"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
I remember the first time I saw him, he was pulling a wet pool stick from his throat.
Count Desmond was one of those persons you come across maybe three or four times in a lifetime, a person who is far larger in some way than you ever thought possible. Someone who could be a cartoon drawing or a character in a novel brought to life to live amongst us "regular people."
The Count's real name was Edward Benjamin, a name no one ever, ever used...but then again he knew me by my stage name "Captain Cliff" so we were even. He was a featured act in the summer of 1979 at the Myrtle Beach Guinness Hall of World Records. He was featured right alongside the world's fattest twins, who resided on their sturdy thrones outside of Ripley's Believe It or Not next door.
When I first saw him, he made an impression like no one I had ever met. He was a rather skinny guy, regular height, and had a huge red afro style hair style as big as a beach ball, and a red goatee. He wore crimson, complete with a crimson cape. (NOTE: When viewing his updated record at Swordswallow.com, I was reminded of his unique flashing medallion with a spider in it, which also reportedly held some of his own blood.)
I never saw him in street clothes. I don't think anyone else did either. He would always wear his stage outfit. For him, that was part of his identity. The persona he was on stage was who he was in real life as well.
He had trained himself to swallow swords by starting with coat hangers in his bedroom, working them down his throat again and again until he could control his muscles. Then he worked up to larger items, and finally swords.
Count Desmond was the best drinking buddy you could ever wish for. He was not only a great person to talk to, having some of the best stories you ever heard, but as soon as he swept into a bar, cape flying, he would bet either a bartender or a customer that he could swallow a pool stick or cane or rat tail file or whatever was handy. Once he did this, and he always did do it, the table would fill up with frosty mugs and he would be the center of attention until he walked out. The rest of us would find outselves in the middle of an endless supply of beer.
He loved being the bomb. I loved being hit by the shrapnel.
The act he did was dangerous. He did a fire breathing act with jet fuel, and had been in the hospital at least once from that when it had gone down his throat. I think I remember him doing a bed of nails act too, but then again that act is not what it seems and I am not totally clear whether he did it anyway. But, the sword swallowing part, that was as real as it gets.
And the Count was the best of the best. He would start simply, with one sword. Then two. And he would keep adding.
I know that he would get to eleven. I think maybe he went higher, maybe 12 or more. In any event, he could swallow more simultaneously than anyone in the world, and he held the world record for it. It would look like a bouquet of sword handles sticking out of his face. (Note: according to Swordswallow.com, he set the world record on July 6th, 1980 for swallowing 13 swords at one time. When he subsequently pulled out the swords with blood on them, Guinness closed the catagory.)
Then he would perform the real dangerous part of his act. He would select a heckler or a disbeliever from the crowd, a real one not a planted patsy, and ask them to come on the stage. Then the Count would let the heckler stick a sword down the Count's throat.
Dangerous? You bet. He had been stabbed during this portion of his act more than once, and in one incident he had had the sword brush his heart. This act was so dangerous that Evel Knievel agreed to let the Count bill himself as the "Evel Knievel of Sword Swallowing," the only person at that time who was allowed to use that name other than Evel Knievel himself.
The Count was a risk taker. He was addicted to the crowd, to the uniqueness of who he was and what he did. He was so much bigger than life, you could barely see him at all. Every show he faced something that had already tried to take his life more than one, and he defeated it. And he did maybe six or more shows every day of the week.
Was this foolishness? It would be easy to say that it was, but you never saw the look in his eyes. This was a man who had truly found himself.
I lost touch with him soon after that. He was not back the next summer, I don't think. There is no information on the web for him more recent than what I have just posted, at least that I could find.
There are now less than fifty individuals doing sword swallowing in the entire world.
His name was not on the list.
Wherever he is, I wish him well. Crimson cape and all. Count, if you're out there, I owe ya a few beers.
Since writing this article, I have been in contact with Swordswallow.com and also with several other people who are quite familiar with Count Desmond. They have managed to fill in most of his history, and even feature a picture of him just as I described. Count Desmond was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Sword Swallowers Association International in September, 2005. For more information on sword swallowing, Swordswallow.com is undoubtably the best source on the web.
The highest courage is to dare to appear to be what one is. John Lancaster Spalding