The Youngest Living Sword Swallower In The World

“Ay me! what perils do environ / The man that meddles with cold iron!” —Samuel Butler, “Hudibras”

In A Nutshell

It may seem like an illusion or magic trick, but sword swallowers actually do suppress their gag reflexes to pass a sword down their throats into their stomachs. At just 16 years old, Haley Hall is the youngest living sword swallower in the world even though the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI) prefers that these entertainers be at least 18 years old. But the SSAI’s president was willing to work with Haley because she had the support of her parents, the determination to succeed, and prior experience as a fire-eater and escape artist. Although there are only a few dozen sword swallowers currently performing, they’ve contributed greatly to the medical community, both through charitable work and their participation in studies that led to medical advancements. However, it’s a dangerous profession, with perforation of the esophagus and pharynx as the main risks, especially if the entertainer uses multiple or strangely shaped swords.

The Whole Bushel

It may seem like an illusion or magic trick, but sword swallowers actually do suppress their gag reflexes to pass a sword down their throats into their stomachs. It often takes years to master this skill because we can’t control the smooth muscles that contract the esophagus as it moves food to our stomachs. Even the act of swallowing can be tricky because we frequently do it unconsciously.

For sword swallowers, those unconscious muscle movements can be dangerous, if not deadly. They have to eliminate their gag reflex as well as learn to relax all the muscles that could unintentionally squeeze the sword on its way down to the stomach. It’s also critical for sword swallowers to arch their heads back at an angle that aligns the mouth with the stomach. That way, the lubricated sword will lightly nudge the heart and other organs out of the way as it passes by. Many sword swallowers train with spoons and knitting needles before graduating to wire coat hangers and eventually swords.

To be recognized by the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI), practitioners must use swords that are 2 centimeters (0.79 in) wide and 38–80 centimeters (15–31 in) long. It’s a dangerous profession, with perforation of the esophagus and pharynx as the main risks, especially if the entertainer uses multiple or strangely shaped swords. Sore throats are common.

If the upper gastrointestinal tract, which extends from the mouth to the upper portion of the small intestine, becomes too irritated, the sword swallower will lose control over his muscles and squeeze the sword. This can cause a dangerous perforation. There was even a case where a man in the audience placed money in a female swallower’s belt, pushing her back and causing the multiple swords inside her to act like scissors. She was seriously injured through no fault of her own.

With such serious risks, it’s surprising that the parents of a teenage girl would approve of her entering the profession. But Haley Hall started practicing at 14. She became interested in sword swallowing after learning about the migration of the circus from Europe to America. At first, she trained secretly in her room at night, but eventually she confided in her father. Their family actively seeks physical challenges, so Haley’s father was quite understanding. “I was pleased that she came and told me what she was doing rather than go off on her own, so I was happy,” said Jeff, a general contractor in Covington, Georgia. “I had taken some pre-med classes, so I know the human anatomy can accommodate a sword, if it’s done right.”

At 16 years old, Haley is currently the youngest living sword swallower in the world even though the SSAI prefers that these entertainers be at least 18 years old. However, the SSAI’s president was willing to work with Haley because she had the support of her parents, the determination to succeed, and prior experience as a fire-eater and escape artist.

Known as “The Amazing Pandora,” Haley has appeared with other professional sword swallowers at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. She has also appeared on America’s Got Talent and The Steve Harvey Show. Sometimes, she uses an illuminated laser sword that can be seen going down to her stomach. Her family wants her to be certified for a Guinness World Record.

Although there are only a few dozen sword swallowers currently performing, they’ve contributed greatly to the medical community, both through charitable work and their participation in studies that led to medical advancements such as the development of the first rigid endoscope and the first esophageal electrocardiogram.

Show Me The Proof

io9: How to swallow a sword
Orlando Sentinel:
Young sword swallower in spotlight of free Ripley event

Sword Swallowers Association International: President Proclaims Sword Swallowers Day 2015
Huffington Post: Haley Hall, At 15, Becomes The World’s Youngest Female Sword Swallower
ABC: Sword Swallowing Risks Hard to Stomach

  • Prstms

    Damn! I want a throat like that just to be cool around my friends.

  • I can do that. 😛

  • Hillyard

    She must get a lot guys asking her out.