CLOSE

12 People Who Made a Living Eating Inedible Things

Remember that kid in elementary school who would eat anything for a quarter? It turns out he wasn’t just trying to make up for a lack of personality to make friends or get attention. He was preparing himself for a career in show business. Thanks to the rise of the vaudeville and the circus sideshow, performers throughout history and even the modern stage have been practicing the strange art of digestion and regurgitation. They take seemingly inedible objects and choke them down before your very eyes. Here’s a look at some of the world’s greatest “human ostriches.”

1. Todd Robbins

This renowned illusionist, trickster and sideshow aficionado has carved an interesting career out of shocking his audiences. He’s perhaps best known for a trick that few people know how to do because it is very dangerous: lightbulb eating.

He learned the trick from an old Coney Island sideshow performer when he was a teenager and since then he’s eaten over 4000 lightbulbs. The only major injury he suffered while performing the trick is a broken tooth that exposed a raw nerve. The trick became the centerpiece of a very successful, very bloody and very scary off-Broadway spook show called Play Dead that he co-wrote with Teller of Penn & Teller.

2. Michel Lotito

The French entertainer known as “Monsieur Mangetout” (“Mr. Eat-All”) set world records by eating seemingly inedible metal objects from nails to bicycles. His career, however, started not because of his strange talent. It came from a strange medical condition.

Lotito suffered from Pica, a medical disorder that drives people to eat inedible things. It started after he accidentally swallowed a piece of glass in a swimming pool when he was 16. Since then, he ate bits of metal and glass to impress his friends and eventually turned the weird trick into a career leading to his most impressive meal: a Cessna 150 light aircraft. It took two years to eat the whole thing.

3. Louis Cole

The rise of the Internet and YouTube gave all sorts of shameless people the chance to humiliate themselves for fun and profit. This southwest London resident is no exception.

Cole’s “Food for Louis” channel presents him with an ultimate series of challenges to eat all sorts of unusual, disgusting, and dead animals without any preparation. They go straight from his plate directly into his mouth, sometimes while they are still living. He started taking dares from his friends to choke down things like spiders, rotten apples, and wasps, and eventually started making a living by creating his own popular YouTube channel to take on bigger challenges from the rest of the world. Some of his more unusual dining moments include roadkill straight from the road, blended mice, raw pig’s eyeballs, and 21 live locusts.

4. Stevie Starr

The almost forgotten art of regurgitation, the act of swallowing something and bringing it up again on command, has undergone a resurgence thanks to this legendary Scottish showman.

Starr claims he learned his art at a young age by swallowing his pocket change to hide it from bullies. He has since graduated to bigger and tougher objects such as lightbulbs, billiard balls, and Rubik’s Cubes. He not only brings up the objects intact but also claims he can manipulate them with the muscles in his stomach or even bring them back in a different order. His signature trick involves taking a ring from a member of the audience and swallowing it with a closed lock and a key. When he brings the objects back up, the ring has been placed in the lock while all three are in his stomach. Some have speculated his technique involves sleight of hand but doctors and magicians have been unable to figure out the gimmick—assuming he uses one.

5. Henry Harrison

One of the first and best sideshow eaters may have technically been a freak—but the ladies didn't think so. The Syracuse, New York native had a storied career throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s as the “human ostrich.” He would eat just about anything that audiences could throw at him, including pocket-knives, pins, nails, screws, and glass, with seemingly no discomfort whatsoever. He learned the skill at age 6 after accidentally swallowing one of his mother’s pins. When his mother learned he had swallowed one, she took him to a surgeon, who found 40 more pins in his stomach. The only serious malady occurred when he tried to swallow an entire package of tacks and the packaging became lodged in his intestine.

He was also known for being something of a player. Those who saw him described him as quite handsome and he was often seen leaving his New York shows with more than one girl on his arm.

6. John Fasel

This Williamsburg, New York tailor found an interesting way to bring in some extra money, but his sideshow career didn’t last long.

Fasel also became a “human ostrich” in 1900 by swallowing metal objects whole, including nails, pocketwatches, keys, and knives. Unfortunately, his time in the spotlight was short lived because his digestive system wasn’t able to fully digest the bits of metal he left in his stomach. His talent almost killed him in 1901—doctors had to cut him open to remove the metal objects he swallowed on stage, which included three watch chains, five hairpins, 12 horseshoe nails, three keys, a ring, and 128 pins. Somehow, he recovered, but returned to his old trick four years later after swearing off the stunt by challenging another “human ostrich” to an eat-off at a Brooklyn gala.

7. Dagmar Rothman

Photo Courtesy of The Human Marvels

The man known as The Great Waldo was also one of the greatest regurgitators of all time. He grew up in Germany just before the start of World War II and fell in love with the circus, particularly the sideshow acts who taught him how to swallow and bring up objects at will. He fled to Switzerland after Adolf Hitler invaded Austria and found a place for his art in nightclubs and theaters. A talent scout from America discovered him and brought him back to the States, where he became a sideshow legend. He also elevated the art of regurgitation by not only swallowing inanimate objects and bringing them back, but by swallowing live animals such as white mice and frogs and bring them back up completely unharmed (at least not physically, we assume).

8. Hadji Ali

This notorious vaudevillian had a gift for gastrointestinal fortitude that made him one of the biggest variety stars of his time and the object of desire of some of the silver screen’s biggest movie stars.

The mysterious Arab figure who found fame in the 1920s was actually born in Wolverthampton, England. He toured dressed as a mystic Middle Eastern man willing to swallow any number of items including watermelon seeds and whole walnuts, who could also bring them back up in any order. His signature trick, one that landed him an appearance in the Spanish language version of Laurel and Hardy’s film “Chickens Come Home,” involved swallowing a ridiculous amount of water and topping it off with a large dose of kerosene. He would then vomit the mixture back on a small flaming castle brought on the stage to the shock of his audiences. He was so well known in his time that actress Judy Garland called him her favorite vaudevillian.

9. The Enigma

This puzzling performer got his start with one of the world’s most famous traveling sideshows, the Jim Rose Circus.

The Enigma (real name: Paul Lawrence) toured with the legendary grunge circus during its Seattle days in the early 1990s. He started as “Slug,” swallowing any number of tiny animals such as crickets, maggots, and worms before getting a full tattoo of a puzzle over his entire body and horns implanted in his skull to become The Enigma. He made numerous television appearances, including on an infamous episode of The X-Files called “Humbug.” Rose offers Scully a live cricket to eat (which Gillian Anderson immediately spat out after the cameras stopped rolling).

10. Chaz Chase

One of vaudeville’s longest working performers also had one of its more unusual acts.

Chase looked like a typical circus clown, but his performance cast him in a much different light. He became renowned for being able to eat just about anything put in front of him including paper, lit matches, coins, flowers and cigarettes. He appeared in several silent films and worked well into his 70s and 80s with a surprising amount of exuberance and agility for a man his age. He also did quite a bit of touring around the world and was required to bring along a large amount of items to swallow, which sometimes got him in trouble. According to one report from 1947, customs officials in Sydney, Australia refused to let him into the country after they caught him carrying more than 400 cigarettes and 75 cigars. He had to perform his bizarre act for the agents to prove that he wasn’t a smuggler.

11. Tom Mullica

Mullica, one of the world’s best known comic magicians, had an act that turned heads and stomachs: He would seemingly smoke and swallow an entire package of lit cigarettes. He would light them one at a time and hold them in his mouth as they were still lit and bring each back so he could add them to the pile before choking them all down with a handful of napkins. He eventually retired the act after he quit smoking.

12. Tokyo Shock Boys

This slapstick stunt show that started in Japan has performed all kinds of painful and humiliating acts in their 30 years in show business. They even include some things that aren’t really tricks, but closer to public displays of torture for our twisted amusement.

This furious foursome came together in the 1990s while they worked as roadies during Paul McCartney’s tour of Japan. Their appearances on some local variety shows made them stars practically overnight and gave them their own long-running stage show that has since toured all over the world. Most of their act consists of Jackass-style stunts such as breaking a cactus in half with their butt cheeks and wearing a diaper filled with lit firecrackers. They are also known to eat unusual things, such as dishwashing soap and detergent, and to swallow whole chunks of dry ice.

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

twitterbanner.jpg

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Lists
8 Allegedly Cursed Places
iStock
iStock

Some of the most picturesque spots in the world hide legends of a curse. Castles, islands, rivers, and more have supposedly suffered spooky misfortunes as the result of a muttered hex cast after a perceived slight—whether it's by a maligned monk or a mischievous pirate. Below are eight such (allegedly) unfortunate locations.

1. A WALL FROM MARGAM ABBEY // WALES

An 800-year-old ruined wall stands on the grounds of a large steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales. The wall is surrounded by a fence and held up by a number of brick buttresses—all because of an ancient curse. The story goes that when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century, one of the local Cistercian monks evicted from Margam Abbey told the new owners of the site, in a bid to protect it, that if the wall fell, the entire town would fall with it (it's unclear why he would focus on that particular part of the structure). Since then, the townsfolk have tried hard to protect the wall, even as an enormous steelworks was built around it. Rumors abound that the hex-giving monk still haunts the site in a red habit, keeping an eye on his precious wall.

2. ALLOA TOWER // SCOTLAND

Alloa tower in Scotland
HARTLEPOOLMARINA2014, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 4.0

Alloa Tower in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, has reportedly been subject to a curse for hundreds of years. In the 16th century, the Earl of Mar is said to have destroyed the local Cambuskenneth Abbey and taken the stones to build his new palace. The Abbot of Cambuskenneth was so furious he supposedly cast a multi-part curse on the Erskine family—ominously known as “The Doom of Mar." It is said that at least part of the curse has come true over the years, including that three of the children of the Mar family would “never see the light” (three of the earl’s ancestors’ offspring were reportedly born blind). The curse also supposedly predicted that the house would burn down, which occurred in 1800. Another part of the curse: The house would lay in ruins until an ash sapling grew from its roof. Sure enough, around 1820 a sapling was seen sprouting from the roof, and since then the family curse is said to have been lifted.

3. A WORKERS' CEMETERY // EGYPT

In the fall of 2017, archeologists reopened an almost-4500-year-old tomb complex in Giza, Egypt, that contains the remains of hundreds of workers who built the great Pyramid of Giza. The tomb also contains the remains of the supervisor of the workers, who is believed to have added curses to the cemetery to protect it from thieves. One such curse reads: "All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it, may the crocodile be against them in water and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them in water, the scorpion against them on land." The complex is now open to the public—who may or may not want to take their chances.

4. RUINS OF THE CHATEAU DE ROCCA SPARVIERA // FRANCE

A chateau just north of the French Riviera may sound like a delightful place to be, but amid the ruins of the Chateau de Rocca-Sparviera—the Castle of the Sparrow-Hawk—lies a disturbing legend. The tale centers around a medieval French queen named Jeanne, who supposedly fled to the castle after her husband was killed. She arrived with two young sons and a monk known to enjoy his drink. One Christmas, she went into the village to hear a midnight mass, and when she returned, she found that the monk had killed her sons in a drunken rage. (In another version of the story, she was served a banquet of her own children, which she unknowingly ate.) According to legend, Jeanne then cursed the castle, saying a bird would never sing nearby. To this day, some travelers report that the ruins are surrounded by an eerie silence.

5. THE PEBBLES OF KOH HINGHAM // THAILAND

Stopped off at a small uninhabited island that, according to Thai mythology, is cursed by the god Tarutao. If anyone dared to even take one pebble off this island they would be forever cursed! 😈 I heard from a local that every year the National Park office receive many stones back via mail from people who want to lift the curse! I was never much of a stone collector anyway... ☻☹☻☹☻ #thailand #kohlanta #kohlipe #kohhingham #islandhopping #islandlife #beachlife #pebbles #beach #speedboat #travelgram #instatraveling #wanderlust #exploringtheglobe #exploretocreate #traveleverywhere #aroundtheworld #exploringtheglobe #travelawesome #wanderer #earth_escape #natgeotravel #serialtraveler #awesomesauce #picoftheday #photooftheday #potd

A post shared by Adil - 爱迪尔 - عادل (@theglaswegistani) on

The tiny uninhabited island of Koh Hingham, off the coast of Thailand, is blessed with a covering of precious black stones. The stones are not precious because they contain anything valuable in a monetary sense, but because according to Thai mythology the god Tarutao made them so. Tarutao is said to have invoked a curse upon anyone who takes a stone off the island. As a result, every year the national park office that manages the island receives packages from all over the world, sent by tourists returning the stones and attempting to rid themselves of bad luck.

6. INITIALS OUTSIDE THE CHAPEL AT ST. ANDREWS UNIVERSITY // SCOTLAND

The "cursed" PH stones of St. Andrews University
Nuwandalice, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The initials PH are paved into the ground outside St. Salvator’s Chapel at St. Andrews University in Scotland. They mark the spot where 24-year-old preacher and faculty member Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake for heresy in 1528—an early trigger of the Scottish Reformation. The location is therefore supposed to be cursed, and it is said that any student who stands on the initials is doomed to fail their exams. As a result of this superstition, after graduation day many students purposefully go back to stand on the spot now that all danger of failure has passed.

7. CHARLES ISLAND // CONNECTICUT

Charles Island, Connecticut
Michael Shaheen, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Charles Island lies off the coast of Milford, Connecticut, and is accessible from the mainland via a sandbar when the tide is low. Today it's home to a peaceful nature reserve for local birds, but its long history supposedly includes three curses. The first is said to have been cast in 1639 by the chief of the Paugussett tribe, after the nation was driven off the land by settlers—the chief supposedly cursed any building erected on the land. The second was supposedly laid in 1699 when the pirate Captain William Kidd stopped by the island to bury his booty and protected it with a curse. Shortly afterward, Kidd was caught and executed for his crimes—taking the location of his treasure to his grave.

The third curse is said to have come all the way from Mexico. In 1525, Mexican emperor Guatimozin was tortured by Spaniards hoping to locate Aztec treasure, but he refused to give up its whereabouts. In 1721, a group of sailors from Connecticut supposedly stumbled across the Aztec loot hidden in a cave in Mexico. After an unfortunate journey home in which disaster after disaster slowly depleted the crew, the sole surviving sailor reportedly landed on Charles Island, where he buried the cursed treasure in the hope of negating its hex.

8. THE GHOST TOWN OF BODIE // CALIFORNIA

A house in Bodie, California
Jim Bahn, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Bodie, in California's Sierra Nevadas, sprang up as a result of the gold rush. The town boomed in the late 19th century, with a population nearing 10,000 people. But as the gold seams ran dry, Bodie began a slow and steady decline, hastened by a series of devastating fires. By the 1950s, the place had become a ghost town, and in 1962 it was designated a State Historic Park, with the the buildings kept in a state of “arrested decay." Bodie's sad history has encouraged rumors of a curse, and many visitors to the site who have picked up an abandoned souvenir have reportedly been dogged with bad luck. So much so, the Bodie museum displays numerous letters from tourists who have sent back pilfered booty in the hope of breaking their run of ill fortune.

But the curse didn't start with prospectors or spooked visitors. The rumor apparently originated from rangers at the park, who hoped that the story would prevent visitors from continuing to steal items. In one sense the story worked, since many people are now too scared to pocket artifacts from the site; in another, the rangers have just succeeded in increasing their workload, as they now receive letter after letter expressing regret for taking an item and reporting on the bad luck it caused—further reinforcing the idea of the Bodie curse.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
arrow
Lists
21 Other Royal Babies Born In The Last 20 Years
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

by Kenny Hemphill

At 11:01 a.m. on April 23, 2018, the Royal Family got a new member when it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have welcomed their third child, a (yet-to-be-named) boy, who will become fifth in line to the throne. While William and Kate's three children may be the youngsters closest to the throne, they're not the only pint-sized descendants of Queen Elizabeth II to be born in the past 20 years. Here are 21 more of them.

1. ARTHUR CHATTO

Arthur Robert Nathaniel Chatto, who turned 19 years old February 5, is the younger son of Lady Sarah and Daniel Chatto. He is 23rd in the line of succession—and has been raising some royal eyebrows with his penchant for Instagram selfies.

2. CHARLES ARMSTRONG-JONES, VISCOUNT LINLEY

The grandson of Lord Snowden and Princess Margaret, and son of the 2nd Earl and Countess of Snowdon, Charles—who was born on July 1, 1999—is the heir apparent to the Earldom of Snowdon.

3. LADY MARGARITA ARMSTRONG-JONES

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) speaks to Serena Armstrong-Jones, Countess of Snowdon (L), David Armstrong-Jones (2L), 2nd Earl of Snowdon, and Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones (2R).
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Born on May 14, 2002, Lady Margarita is sister to Charles Armstrong-Jones, and great-niece to the Queen. She's 20th in line to the throne.

4. LADY LOUISE WINDSOR

Lady Louise Windsor is the eldest child and only daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. She was born on November 8, 2003 and is 11th in line for the throne.

5. ELOISE TAYLOR

The third child of Lady Helen and Timothy Taylor, Eloise Olivia Katherine Taylor was born on March 2, 2003 and is 43rd in line for the throne.

6. ESTELLA TAYLOR

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge chats to Estella Taylor on the balcony during Trooping the Colour - Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Parade, at The Royal Horseguards on June 14, 2014 in London, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Eloise's younger sister, Estella Olga Elizabeth Taylor, was born on December 21, 2004. She is the youngest of the four Taylor children and is 44th in succession.

7. JAMES, VISCOUNT SEVERN

The younger child of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, James Alexander Philip Theo Mountbatten-Windsor—or Viscount Severn—was born on December 17, 2007 and is 10th in line for the throne.

8. ALBERT WINDSOR

Albert Louis Philip Edward Windsor, born September 22, 2007, is notable for being the first royal baby to be baptized a Catholic since 1688. He is the son of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and grandson of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. According to the Act of Settlement, which was passed in 1701, being baptized Catholic would automatically exclude a potential royal from the line of succession. But there was some controversy surrounding this when, up until 2015, the Royal Family website included Albert.

9. XAN WINDSOR

Lord Culloden, Xan Richard Anders Windsor, is son to the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and grandson of the Duke of Gloucester. He was born on March 2, 2007 and is 26th in succession.

10. LEOPOLD WINDSOR

Like his older brother Albert, Leopold Windsor—who was born on September 8, 2009—is not in line to the throne, by virtue of being baptized a Roman Catholic (though he, too, was listed on the Royal Family's website for a time).

11. SAVANNAH PHILLIPS

Autumn Phillips, Isla Phillips, Peter Philips and Savannah Phillips attend Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene on December 25, 2017 in King's Lynn, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Savannah Anne Kathleen Phillips, the Queen's first great-grandchild, was born on December 29, 2010 to Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, and Autumn Kelly. She is 14th in line for the throne.

12. SENNA LEWIS

Senna Kowhai Lewis, who was born on June 2, 2010, is the daughter of Gary and Lady Davina Lewis, elder daughter of Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She was a beneficiary of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which abolished the practice of giving sons precedence over daughters in the line of succession, regardless of when they are born. As a result, she is 29th in succession.

13. LYLA GILMAN

Daughter of Lady Rose and George Gilman, and granddaughter of Prince Richard, 2nd Duke of Gloucester, Lyla Beatrix Christabel Gilman was born on May 30, 2010. She is 32nd in succession.

14. COSIMA WINDSOR

Lady Cosima Rose Alexandra Windsor was born on May 20, 2010. She is sister to Lord Culloden, daughter of the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and granddaughter to the Duke of Gloucester. She's 27th in line for the throne.

15. RUFUS GILMAN

Lyla Gilman's brother, Rufus, born in October 2012, is 33rd in line for the throne.

16. TĀNE LEWIS

Tāne Mahuta Lewis, Senna's brother, was named after a giant kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest of the Northland region of New Zealand. He was born on May 25, 2012 and is 30th in line for the throne, following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.

17. ISLA PHILLIPS

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Isla Phillips and Peter Phillips attend a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Peter and Autumn Phillips's second and youngest daughter, Isla Elizabeth Phillips, was born on March 29, 2012 and is 15th in succession.

18. MAUD WINDSOR

Maud Elizabeth Daphne Marina Windsor, the daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor and granddaughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, was born on August 15, 2013 and is 47th in line for the throne.

19. LOUIS WINDSOR

Louis Arthur Nicholas Felix Windsor, who was born on May 27, 2014, is the youngest child of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and brother of Leopold and Albert. As he was baptized into the Roman Catholic church, he's not in line to the throne.

20. MIA GRACE TINDALL

Mike Tindall, Zara Tindall and their daughter Mia Tindall pose for a photograph during day three of The Big Feastival at Alex James' Farm on August 28, 2016 in Kingham, Oxfordshire.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Daughter of Zara Phillips and her husband, former England rugby player Mike Tindall, Mia Grace Tindall was born on January 17, 2014 and is 17th in the line of succession.

21. ISABELLA WINDSOR

Isabella Alexandra May, the second and youngest daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor, was the last addition to the royal family. In July 2016, she was christened at Kensington Palace wearing the same gown worn by both Prince George and Princess Charlotte (it's a replica of the one that Queen Victoria's children wore). Looking on was celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who is one of Isabella's godparents.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios