Mirin Dajo with rapier piercing his thorax from back to front
On June 23, 1947, Time Magazine reported from Switzerland on what it called the “Miracle Man” – a mysterious 35-year old Dutchman by the name of Mirin Dajo who confounded onlooking scientists, doctors and ordinary spectators when, apparently without any pain or internal injury, he was skewered straight through the chest with a 28-inch fencing foil. The skin on his torso appeared to bulge as the solid steel blade was pushed through by an assistant, but Dajo stayed stoic, unflinching. In the wake of the harsh reality of the Second World War, people were in search of miracles. Through Mirin Dajo, that is exactly what they seemed to get.
Long before the Jim Rose Circus came to fame in the 1990s, there was a single-man sideshow who put all their masochistic acts into the shade. Claiming he was invulnerable, Mirin Dajo became notorious for radical body piercings more extreme than any seen before or since. During the 40s, this living enigma was run through with sharp objects like spears and swords without suffering physical damage or even bleeding. How was he left alive? Was he, as some of the headlines of the time read, some kind of “second Messiah”? Was it just a trick, some kind of elaborate sleight of hand? Or could the truth be explained by science?
Mirin Dajo jogging with a rapier through his abdomen
If science could shed any light on the mystery of how Dajo was able perform these seemingly superhuman feats, the medical men of the time couldn’t. On May 31, 1947, the Swiss doctor, Hans Naegeli-Osjord, having heard of Dajo’s talent, took tests on the man at a hospital in Zurich, assisted by several other doctors. As usual, Dajo stripped to the waist and was impaled with a rapier, yet he neither bled nor felt a thing. The foil still in place, Dajo then walked to the X-ray theatre, where results showed the foil had pierced through parts of the body where his heart, lung and kidneys were located. The blade remained inside.
The doctors in Zurich had prepared for the onset of massive internal bleeding once the steel blade was withdrawn, but when the time came only the smallest traces of damage were visible in the skin, with only a minimal amount of body fluid running from the openings. The tiny wounds were cleansed, but Dajo and his assistant knew no infection would occur anyway. More renowned for performing in public theatres, Dajo had defied the scrutiny of the medical community. What’s more, Dajo did not stop at one hole but had many, and footage shows his assistant puncturing one clean through his lower abdomen from one side to the other.
Image: Photographer unknown via
Human fountain: Dajo pierced with hollow tubes connected to a water supply
So how was he able to do this? If, as experts then and now seem to agree, this was no illusion, but a real sword going through a real body, how did Dajo’s vital organs survive without any ill effects? Dajo maintained that the areas through which the weapons went became ‘lighter’, ‘less physical’ – that there was nothing solid to injure – but a recent BBC TV programme disputes this account. According to magician and Dajo authority, Ali Bongo, Dajo travelled to India and talked to Fakirs – mystics known for piercing their cheeks and skin with knives. There he may have learned a safe way to pass a blade through his body – but how?
According to Dr Jennifer Saw, even such an extreme feat might be biologically possible aided by what are called fistulas, probably the simplest example of which is an ear ring hole: “It’s quite likely that he had perhaps a few centimetres done at a time, the hole that was created was kept open, and then they advanced it again a little bit at a time staying clear of any organs.” So Dajo had tubes made from scar tissue running through his body that allowed thin objects to be inserted through them. “If you looked at his back he had several holes on them, and I think those were failed fistulas – ones where they couldn’t advance any further,” says Saw.