blazing faggots in their
hands, and dash the flames over their own and their fellows' bodies,
all in a most picturesque and maniacal fashion; but their skins are
first so thickly coated with a clay paint that they cannot easily be

An illustrated article entitled Rites of the Firewalking Fanatics of
Japan, by W. C. Jameson Reid, in the Chicago Sunday Inter-Ocean of
September 27th, 1903, reveals so splendid an example of the gullibility
of the well-informed when the most ordinary trick is cleverly presented
and surrounded with the atmosphere of the occult, that I am impelled to
place before my readers a few illuminating excerpts from Mr. Reid's
narrative. This man would, in all probability, scorn to spend a dime
to witness the performance of a fire-eater in a circus sideshow; but
after traveling half round the world he pays a dollar and spends an
hour's time watching the fanatical incantations of the solemn little
Japanese priests for the sake of seeing the "Hi-Wattarai"--which is
merely the stunt of walking over hot coals--and he then writes it down
as the "eighth wonder of the world," while if he had taken the trouble
to give the matter even the most superficial investigation, he could
have discovered that the secret of the trick had been made public
centuries before.

Mr. Reid is authority for the statement that the Shintoist priests'
fire-walking rites have "long been one of the puzzling mysteries of the
scientific world," and adds "If you ever are in Tokio, and can find a
few minutes to spare, by all means do not neglect witnessing at least
one performance of 'Hi-Wattarai' (fire walking, and that is really what
takes place), for, if you are of that incredulous nature which laughs
with scorn at so-called Eastern mysticism, you will come away, as has
many a visitor before you, with an impression sufficient to last
through an ordinary lifetime." Further on he says "If you do not come
away convinced that you have been witness of a spectacle which makes
you disbelieve the evidence of your own eyes and your most
matter-of-fact judgment, then you are a man of stone." All of which
proves nothing more than that Mr. Reid was inclined to make positive
statements about subjects in which he knew little or nothing.

He tells us further that formerly this rite was performed only in the
spring and fall, when, beside the gratuities of the foreigners, the
native worshipers brought "gifts of wine, large trays of fish, fruit,
rice cakes, loaves, vegetables, and candies." Evidently the
combination of box-office receipts with donation parties proved
extremely tempting to the thrifty priests, for they now give what might
be termed a "continuous performance."

Those who have read the foregoing pages will apply a liberal sprinkling
of salt to the solemn assurance of Mr. Reid, advanced on the authority
of Jinrikisha boys, that "for days beforehand the priests connected
with the temple devote themselves to fasting and prayer to prepare for
the ordeal. . . . The performance itself usually takes place in the
late afternoon during twilight in the temple court, the preceding three
hours being spent by the priests in final outbursts of prayer before
the unveiled altar in the inner sanctuary of the little matted temple,
and during these invocations no visitors are allowed to enter the
sacred precincts."

Mr. Reid's description of the fire walking itself may not be out of
place; it will show that the Japs had nothing new to offer aside from
the ritualistic ceremonials with which they camouflaged the hocus-pocus
of the performance, which is merely a survival of the ordeal by fire of
earlier religions.

"Shortly before 5 o'clock the priests filed from before the altar into
some interior apartments, where they were to change their beautiful
robes for the coarser dress worn during the fire walking. In the
meantime coolies had been set to work in the courtyard to ignite the
great bed of charcoal, which had already been laid. The dimensions of
this bed were about twelve feet by four, and, perhaps, a foot deep. On
the top was a quantity of straw and kindling wood, which was lighted,
and soon burst into a roaring blaze. The charcoal became more and more
thoroughly ignited until the whole mass glowed in the uncertain gloom,
like some gigantic and demoniacal eye of a modern Prometheus. As soon
as the mass of charcoal was thoroughly ignited from top to bottom, a
small gong in the temple gave notice that the wonderful spectacle of
'Hi-Wattarai' was about to begin.

"Soon two of the priests came out, said prayers of almost interminable
length at a tiny shrine in the corner of the enclosure, and turned
their attention to the fire. Taking long poles and fans from the
coolies, they poked and encouraged the blaze till it could plainly be
seen that the coal was ignited throughout. The whole bed was a glowing
mass, and the heat which rose from it was so intense that we found it
uncomfortable to sit fifteen feet away from it without screening our
faces with fans. Then they began to pound it down more solidly along
the middle; as far as possible inequalities in its surface were beaten
down, and the coals which protruded were brushed aside."

There follows a long and detailed description of further ceremonies,
the receiving of gifts, etc., which need not be repeated here. Now for
the trick itself.

"One of the priests held a pile of white powder on a small wooden
stand. This was said to be salt--which in Japan is credited with great
cleansing properties--but as far as could be ascertained by superficial
examination it was a mixture of alum and salt. He stood at one end of
the fire-bed and poised the wooden tray over his head, and then
sprinkled a handful of it on the ground before the glowing bed of
coals. At the same time another priest who stood by him chanted a
weird recitative of invocation and struck sparks from flint and steel
which he held in his hands. This same process was repeated by both the
priests at the other end, at the two sides, and at the corners.

"Ten minutes, more or less, was spent in various movements and
incantations about the bed of coals. At the end of that time two small
pieces of wet matting were brought out and placed at either end and a
quantity of the white mixture was placed upon them. At a signal from
the head priest, who acted as master of ceremonies during the curious
succeeding function, the ascetics who were to perform the first
exhibition of fire-walking gathered at one end of the bed of coals,
which by this time was a fierce and glowing furnace.

"Having raised both his hands and prostrated himself to render thanks
to the god who had taken out the 'soul' of the fire, the priest about
to undergo the ordeal stood upon the wet matting, wiped his feet
lightly in the white mixture, and while we held our breaths, and our
eyes almost leaped from their sockets in awe-struck astonishment, he
walked over the glowing mass as unconcernedly as if treading on a
carpet in a drawing-room, his feet coming in contact with the white hot
coals at every step. He did not hurry or take long steps, but
sauntered along with almost incredible sang-froid, and before he
reached the opposite side he turned around and sauntered as carelessly
back to the mat from which he had started."

The story goes on to tell how the performance was repeated by the other
priests, and then by many of the native audience; but none of the
Europeans tried it, although invited to do so. Mr. Reid's closing
statement is that "no solution of the mystery can be gleaned, even from
high scientific authorities who have witnessed and closely studied the
physical features of these remarkable Shinto fire-walking rites." Many
who are confronted with something that they cannot explain take refuge
in the claim that it puzzles the scientists too. As a matter of fact,
at the time Mr. Reid wrote, such scientists as had given the subject
serious study were pretty well posted on the methods involved.

An article under the title The Fiery Ordeal of Fiji, by Maurice
Delcasse, appeared in the Wide World Magazine for May, 1898. From Mr.
Delcasse's account it appears that the Fijian ordeal is practically the
same as that of the Japanese, as described by Mr. Reid, except that
there is very little ceremony surrounding it. The people of Fiji until
a comparatively recent date were cannibals; but their islands are now
British possessions, most of the natives are Christians, and most of
their ancient customs have become obsolete, from which I deduce that
the fire-walking rites described in this article must have been
performed by natives who had retained their old religious beliefs.

The ordeal takes place on the Island of Benga, which is near Suva, the
capital of Fiji, and which, Mr. Delcasse says, "was the supposed
residence of some of the old gods of Fiji, and was, therefore,
considered a sacred land." Instead of walking on the live coals, as the
Japanese priests do, the Fijians walk on stones that have been brought
to a white heat in a great fire of logs.

The familiar claim is made that the performance puzzles scientists, and
that no satisfactory solution has yet been discovered. We are about to
see that for two or three hundred years the same claims have been made
by a long line of more or less clever public performers in Europe and


1783.--QUACKENSALBER, 1794.

The earliest mention I have found of a public fire-eater in England is
in the correspondence of Sir Henry Watton, under date of June 3rd,
1633. He speaks of an Englishman "like some swabber of a ship, come
from the Indies, where he has learned to eat fire as familiarly as ever
I saw any eat cakes, even whole glowing brands, which he will crush
with his teeth and swallow." This was shown in London for two pence.

The first to attract the attention of the upper classes, however, was
one Richardson, who appeared in France in the year 1667 and enjoyed a
vogue sufficient to justify the record of his promise in the Journal
des Savants. Later on he came to London, and John Evelyn, in his diary,
mentions him under date of October 8th, 1672, as follows:

I took leave of my Lady Sunderland, who was going to Paris to my Lord,
now Ambassador there. She made me stay dinner at Leicester House, and
afterwards sent for Richardson, the famous fire-eater. He devoured
brimstone on glowing coals before us, chewing and swallowing them; he
melted a beere-glass and eate it quite up; then taking a live coale on
his tongue he put on it a raw oyster; the coal was blown on with
bellows till it flamed and sparkled in his mouthe, and so remained
until the oyster gaped and was quite boil'd.

Then he melted pitch and wax with sulphur, which he drank down as it
flamed: I saw it flaming in his mouthe a good while; he also took up a
thick piece of iron, such as laundresses use to put in their
smoothing-boxes, when it was fiery hot, held it between his teeth, then
in his hand, and threw it about like a stone; but this I observ'd he
cared not to hold very long. Then he stoode on a small pot, and,
bending his body, tooke a glowing iron with his mouthe from betweene
his feete, without touching the pot or ground with his hands, with
divers other prodigious feats.

The secret methods employed by Richardson were disclosed by his
servant, and this publicity seems to have brought his career to a
sudden close; at least I have found no record of his subsequent

About 1713 a fire-eater named De Heiterkeit, a native of Annivi, in
Savoy, flourished for a time in London. He performed five times a day
at the Duke of Marlborough's Head, in Fleet Street, the prices being
half-a-crown, eighteen pence and one shilling.

According to London Tit-Bits, "De Heiterkeit had the honor of
exhibiting before Louis XIV., the Emperor of Austria, the King of
Sicily and the Doge of Venice, and his name having reached the
Inquisition, that holy office proposed experimenting on him to find out
whether he was fireproof externally as well as internally. He was
preserved from this unwelcome ordeal, however, by the interference of
the Duchess Royal, Regent of Savoy."

His programme did not differ materially from that of his predecessor,
Richardson, who had antedated him by nearly fifty years.

By far the most famous of the early fire-eaters was Robert Powell,
whose public career extended over a period of nearly sixty years, and
who was patronized by the English peerage. It was mainly through the
instrumentality of Sir Hans Sloane that, in 1751, the Royal Society
presented Powell a purse of gold and a large silver medal.

Lounger's Commonplace Book says of Powell: "Such is his passion for
this terrible element, that if he were to come hungry into your
kitchen, while a sirloin was roasting, he would eat up the fire and
leave the beef. It is somewhat surprising that the friends of REAL
MERIT have not yet promoted him, living as we do in an age favorable to
men of genius. Obliged to wander from place to place, instead of
indulging himself in private with his favorite dish, he is under the
uncomfortable necessity of eating in public, and helping himself from
the kitchen fire of some paltry ale-house in the country."

His advertisements show that he was before the public from 1718 to
1780. One of his later advertisements runs as follows:


Please observe that there are two different performances the same
evening, which will be performed by the famous


who has had the honor to exhibit, with universal applause, the most
surprising performances that were ever attempted by mankind, before His
Royal Highness William, late Duke of Cumberland, at Windsor Lodge, May
7th, 1752; before His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, at
Gloucester House, January 30th, 1769; before His Royal Highness the
present Duke of Cumberland, at Windsor Lodge, September 25th, 1769;
before Sir Hans Sloane and several of the Royal Society, March 4th,
1751, who made Mr. Powell a compliment of a purse of gold, and a fine
large silver medal, which the curious may view by applying to him; and
before most of the Nobility and Quality in the Kingdom.

He intends to sup on the following articles: 1. He eats red-hot coals
out of the fire as natural as bread. 2. He licks with his naked tongue
red-hot tobacco pipes, flaming with brimstone. 3. He takes a large
bunch of deal matches, lights them altogether; and holds them in his
mouth till the flame is extinguished. 4. He takes a red-hot heater out
of the fire, licks it with his naked tongue several times, and carries
it around the room between his teeth. 5. He fills his mouth with
red-hot charcoal, and broils a slice of beef or mutton upon his tongue,
and any person may blow the fire with a pair of bellows at the same
time. 6. He takes a quantity of resin, pitch, bees'-wax, sealing-wax,
brimstone, alum, and lead, melts them all together over a chafing-dish
of coals, and eats the same combustibles with a spoon, as if it were a
porringer of broth (which he calls his dish of soup), to the great and
agreeable surprise of the spectators; with various other extraordinary
performances never attempted by any other person of this age, and there
is scarce a possibility ever will; so that those who neglect this
opportunity of seeing the wonders performed by this artist, will lose
the sight of the most amazing exhibition ever done by man.

The doors to be opened by six and he sups precisely at seven o'clock,
without any notice given by sound of trumpet.

If gentry do not choose to come at seven o'clock, no performance.

Prices of admission to ladies and gentlemen, one shilling. Back Seats
for Children and Servants, six pence.

Ladies and children may have a private performance any hour of the day,
by giving previous notice.

N. B.--He displaces teeth or stumps so easily as to scarce be felt. He
sells a chemical liquid which discharges inflammation, scalds, and
burns, in a short time, and is necessary to be kept in all families.

His stay in this place will be but short, not exceeding above two or
three nights.

Good fire to keep the gentry warm.

This shows how little advance had been made in the art in a century.
Richardson had presented practically the same programme a hundred years
before. Perhaps the exposure of Richardson's method by his servant put
an end to fire-eating as a form of amusement for a long time, or until
the exposure had been forgotten by the public. Powell himself, though
not proof against exposure, seems to have been proof against its
effects, for he kept on the even tenor of his way for sixty years, and
at the end of his life was still exhibiting.

Whatever the reason, the eighteenth century fire-eaters, like too many
magicians of the present day, kept to the stereotyped programmes of
their predecessors. A very few did, however, step out of the beaten
track and, by adding new tricks and giving a new dress to old ones,
succeeded in securing a following that was financially satisfactory.

In this class a Frenchman by the name of Dufour deserves special
mention, from the fact that he was the first to introduce comedy into
an act of this nature. He made his bow in Paris in 1783, and is said
to have created quite a sensation by his unusual performance. I am
indebted to Martin's Naturliche Magie, 1792, for a very complete
description of the work of this artist.

Dufour made use of a portable building, which was specially adapted to
his purposes, and his table was spread as if for a banquet, except that
the edibles were such as his performance demanded. He employed a
trumpeter and a tambour player to furnish music for his repast--as well
as to attract public attention. In addition to fire-eating, Dufour
gave exhibitions of his ability to consume immense quantities of solid
food, and he displayed an appetite for live animals, reptiles, and
insects that probably proved highly entertaining to the not overrefined
taste of the audiences of his day. He even advertised a banquet of
which the public was invited to partake at a small fee per plate, but
since the menu consisted of the delicacies just described, his
audiences declined to join him at table.

His usual bill-of-fare was as follows:

Soup--boiling tar torches, glowing coals and small, round, super-heated

The roast, when Dufour was really hungry, consisted of twenty pounds of
beef or a whole calf. His hearth was either the flat of his hand or
his tongue. The butter in which the roast was served was melted
brimstone or burning wax. When the roast was cooked to suit him he ate
coals and roast together.

As a dessert he would swallow the knives and forks, glasses, and the
earthenware dishes.

He kept his audience in good humor by presenting all this in a spirit
of crude comedy and, to increase the comedy element, he introduced a
number of trained cats. Although the thieving proclivities of cats are
well known, Dufour's pets showed no desire to share his repast, and he
had them trained to obey his commands during mealtime. At the close of
the meal he would become violently angry with one of them, seize the
unlucky offender, tear it limb from limb and eat the carcass. One of
his musicians would then beg him to produce the cat, dead or alive. In
order to do this he would go to a nearby horse-trough and drink it dry;
would eat a number of pounds of soap, or other nauseating substance,
clowning it in a manner to provoke amusement instead of disgust; and,
further to mask the disagreeable features--and also, no doubt, to
conceal the trick--would take the cloth from the table and cover his
face; whereupon he would bring forth the swallowed cat, or one that
looked like it, which would howl piteously and seem to struggle wildly
while being disgorged. When freed, the poor cat would rush away among
the spectators.

Dufour gave his best performances in the evening, as he could then show
his hocus-pocus to best advantage. At these times he appeared with a
halo of fire about his head.

His last appearance in Paris was most remarkable. The dinner began
with a soup of asps in simmering oil. On each side was a dish of
vegetables, one containing thistles and burdocks, and the other fuming
acid. Other side dishes, of turtles, rats, bats and moles, were
garnished with live coals. For the fish course he ate a dish of snakes
in boiling tar and pitch. His roast was a screech owl in a sauce of
glowing brimstone. The salad proved to be spider webs full of small
explosive squibs, a plate of butterfly wings and manna worms, a dish of
toads surrounded with flies, crickets, grasshoppers, church beetles,
spiders, and caterpillars. He washed all this down with flaming
brandy, and for dessert ate the four large candles standing on the
table, both of the hanging side lamps with their contents, and finally
the large center lamp, oil, wick and all. This leaving the room in
darkness, Dufour's face shone out in a mask of living flames.

A dog had come in with a farmer, who was probably a confederate, and
now began to bark. Since Dufour could not quiet him, he seized him, bit
off his head and swallowed it, throwing the body aside. Then ensued a
comic scene between Dufour and the farmer, the latter demanding that
his dog be brought to life, which threw the audience into paroxysms of
laughter. Then suddenly candles reappeared and seemed to light
themselves. Dufour made a series of hocus-pocus passes over the dog's
body; then the head suddenly appeared in its proper place, and the dog,
with a joyous yelp, ran to his master.

Notwithstanding the fact that Dufour must have been by all odds the
best performer of his time, I do not find reference to him in any other
authority. But something of his originality appeared in the work of a
much humbler practitioner, contemporary or very nearly contemporary
with him.

We have seen that Richardson, Powell, Dufour, and generally the better
class of fire-eaters were able to secure select audiences and even to
attract the attention of scientists in England and on the Continent.
But many of their effects had been employed by mountebanks and street
fakirs since the earliest days of the art, and this has continued until
comparatively recent times.

In Naturliche Magie, in 1794, Vol. VI, page 111, I find an account of
one Quackensalber, who gave a new twist to the fire-eating industry by
making a "High Pitch" at the fairs and on street corners and exhibiting
feats of fire-resistance, washing his hands and face in melted tar,
pitch and brimstone, in order to attract a crowd. He then strove to
sell them a compound--composed of fish glue, alum and brandy--which he
claimed would cure burns in two or three hours. He demonstrated that
this mixture was used by him in his heat resistance: and then,
doubtless, some "capper" started the ball rolling, and Herr
Quackensalber (his name indicates a seller of salves) reaped a good

I have no doubt but that even to-day a clever performer with this "High
Pitch" could do a thriving business in that overgrown country village,
New York. At any rate there is the so-called, "King of Bees," a
gentleman from Pennsylvania, who exhibits himself in a cage of netting
filled with bees, and then sells the admiring throng a specific for
bee-stings and the wounds of angry wasps. Unfortunately the only time
I ever saw his majesty, some of his bee actors must have forgotten
their lines, for he was thoroughly stung.


BROOKS, 1817.--W. C. HOUGHTON, 1832.--J. A. B. CHYLINSKI,
1876.--RIVALLI (died 1900).

In the nineteenth century by far the most distinguished heat-resister
was Chabert, who deserves and shall have a chapter to himself. He
commenced exhibiting about 1818, but even earlier in the century
certain obscurer performers had anticipated some of his best effects.
Among my clippings, for instance, I find the following. I regret that
I cannot give the date, but it is evident from the long form of the
letters that it was quite early. This is the first mention I have
found of the hot-oven effect afterwards made famous by Chabert.


A correspondent in France writes as follows: "Paris has, for some
days, rung with relations of the wonderful exploits of a Spaniard in
that city, who is endowed with qualities by which he resists the action
of very high degrees of heat, as well as the influence of strong
chemical reagents. Many histories of the trials to which he has been
submitted before a Commission of the Institute and Medical School, have
appeared in the public papers; but the public waits with impatience for
the report to be made in the name of the Commission by Professor Pinel.

The subject of these trials is a young man, a native of Toledo, in
Spain, 23 years of age, and free of any apparent peculiarities which
can announce anything remarkable in the organization of his skin; after
examination, one would be rather disposed to conclude a peculiar
softness than that any hardness or thickness of the cuticle existed,
either naturally or from mechanical causes. Nor was there any
circumstance to indicate that the person had been previously rubbed
with any matter capable of resisting the operation of the agents with
which he was brought in contact.

This man bathed for the space of five minutes, and without any injury
to his sensibility or the surface of the skin, his legs in oil, heated
at 97 degrees of Reaumur (250 degrees of Fahrenheit) and with the same
oil, at the same degree of heat, he washed his face and superior
extremities. He held, for the same space of time, and with as little
inconvenience, his legs in a solution of muriate of soda, heated to 102
of the same scale, (261 1/2 degrees Fahr.) He stood on and rubbed the
soles of his feet with a bar of hot iron heated to a white heat; in
this state he held the iron in his hands and rubbed the surface of his

He gargled his mouth with concentrated sulphuric and nitric acids,
without the smallest injury or discoloration; the nitric acid changed
the cuticle to a yellow color; with the acids in this state he rubbed
his hands and arms. All these experiments were continued long enough
to prove their inefficiency to produce any impression.

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