An in-depth perusal of the Sword Swallowing Hall of Fame led me to this gem of Victorian non-fiction—an anonymous first-person account of a life spent shoving dangerous objects down one’s gullet. Our storyteller’s most curious pursuit involves the ingestion of a reptile with which our species has a complicated relationship:
I was the second one that every swallowed a snake. I was about seventeen or eighteen when I learnt it…The snakes I use are about eighteen inches long, and you must first cut the stingers out, ‘cos it might hurt you…
When I first began swallowing snakes they tasted queer like. They draw’d the roof of the mouth a bit. It’s a roughish taste. The scales rough you a bit when you draw them up. You see, a snake will go into ever such a little hole, and they are smooth one way.
The head of the snake goes about an inch and a half down the throat, and the rest of it continues in the mouth, curled round like. I hold him by the tail, and when I pinch it he goes right in. The tail is slippery, but you nip it with the nails like pinchers. If you was to let him go, he’d go right down; but most snakes will stop at two inches down the swallow, and then they bind like a ball in the mouth.
Read the whole thing. It’s like the most gothic Studs Terkel interview ever.