Edith Clifford Was One of History's Most Famous Sword Swallowers Who Enthralled Royalty and Crowds Alike

Yana Bostongirl

Mademoiselle Clifford was one of history's most famous sword swallowers who held her audience spellbound with her risky sword-swallowing performances. Referred to as the rock star of the late Victorian circus, she was known as the grandmaster of sword swallowing, one of the most difficult and dangerous circus disciplines.

Per reports, her most famous stunt was when she swallowed a nearly 2-foot-long bayonet that was fired from a cannon!

Although it is unsure whether Mademoiselle Clifford was born in Boston, Massachusetts, or in England, what is known for certain is that she began her career in 1899. At 13 she went to work for Ringling Bros where she would perform some jaw-dropping stunts as this excerpt explains: "Her act would change and evolve over the years, but it eventually came to include swallowing razors, scissors, bayonets, curved blades, and up to 13 swords at once, with blades up to 26” long—and that was just the hors d’oeuvres. Her big finale went out with a literal bang, consisting of a full-length bayonet fired down her throat using a cannon."

The fact that she never sustained injuries from performing but instead thrived in her profession is a testament to her discipline and talent.

She toured US and Europe during her heydey performing for royalty and sold-out crowds. She was even mentioned by Harry Houdini in his book Miracle Mongers and Their Methods as this excerpt explains: "Several women have adopted the profession of sword swallowing and some have won much more than passing fame. Notable among them is Mlle. Edith Clifford, who is, perhaps the most generously endowed. Possessed of more than ordinary personal charms, a refined taste for dressing herself and her stage and an unswerving devotion to her art.”  

After making her fortune, she retired from the limelight in 1922 to run a grocery store in Canton, Massachusetts where she lived until her death in 1942.

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