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


Clever Hans: The Horse That Knew Everything (Sort Of)

In 1904, a nine-year-old horse called Hans trotted through performance halls in Berlin astounding crowds with his uncanny mental agility. His owner, Herr Wilhelm von Osten, was a former schoolteacher and educated his horse to the level of a child the same age. Or so he claimed. The Orloff stallion learned to spell, do math, recognize people from photographs, differentiate between colors and music, and answer various questions. All Hans had to do was tap his right front hoof once to denote one, twice for two, and so forth. Letters were signified in the same manner, one tap corresponding to A, two taps to B. Hopefully Hans wasn’t asked to spell too many words with the letters Y and Z.

Von Osten’s horse also boasted an elephant-like memory. In one demonstration, Hans was introduced to a Count Dohna. He was told, “That is Count Dohna.” Thirty minutes later the Count was pointed to and von Osten asked Hans his name. The horse walked up to a blackboard filled with the letters of the alphabet and picked out D-o-h-n-a. Another stunt involved members of the audience who would offer the stallion photos of themselves, then line up in front of him. Von Osten would show Hans a photo and have him point out that person in the line. This proved as easy for the horse as for any person.

Clever Hans

Clever Hans with von Osten

Clever Hans dazzled audiences and puzzled scientists. Brilliant minds studied the horse, trying to learn whether it was all a trick or if the horse was in fact educated. The most obvious test was to learn if Hans could still perform without von Osten present. According to one article, the answer was yes: “It is understood that the animal has answered questions and figured arithmetical sums when his instructor has not been near.”

The skilled stallion even managed to cause a political rift in Prussia. One of Hans’ enthusiastic fans happened to be the Prussian Minister of Education, Dr. Studt. Studt was so taken by the animal that he wished to have him perform before Emperor William. However, the other ministers objected. Frustrated by the opposition, Studt threatened to resign from his position, but eventually came to his senses and stayed with the Ministry. Otherwise, this could have been the first horse to cause a split in a government.

Hans became an international sensation. In an article about talented circus horses, one American journalist said of Hans: “Berlin, however, has an animal of the species now on show which has gone beyond precedent in cultivation and exhibits phenomena of cerebration out of all parallels.” Dr. William T. Hornaday, Director of the Bronx Park Zoological Gardens, was equally impressed. In his 1922 book, The Mind and Manners of Wild Animals, he wrote that Hans “was a phenomenon, and I doubt whether this world ever sees his like again. His mastery of figures alone, no matter how it was wrought, was enough to make any animal or trainer illustrious.”

Even The New York Times was caught up in the Hans hype. There was hope and expectation that the horse’s education would advance to the point where he would actually learn to speak—becoming a true Mister Ed. The Times writer said of Hans’ potential for language:

“[Hans] has not got so far as that yet, but is well on toward it, and before the cold weather sets in may be able to hold discourse with his beleaguering professors in some dialect that both can understand. It would be mortifying to discover that its kind still kept so poor an opinion of us as that held by Swift’s cultivated and conversible houynhnhms. But considering that the most pretentious of our species cut their tails and manes off for fashion’s sake and torture them in various ways to promote attitudes and motions of style, while the brute of our species heaps on them all manner of cruelty and ill, it would not be at all surprising if they did so.”

He had a point, if horses could talk, they would justifiably have a lot of complaints.

Science, however, was not about to accept that a horse could possess the intelligence of a small child. Several German scientists were determined to expose some form of trickery. Ultimately, the director of the “Psychological Institute” of the Berlin University, Professor Oskar Pfungst concluded that Hans only knew the answer if the person asking the question knew the answer. In studying the horse, Pfungst confirmed that it could answer questions without von Osten present. Hans was able to answer whatever Pfungst asked. Still, a horse could not possibly possess this sort of intelligence. Rather, Pfungst realized the horse had a remarkable ability to perceive signals from the questioner, despite his efforts to remain still. Hans was detecting sign whether they were conscious or unconscious. When Pfungst asked a question, he recognized, his head would nod ever so slightly to watch Hans’ hoof. That was the subject’s cue to start tapping. When he tapped an appropriate number, Pfungst would lift his head, satisfied with a correct answer. Again, the subtle movement was picked up by the horse. Anyone wishing to ask Hans a question would likely be expecting a correct answer, and therefore would be an excellent candidate to give strong signals. Pfungst tested his theory further by asking Hans questions from greater and greater distances. The farther away he stood, the more difficult it was for the horse to pick up the signals. Blindfolded, Hans’ brainpower was reduced to that of any other horse.

Pfungst’s experiments with Hans ruined his reputation and put an end to von Osten’s success. Suddenly, the public no longer saw Hans as an intelligent horse. People felt duped, even though the horse still displayed extraordinary talent worth the price of admission. Though it seems hard to believe a horse could read movements and human expressions with such accuracy, Pfungst’s theory was agreed upon by another prominent Berlin mind, Dr. Albert Moll. Moll was neurologist, a founder of the Berlin Society of Psychology and Characterology, and author of the 1889 book, Hypnotism. Moll believed that hypnotism allowed subjects to respond to extremely subtle signs. “Signs that are imperceptible to others,” he said, “are nevertheless perceived by a subject trained to do so, no matter whether that subject be a human being or an animal.” Despite proving Hans was not an intelligent horse, Pfungst cashed in on the horse’s talent with his book entitled The Intelligent Hans.

While all these great minds focused their energies to prove they were smarter than a horse, author Ricky Jay references a scholar who figured out the method three hundred years earlier. In Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, Jay writes of Sa. Rid’s book, The Art of Juggling or Legerdermaine, which claimed “…nothing can be done [by the horse] but his master must first know, and then by his master knowing, the horse is ruled by signes.”

Von Osten passed away on June 29, 1909 at the age of 70. Hans was bequeathed to Karl Krall, a wealthy goldsmith and an amateur parapsychologist of Elberfeld. Krall took Hans in and educated several horses of his own – two Arab stallions, Muhamed and Zarif, a Shetland pony called Hanschen, and an older black stallion, Berto. Krall even experimented with the mind of a young elephant, Kama. His exhibition of horses came to end with the outbreak of the World War I. The horses were forced to leave the stage and enter the battlefield.

© 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

Forty-four presidents, a hippo, two lions, a wallaby, two alligators and one bad-tempered badger.

There are many perks that come with being the President of the United States, such as residing in a lovely white house and gaining a great deal of prestige. Plus, you can have a pet hippo—just like Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president. His pygmy hippopotamus, named Billy, was a gift from tire manufacturer Harvey S. Firestone in 1927. The rare baby hippo was just one of eight of his kind living in America and measured six feet long, stood thirty inches tall, and weighed about 600 pounds. He was described by The New York Times as being “as frisky as a dog.” Billy had been captured in Liberia at one of Firestone’s plants, but once under Coolidge’s care, he spent his days at the much cozier National Zoo.

Calvin Coolidge's pet hippo.

Calvin Coolidge was not only President of the United States, but he was a hippo owner as well.

The hippo was only one of Coolidge’s unusual pets. The Commander in Chief’s menagerie also included numerous dogs and cats, along with two lion cubs, a bear, Smoky Bob the bobcat, an antelope, a raccoon called Rebecca, and a wallaby. Like many of the animals, the wallaby was gift, in this case from an American man living in Tasmania. When the president was offered the wallaby in a letter, he hadn’t a clue as to what sort of animal it was. A quick flip-through in the dictionary told him it was a small species of kangaroo and led Coolidge to accept the gift.

Although no other president could boast such a collection of creatures, there have been many others who’ve kept curious pets. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, acquired a badger named Josiah in 1903 after a young girl threw the little beast at the president as his train pulled out of a small Kansas town. Roosevelt kept Josiah and the First Family bottle-fed him until he cut his teeth. Once armed with his own chompers, Josiah nipped at the legs of passersby throughout the White House.

William Taft, our nation’s 27th and heaviest president (tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds) kept a Holstein cow as a pet. The first, named Mooley Wooly provided milk for the First Family. However, Mooley Wooly couldn’t produce enough milk for the large Taft clan. So Wisconsin senator Isaac Stephenson bought the president a new cow, named Pauline Wayne. From 1910-1913, the Taft’s pet cow freely grazed the White House lawn.

Old Whiskers

President Harrison had old whiskers to match his goat, named Old Whiskers.

Benjamin Harrison, President Number 23, kept a goat named Old Whiskers. Harrison’s grandchildren were big fans of Old Whiskers, as he was often hitched to a cart in order to pull them around the White House lawn. However, the goat may not have had as much fun as the kids. One day, he managed to escape the White House grounds through an open gate and ran toward freedom down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president chased after him, waving his cane and holding onto his top hat. Old Whiskers finally came to a stop. No one was injured, but many were entertained.

Herbert Hoover kept two alligators in the White House and allowed them to occasionally wander about freely. Perhaps he was inspired by John Quincy Adams, who kept only one alligator. Adams’ gator was given to him in 1826 by the Marquis de Lafayette.

While dogs have held the title of First Pet in the modern era, it would take a cuddly, loyal elephant, giraffe, or rhino to truly be a first.

© 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-Bats on the Moon

In 1969, the world witnessed history when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. But there was a time, many years earlier, when the world was abuzz about men not only walking on the moon — but flying on it as well.

For one remarkable week in 1835, it was believed that an entire race of human-like winged people lived on the moon. It became known as the Great Moon Hoax, and indeed, it was great.

It all began with an article in the Tuesday, Aug. 25, edition of The New York Sun, stating that renowned astronomer Sir John Frederick William Herschel (who named seven moons of Saturn and four moons of Uranus) had observed life on the moon.

This was not a major scoop by the Sun, it was supposedly a reprint from The Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science. The paper’s readers, however, didn’t know that publication had gone out of business several years earlier. Nor did they suspect that a creative editor, Richard Locke, fabricated every detail.

The findings stated wondrous forms of plant life and wildlife were living happily on the moon. The creatures included a monstrous blue unicorn with a beard like a goat and tailless, but talented, beavers that walked on their hind legs, lived in huts and built campfires.

Additional discoveries were reported each day that week, with a growing readership and word spreading across the country and the globe. It was, as one might expect, a true sensation.

Friday’s edition announced the discovery of the flying humans, dubbed “man-bats.” These alleged four-foot tall beings were covered with short, glossy, copper-colored hair — except for on the face. Their wings were composed of a thin membrane and had no hair.

Herschel’s powerful telescope offered even further details to report:

The face, which was of a yellowish flesh color, was a slight improvement upon that of the large orangutan, being more open and intelligent in the expression, and having a much greater expanse at forehead. The mouth, however, was very prominent, though somewhat relieved by a thick beard upon the lower jaw and by lips far more human than those of any species of the simis genus.

These short, unattractive flying folks were also quite chatty and expressive with their gestures: “the varied actions of the hands and arms appeared impassioned and emphatic.”

As the excitement spread, there were those ready to take action. One group of women from Springfield, Mass., wrote to Sir Herschel asking how they could help spread the gospel to these pagan man-bats of the moon.

Scientists from Yale University were reportedly sent to the Sun to study a physical copy of the journal. But Locke sent them from one office to another, dodging them until they finally returned to campus as curious as they were before they left.

Although it all sounds ridiculous today, in 1835, knowledge of the moon was lacking and the belief in extraterrestrial life, including lunar life, was commonplace.

In the October 1826 issue of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, an anonymous author wrote that German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers “considers it as very probable that the moon is inhabited by rational creatures, and that its surface is more or less covered with vegetation,” and that based on observations made through his telescope, fellow German astronomer Franz von Gruithuisen “maintains that he has discovered… great artificial works in the moon, erected by Lunarians.”

Gruithuisen also proposed that because the moon was closer to the sun, its jungles grew faster than those in Brazil and that the Lunarians held fire festivals, which caused the bright caps on Venus.

By the end of that extraordinary week, it was reported that the Herschel’s telescope was clumsily left facing the sun and that a hole had been burned into its reflecting chamber, preventing any further observations of our new winged friends on the moon.

The hoax finally came to light when Locke privately told a fellow writer at the Journal of Commerce, and word traveled to the Sun‘s publisher. The story, however, proved entertaining — and that’s just how people took it. Circulation of the paper remained up in the months that followed.

Locke publicly denied that he’d concocted the entire account himself.

© Marc Hartzman

The Art of Bull Riding

Professional athletes have the good fortune of living out their childhood dreams and making a fortune doing it. But while money is a strong motivator, the best athletes play out of pure passion. Nowhere is this truer than with professional bull riders.

For these men, eight seconds of holding onto a two-thousand-pound bucking beast hellbent on hurling its rider to the ground can feel like a full four quarters, nine innings or longer. Those eight seconds constitute a complete ride.

“It’s almost like a car crash — everything happens so fast, but everything slows down,” explains Luke Snyder of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) league. “Within eight seconds, so much happens. Two minutes before, the adrenaline kicks in. It’s almost like your body puts in the right amount of adrenaline for the job, to get on a bull and stay on something so big.”

Snyder, 29, started riding bulls as a 9-year-old attending rodeo camp. After three days, he was hooked.

Fellow PBR competitor, 30-year-old Colby Yates, started at age 8. Raised in a family of cattle ranchers, he followed the footsteps of his father and brothers.

Dressed in traditional western attire, these bull riders look like cowboys with a death wish — but there is an art to their sport. Technique is key to both scoring points and simply staying alive.

According to Snyder, you’ve got to be in sync with the bull, which basically moves in four directions: up, down, left and right. A fast bull can jump 15 times in eight seconds. “It’s like a rocking chair, you want to ride with them,” he described. “But you don’t get too lazy with it.”

Riders must hold onto a rope with one hand while keeping the free hand from touching themselves, the bull or the ground.

Like any sport, physical conditioning is a must. A strengthened core allows the rider to stay in movement with the ever-shifting, spinning, and twisting bull. And staying lightweight gives the bull less to throw.

“There’s so much momentum as he’s bucking, if you’re big, as soon as the bull jumps forward, you’re going to take it,” Yates says. “If you’re 150 vs. 200, there’s a big difference in how the bull throws you. It helps us to be light and quick.”

These PBR athletes have to be just as tough mentally: “It’s really easy to overthink this sport,” Snyder says. “The hardest part is waiting around, riding in your head before you start.”

It should be noted that while these bulls appear to be bucking in fury, they aren’t angry. Contrary to popular belief, nothing is done prior to the ride to anger the animal.

The buck is simply bred into them. Professional bulls are like racehorses, descending from long lines of buckers. To help encourage kicking and to bring out a bull’s full potential, a flank rope is tied around the bull’s waist, just loose enough to make him think he can get it off, but tight enough to stay on.

With individual values nearing one million dollars, hurting them is the furthest thing from anyone’s minds.

“Owners treat them like family,” Snyder says. “Some are treated better than kids. Some won’t drink anything but bottled water and are fed strict diets.”

And it would seem the bulls actually enjoy the sport. According to Yates, the various bulls often exhibit their own personalities.

“One used to do a victory lap after bucking guy off. Another, Little Yellow Jacket, would buck the guy off, then turn and pose — he was one of the greatest ever,” he says.

Points are scored based on the time they remain on the bull, along with the form and style presented during the ride. It must appear that the rider is in complete control. An eight-second ride which appears effortless can earn 50 points. The bull is then also scored based on his aggressiveness, with the potential to also rake in 50 points.

Of course, should the rider make it to eight seconds, he has to dismount. And it’s not like the bull stops to make it easy.

“You gotta ease up and find a good spot to get bucked off. You stop trying and they take care of the rest,” Snyder says.

Three bullfighters assist the riders once they’ve hit the ground. They have the important and ridiculously dangerous job of distracting the bull so it doesn’t chase the rider as he makes his getaway.

“They’re the toughest people I’ve ever met,” Yates says.

“They help 40 people a night,” Snyder adds. “We do it once a night.”

While they both admire the bullfighters’ toughness, theirs can’t be overlooked. Snyder and Yates have broken nearly every major bone in their bodies — including the neck.

“But we always can’t wait to get back,” Yates says. “We’ll cut corners to get back quicker.”

Some injuries, such as a shoulder rotator cuff surgery, can keep them out of action for 6 months; others 2-3 weeks. If it’s a minor injury, like a groin pull or a dislocated shoulder, they don’t bother taking any time off.

“You can fight through that,” says Yates, who claims he’s endured at least 38 concussions. “It’s no candyass sport. It’s something you gotta toughen up to go with.”

Clearly, the injuries don’t give them second thoughts about their sport. “The day you think you should do something else you probably should,” Snyder says. “Because your heart has to be in it. You have to be willing the pay the ultimate price.”

© 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

Olympic Tug of Warriors

Tug of War is a staple of gym class, where heavy kids are heroes and skinny kids are picked last. But its origins lie far outside the schoolyard, dating back to ancient Egyptians and Chinese competing in what was considered a royal sport. More recently, Tug of War warriors competed for the glory of Olympic gold medals. In 1900, the rope made its Olympic debut in Paris, featuring teams of eight competitors. Victory was achieved by pulling the opponent’s side of the rope past a designated marking.

Tug of War clubs entered these Olympic battles, as opposed to individual countries. This meant one nation could win multiple medals, which is exactly what happened in 1904 when three teams of burly men from the United States dominated the opposition and took home gold, silver and bronze medals. Great Britain achieved the same feat in 1908, but it wasn’t without dispute. Their first years of superiority was quite controversial. One of Britain’s three teams was made up of Liverpool police, who, the United States alleged, wore illegal footwear. According to the official Olympic Tug of War rules: “No competitor shall wear prepared boots or shoes with any protruding nails, tips, sprig, points, hollows, or projections of any kind. No competitor shall make any other way before the start.”

While the Americans abided the rules of the shoes, their counterparts across the pond did not. According to an account of the affair: “They were wearing enormous shoes, so heavy in fact that it was only with great effort that they could lift their feet from the ground.” The manager of the American team protested the obscene footwear, but Olympic officials stated that Liverpool policemen typically wore such big, heavy clunkers. (Clearly, these policemen did not have a lot of chasing to do, which must have left them plenty of time to practice rope tugging.) Sure enough, Liverpool’s feet dug into the turf, anchored them in place, and led to an easy victory.

By the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Great Britain and its shoe shenanigans had yanked more rivals than any other country, earning five medals in total to prove itself the king of the rope. And jokers in sportsmanship.

© Marc Hartzman

Don the Talking Dog

Those fond of clichés will surely agree that if a dog is man’s best friend, a talking dog might be man’s BFF. In the early 1900s, a dark brown setter, called Don the Talking Dog, was such pal. The pooch belonged to a German gamekeeper named Martin Ebers, who lived in a quaint Western Germany village called Theerhutte, near Hamburg. But his voice attracted the world’s ear.

News of Don came in 1910, after an American newspaper article claiming Alexander Graham Bell had trained his terrier to speak. Germans didn’t think much of the article — at the time there was a belief that anything was possible in America. But rather than let America have the glory of a talking dog, Ebers’ nephew brought media attention to his uncle’s wondrous companion. Suddenly, the small village was bustling with curiosity seekers and reporters wishing to see if Ebers’ dog was the real deal.

Even skeptics became believers after meeting Don. In describing a conversation with the dog, one newspaper claimed, “The tone was not a bark or growl, but distinct speech.” Another correspondent wrote, “The dog is an unqualified scientific marvel.”

Don reportedly began speaking on his own accord in 1905, at the age of six months. As one might expect with a dog, his first words were in regard to food. While the family was eating dinner one evening, Don, like any dog, waited beside the table begging for scraps. His master asked if he wanted something, and Don responded “Haben! Haben!” (Want! Want!). Ebers asked the question again, disbelieving his own ears. Sure enough, Don said “Haben! Haben!”

The dog’s vocabulary soon expanded to other areas in the food department with “hunger” and “kuchen” (cakes). He also pronounced “ja” (yes) and “nein” (no), allowing Don to express his feelings, such as a dislike for cold, wet weather. The clever canine even learned to form a rudimentary sentence with his small arsenal of words. If asked how he was doing, Don could have responded, “Hunger, want cakes.”

The four-legged phenomenon soon attracted the attention of Karl Hagenbeck, the famed German animal trainer and circus founder, as well as other circus showmen and music hall managers. Hagenbeck offered Ebers $2,500 to exhibit Don in his outdoor menagerie at Hamburg. Another impresario offered Ebers $15,000 to purchase the extraordinary dog.

While showmen and the general public were enamored with Don, psychologist Oskar Pfungst was not. In 1912, having debunked an educated horse called Clever Hans several years earlier, Pfungst took it upon himself to explain Don’s garrulous nature. He visited Don and recorded his “speech” on a phonograph. He concluded that the dog merely responded to questions with noises the way any dog might, but through the power of suggestion, listeners heard what they were expecting to hear. A similar experience occurred in more recent years with a dog crooning “I love you” on a David Letterman Stupid Pet Tricks segment. And on YouTube, more than 8,000 videos can be found on dogs allegedly professing their love.

Upon hearing of Pfungt’s findings, The New York Evening Post reported: “It begins to look as if there really were a rather sharp limit to animal intelligence.” As with Hans, Pfungst once again burst an optimistic society’s bubble.

© Marc Hartzman

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