ATLANTIC CITY — There was a time when a carnival act like David Peyre-Ferry’s would have blended in with the circus atmosphere of diving horses, man-eating lions and jugglers on New Jersey boardwalks.
So it was fitting when Peyre-Ferry stepped up Saturday in front of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum in Atlantic City and gathered a crowd of 100 people like a carnival barker to watch him swallow swords and perform his own bed-of-nails trick.
Peyre-Ferry, 26, of Oxford, Pa., was invited to perform at Ripley’s for World Sword Swallower’s Day, an annual celebration of the niche performance art.
“Some people think sword swallowing is an illusion. I’m here to tell you it is not,” he told the crowd, holding aloft one of six performance swords with steel blades ranging in length from 19 to 32 inches.
Peyre-Ferry began his unusual hobby four years ago under the tutelage of another performer. He enlisted the assistance of his parents, Gary and Marcella Peyre-Ferry, also of Oxford, who help with the act.
“At first I had to look away a little bit,” his mother said. “But now I have confidence he can do it safely.”
Peyre-Ferry perfected the trick at home using a length of clothes hanger he bent into the shape of a sword. Later he added different swords, including a serpentine blade that looks particularly uncomfortable.
“Does it hurt?” one child asked.
“Are you going to die?” another chimed in.
“It’s the challenge of mind over matter — knowing what the body is capable of,” Peyre-Ferry said.
For the grand finale, Peyre-Ferry lay down on a bed of sharp nails. His father placed a slightly smaller board of sharp nails on his chest, pointy side down, and weighed that down with a cinderblock. Sandwiched between the boards, Peyre-Ferry swallowed a sword for the crowd as his father smashed a pumpkin over his chest with a mallet.
Ron Hill, of Chester, Pa., a supervisor at the museum, said the act suits Ripley’s as well as any of the 400 oddities on display, including the two-headed calf or the shrunken head from Ecuador.
“People can’t just put a 3-foot-long hunk of steel down their throats. I think people are fascinated by the strange and the bizarre,” he said.
Peyre-Ferry said hopes to add tricks such as the human blockhead and walking on hot coals to his act to keep the traditional carnival spirit alive.
“There are only a few dozen sword swallowers left. It seems like it’s dying out,” he said. “But the fewer there are, the more we can impress a broader audience.”
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