800 Straws, 92 Pencils, 65 Mini Onions and Other Ways To Fill A Mouth

Those who strive for greatness can make their mark upon the world through intellectual breakthroughs, inspirational leadership, athletic prowess, remarkable good looks, or, in the case of Dinesh Upadhyaya, a really big mouth.

Upadhyaya, of Mumbai, India, possesses the unique skill of being able to shove an astonishing number of objects between his lips: 800 drinking straws; 79 seedless grapes; 92 pencils; 65 mini onions; 5 golf balls; and a 3 ½-inch ceramic cup, to name a few. He holds each set of items in his mouth for 30 seconds. These feats have earned him the name “Maximouth” and made him one of his country’s greatest world record holders.

Dinesh Upadhyaya with a whole lot of straws in his mouth. As featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not!

Dinesh Upadhyaya with a whole lot of straws in his mouth. As featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!

But how does one discover such a talent? And what drives his desire to shove more household items into his mouth than anyone else on the planet?

Upadhyaya, a college chemistry and math teacher, had already been dabbling in world records since 2001, inspired by men like America’s Ashrita Furman and New Zealand’s Alistair Galpin, who hold the most and second-most world records, respectively, along with the UK’s Record Holders Republic founder, Dean Gould.

His first major success came in breaking a Furman finger-snapping record (170 snaps in one minute). A month of training enabled Upadhyaya to squeeze by Furman with 172 snaps. “This record gave me a lot of confidence,” he says.

Armed with this newfound confidence, he stumbled upon a record for the most pencils fit in a mouth (70), set by an American named Todd DeFazio on recordsetter.com. Upadhyaya set out to shatter it.

Although this record-setting phenom is a large man overall—he stands 6’-6”—he doesn’t just have a freakishly large mouth. These stunts, like any, have required intense training. 

“It took almost four months for me to mentally prepare for this record,” he explains. “I purchased 100 pencils of the same size no 2. When I started practice for this record I was hardly able to fit 50 pencils at once. I went through a most painful experience. But I was confident enough to break this record at any time. Soon I increased my mouth stretching capacity and was able to fit more than 70 pencils. On Jan. 22, 2011, finally I fit a total of 92 pencils in my mouth at once very easily for more than half a minute.”

Dinesh with 92 pencils in his mouth

Dinesh, as seen in his YouTube video squeezing 92 pencils into his mouth.

A video of the feat went viral on YouTube and the record has since appeared in five different record books. More importantly, Upadhyaya found his niche and upped his game.

To enhance his abilities, he practices yoga and breathing exercises regularly. While practicing the stunts, he massages his facial muscles and uses his fingers to stretch the opening of his mouth as much as possible.

“I repeat this up to 10 minutes so my cheek become rubber-like fleshy,” Upadhyaya says. “After practice or during record attempts I usually experience swellings in my mouth, especially in the lips and gums area, which later become normal after an hour. I always take precautionary measures to avoid choking.”

Good health also helps. Upadhyaya doesn’t drink, smoke, or eat meat.

This spring, he plans to set several more records by stuffing his mouth full of things like lit candles, playing cards, hot dogs, and snooker balls. “My dream is to break all possible mouth stuffing records as soon as possible,” he says.

Dinesh with 5 golf balls.

Dinesh Upadhyaya fits 5 golf balls into his big mouth.

He’s also looking to take advantage of opportunities within the eating and drinking categories, particularly in the vegetarian field. “My appetite is abnormal,” he says. If all goes well, he’ll soon be gulping down 500ml of tomato ketchup and eating 20 lit birthday candles faster than any human.

Upadhyaya’s hunger for records has led him to numerous achievements aside from the orifice-oriented and finger-snapping feats. For example, he formed 2,139 names of geographical places derived from the letters in the word “livestrong” and wrote the longest palindrome sentence in Devnagari (Hindi) script (27 words and 66 letters).

To date, he’s established or broken more than 100 Indian and world records, which have been featured by a variety of record setting organizations, ranging from Guinness World Records and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! to Record Holders Republic and the India Book of Records.

While his accomplishments span across many fields, he knows his greatness lies within his big mouth. The wider he opens it, the greater his legend will grow.

Photos courtesy of Dinesh Upadhyaya.

© 2013 Marc Hartzman


Excised Tumors, The Stereoscopic Skin Clinic, Gout Treatments And Other Hidden Treasures

Ever wonder if a hefty 90-pound tumor could be removed through the practice of mesmerism? The answer awaits in Bethesda, Maryland. That’s where you’ll find the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library, which houses more than 17 million items dating from the 11th century to the present offering information on countless medical conditions and methods.

Rare medical books, 19th-century surgical illustrations, mid-20th century animated cartoons, microfilms, photographs, journals, technical reports and much more can all be found within its walls.

Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine (Blast Books)

Of course, if a trip to Bethesda and millions of items to peruse doesn’t fit into your schedule, a new book, Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine (Blast Books), will bring many of the most fascinating artifacts to you, each accompanied by an essay from distinguished scholars, artists, collectors, journalists and physicians. The book celebrates the library’s 175th anniversary.

Among the many treasures lying between the covers is a wealth of wondrous materials largely unseen by the public and obscure to the librarians, curators and historians. Some, such as the hauntingly delicate paintings and illustrations of “monstra” collected in the early decades of the 19th century “from the museum of Dr. Klinkenberg” in the Netherlands had never before been reproduced.

Flip to page 142 and you’ll find a sketch of the enormous aforementioned tumor claimed to have been removed through mesmerism. Mesmerism, also known as “animal magnetism,” allegedly allowed its practitioners to fall into a trance and commune with distant minds. According to essayist Marianne Noble, “They saw through solid objects and even bodily tissues to identify illnesses.”

The tumor image is part of the Mesmerism Scrapbooks collection dating from 1842-54. The sketch, by Dr. James Esdaile, indicates a specially designed knife took three minutes to complete the procedure and that the patient “had no difficulty in recovering from the shock, and is doing perfectly well.”

If horrific skin diseases pique your interest, the Stereoscopic Skin Clinic from 1910 offers a large collection of disturbing images, including fingers suffering from ringworm of the nail, shingles covering a woman’s eye, and syphilis. All in glorious 3D with the aid of a stereoscope viewer.

The Stereoscopic Skin Clinic (1910)

The Stereoscopic Skin Clinic (1910)

An anonymous collector’s scrapbook of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese Twins, features articles, handbills, satirical prints, tickets to appearances, and various ephemera about the brothers during their 10 years of touring. As sideshow historian James Taylor notes, their run was “One of the most notable show-business acts of the nineteenth century.”

Treatments for gout, scurvy, and other ailments compiled by Elizabeth Strachey from 1693 to the 1730s offers various remedies, sometimes accompanied by a touch of magic—one of the pages features an acrostic of abracadabra on a corner. Of course, if you’re just looking to kill rats, Strachey recommends a blend of oatmeal, bacon fat, and lime.

Each of the 200-plus pages within Hidden Treasure offers a captivating and beautifully disturbing journey through the library.  And relief that today’s medical advancements are indeed advanced.

© Marc Hartzman

The Man Who Was Twice as Big as André The Giant

Of the giants who have roamed the earth, the tallest was Robert Wadlow, standing 8 feet, 11 ½ inches. And while he undoubtedly towered above all other men on the planet, he wasn’t history’s most all-around massive person.

That title would go to Miles Darden (sometimes called Mills). Born in 1799 in North Carolina, Darden reportedly grew to stand 7 feet, 6 inches and weigh just over 1,000 pounds. That’s more than a foot shorter than Wadlow, but more than double his weight.

Or, to better help your imagination, picture André the Giant, but slightly taller and twice as heavy. One Miles Darden equals two giant Andrés.

Like Wadlow, André, and other giants, a malfunctioning pituitary gland likely caused Darden’s abnormal growth.

Miles Darden

No photos of Miles Darden exist. But photos of signs about him do.

A man of this stature would seemingly have left numerous legends of size and strength. Yet, few exist.

Darden lived a quiet and uneventful life. He was a farmer and later in life opened a tavern and inn in Lexington, Tenn.

Many articles from the late 19th century stated that Darden wasn’t exactly proud of his size and refused to step on a scale. His weight, in 1845, was ascertained by a clever and curious group of fellows who waited for Darden to board his specially made two-horse wagon — built with very strong tension springs — in order to measure the distance of the cart’s body to the ground. When Darden was away from the vehicle, they loaded it with stones, or possibly 100-pound sacks of sugar, until the cart lowered to the same distance from the ground. Their crude measurement: 871 lbs.

Of course, he continued to get bigger. Combine his glandular condition and a very hearty appetite, and that’s no surprise. In Every Day in Tennessee History, James Jones claims Darden’s typical breakfast included one dozen eggs, 30 buttered biscuits, a gallon of water and two quarts of coffee.

That’s enough food to feed a family — which he also had to do. It is believed that Darden was married at least twice, with one wife bearing at least three children before passing in 1837. Remarkably, she only stood 4 feet, 11 inches and weighed 98 pounds. His children were also large, but nowhere near the unusual proportions of their father.

Outfitting a man of Darden’s size was no easy task. His coat took 13 ½ yards of fabric to create. It once fit around three 200-pound men with ease — who demonstrated its magnitude by walking through the town square together.

It was said that Darden could single-handedly pull a loaded wagon from a mud hole, whereas normal-sized men couldn’t budge it.

According to Lexington historian, Paul Williams, Darden could overpower a bull and pull him backwards. Williams also recounted a story of Darden saving a man who’d ridden up to his saloon on a horse, nearly frozen to death. Darden lifted him off the horse and carried him inside to warm up and recover.

Pulling wagons from mud and besting bulls in strength are impressive displays of power, but Darden’s greatest feat may have been the one he exhibited every day — simply supporting his enormous frame. Darden lived a long life for someone of his size and remained mobile until his final years.

His colossal size eventually led to his death on Jan. 23, 1857. Doctors stated the cause of death was due to strangulation — rolls of fat around his windpipe prevented him from breathing.

His casket was eight feet long and took 17 men to place him in it.

© Marc Hartzman

The Man With Two Mouths

Throughout history, sideshows have given curiosity seekers opportunities to gaze in wonder at people born with something extra — a superfluous something or other.

Francesco Lentini, for example, traveled for decades in the early 20th century as the Three-Legged Wonder. He also had a fourth foot and a second set of genitals.


Laloo, billed as “The Handsome Healthy Hindoo” was born in 1874 with a parasitic twin protruding from his torso. It had two arms, two legs, and a functioning penis. Fortunately, it could not defecate.

And there have been numerous people born with extra people attached to them — Chang and Eng Bunker being the most famous. The brothers, born in Siam 200 years ago, were joined at the chest by a ligament and the reason we have the term “Siamese twins.” Together, they made a fortune and eventually married two sisters and fathered 22 children (none were twins).

But in November of 1887, New York’s Bowery area featured a most unusual attraction with an extremely rare extra: a second mouth.

He was Otto Tolpefer, the Man with Two Mouths.

Tolpefer was born with a bonus mouth located just below the chin. The blonde, smooth-faced Tolpefer sat on a platform drinking water with one mouth and simultaneously smoking a cigarette with the other. When speaking, he used the top mouth and closed the second one with his fingers.

New York Times reporter covering the act described his speech as poor, because “the tracheal bellows gives his voice a strange and unreal whispering sound like that of a sexton at a funeral.” The second mouth was unable to speak or eat and was fitted with brass lips. He would shut it with his finger when talking with the upper mouth.

The reporter further remarked that “Otto is not a pleasant object to gaze at excessively, and as a wall decoration he would not succeed.”

An additional comment stated, “The two-headed cow, who felt quite badly when he came, has become reconciled after watching his performances.”

Little else is known about Tolpefer. There are no further reports of his appearances, his adventures later in life, or even what he had to say in response to the New York Times reporter’s vivid descriptions.

© Marc Hartzman

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