Houdini–The Miracle Mongers, An Exposé

Harry Houdini (1874–1926)

In this age of “fake news,” it is something of a relief to turn to true fakery!  Houdini’s Miracle Mongers and their Methods purports to be “a complete exposé of the modus operandi of fire eaters, heat resisters, poison eaters, venomous reptile defiers, sword swallowers, human ostriches, strong men, etc.”  Chapter 6 of this collaborative LibriVox collection, which was the chapter I read, is all about how, without doing yourself bodily harm, you can “bite off red-hot iron, eat coals of fire, drink burning oil, chew molten lead, chew burning brimstone, wreathe your face in flames, ignite paper with your breath, drink boiling liquor, or eat flaming wax.” 

I would NEVER recommend trying these formulas and methods!!!  But here is one trick I particularly admired–in Houdini’s words:  “The deception of breathing out flames, which excites, in a particular manner, the astonishment of the ignorant, is very ancient. When the slaves in Sicily, about a century and a half before our era, made a formidable insurrection, and avenged themselves in a cruel manner for the severities which they had suffered, there was amongst them a Syrian named Eunus–a man of great craft and courage; who having passed through many scenes of life, had become acquainted with a variety of arts.  He pretended to have immediate communication with the gods; was the oracle and leader of his fellow-slaves; and, as is usual on such occasions confirmed his divine mission by miracles. When heated by enthusiasm and desirous of inspiring his followers with courage, he breathed flames or sparks among them from his mouth while he was addressing them. We are told by historians that for this purpose he pierced a nut shell at both ends, and, having filled it with some burning substance, put it into his mouth and breathed through it.”