sword swallowers

David Peyre-Ferry of Oxford, Pa., swallows a sword Saturday while lying on weighted boards studded with nails as his father, Gary, monitors him on the Boardwalk outside Ripley's Believe it or Not.

Ben Fogletto

The first rule of sword swallowing: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.

Good? Okay.

But how do they insert metal blades deep into their esophagus — without dying?

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Atlantic City’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not had David Peyre-Ferry on hand Saturday for “World Sword Swallower's Day” to answer that very question.

“We align our bodies properly, straight up,” said Peyre-Ferry, 25, of Oxford, Pa. The solid piece of metal carefully passes straight through the esophagus and down into the pit of the stomach.

“This takes a lot of mind over matter. This takes a lot of control over the body,” he said, lifting a large, shiny blade to his mouth.

He tilted his head back, blinked, and carefully slid the blade down, down, down. He stopped, stretched his arms out in the universal gesture of “tah-dah” and pulled it out to an onlooker’s cry of “ugh.”

Finished, he said, “and that’s the way it’s done.”

Peyre-Ferry was at Atlantic City’s collection of freaks and oddities Saturday to promote the day, set aside by the Sword Swallowers Association International, to memorialize all the swords swallowed by practitioners in countless circus sideshows and elsewhere.

The group points out on their website that the practice started 4,000 years ago in India, requiring superior mind-over-matter techniques. More recently, they say, it was sword swallowers that helped doctors develop the first endoscopes, tubes inserted into the esophagus to test for problems.

At the same time, sword swallowers were, of course, on hand to mark the opening of the first Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

The group started marking the day seven years ago, association president Dan Meyer said, “to promote this ancient art still carried on by a few dozen surviving performers and to raise awareness of the medical contributions sword swallowers have made in the fields of medicine and science, to honor veteran performers, and to raise funds for esophageal cancer research and the Injured Sword Swallower's Relief Fund." More than 30 sword swallowers were planning to take part around the world at exactly 2:23 p.m. Feb. 23.

A few minutes before then, Peyre-Ferry stood in front of about 80 people in front of the museum. They were warmly bundled up against the drizzling 40-degree weather. Peyre-Ferry, on the other hand, had on a wrinkled Ripley’s T-shirt and pleated black slacks.

He dipped one short, dragon-handled dagger down his throat, his throat visibly expanding to accept the width. “But that’s not good enough for me,” he said.

An assistant brought out a plywood sheet hammered though with dozens of large nails and laid it down. Peyre-Ferry took off his shirt and said, “Oh, this is such a bad idea.”

Jay Williams, 30, and his wife Lynn Williams, 29, came in from Fort Dix for a day in the city. They stood at the edge of the crowd and recorded the whole spectacle on a smartphone. “Oh my God,” Jay Williams said, as Peyre-Ferry got closer to the nails.

Peyre-Ferry laid his bare back on the nails and observed, “No protection whatsoever.”

Another assistant placed a similar bed of nails on top of him. And then she placed a cinder block on top of that.

And then Peyre-Ferry Swallowed the sword. Very. Slowly.

Jay and Lynn Williams were speechless.

Peyre-Ferry pulled out the sword, and the weight was lifted.

“Oh my God,” Jay Williams said.

Peyre-Ferry stood, bowed, onlookers clapped, and Lynn Williams spoke for everyone: “Man, that’s crazy right there.”

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Follow Derek Harper on Twitter @dnharper

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