PANAMA CITY BEACH — More than 20 sword swallows will occur simultaneously at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums worldwide on Feb. 23 in celebration of the sixth annual World Sword Swallowers Day.
“If it’s a nice sunny day, it will be outside in the parking lot,” said Sterling Scott, general manager of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on Front Beach Road.
Sword swallowers have continued to be a part of Ripley’s since the 1933 performance at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium at Chicago World’s Fair. This will be the first time Ripley’s beach location will be participating in World Sword Swallowers Day, founded by the Sword Swallowers Association International in 2001.
Female sword swallower Patricia Forrest of Huntsville, Ala., will headline the free show.
“I’m a dancer,” said Forrest, 28. “I do ballet, so when I do the performance at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, I will be swallowing a sword en pointe. I’m the only person in the world who does it.”
The show will start at 2 p.m. with an official swallow at 2:23:13 p.m. to coincide with the date.
“The one I will be swallowing for the World Sword Swallowers Day is 20 inches,” said Forrest, who also owns a 24-inch sword. “In order to be a member of Sword Swallowers Association International, it has to be (at least) 15 inches.”
A good width, she said, is ¾-inch to an inch wide.
“It is dangerous to go any smaller than half-inch, because it gets more pointy,” Forrest said. “I can keep it in for up to a minute. Part of the swallow is bending over. If I feel comfortable with the crowd, sometimes I let someone pull it out.”
Forrest will be doing the swallow on an empty stomach, but that’s not the case with all performers.
“I can’t eat because of nerves, but a lot eat big meals because it pulls the stomach down and lines everything up better,” she said. “The human body has five gag reflexes all the way down into the stomach. It is mind over matter to repress them.”
As a member of SSAI, Forrest has discovered it can take up to nearly 10 years for some members to learn. If your “stomach curves too much” or you can’t get “mind over matter,” it won’t work.
“It’s not for everyone,” Forrest admitted. “It’s not something I tell people right away.”
But Forrest, who began sword swallowing three years ago on the side, has been a natural.
“I was performing with the local theater group and they had a circus sideshow group that came through. A woman was doing sword swallowing, and I thought, ‘I could do that,’” she said. “I went home by myself and tried it — self-taught — and in a couple of weeks I was there.”
She started with a three-pronged sai.
“The sai is a little bit more round; that made more sense,” said Forrest, who is a full-time designer/engineer.
She later met SSAI President Dan Meyer when he passed through her hometown on a tour. “We met up and swallowed some swords and swallowed some fire,” Forrest said.
But mastery of sword swallowing doesn’t mean there aren’t accidents and injuries.
“It can run up to $75,000 for a hospital injury,” said Forrest, who had an injury during a live performance about two years ago.
Sword swallowing injuries usually mean hospital stays of up to three weeks with IV fluids, but, Forrest said, she was able to “fast” on her own during recovery at home.
“If the sword does perforate, there is a risk of death within 24 hours,” she said. “Most injuries are during a performance when a lot of factors come into play. Anything that breaks your concentration puts you at risk for injury.”
The new Ripley’s Believe It or Not! iSword app allows people to try swallowing a sword on their own, virtually, on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Instructions on how to use the app will be provided at the World Swallowers Day event.
What: Ripley’s Believe It or Not! celebrates World Sword Swallowers Day with sword swallow
Where: Parking lot (lobby, if rain) of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium at 9907 Front Beach Road
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23