Freak shows, or sideshows, were a very important part of every respectable circus. Among the various freaks, Mortado and Mirin Dajo, the human fountains, are certainly worth mentioning.
Among the various freaks that were presented in circuses in the first half of the twentieth century, Mortado, ‘the human fountain‘, is certainly worth mentioning for the undoubted originality of the exhibition.
He performed at the Dreamland Circus Sideshow in Coney Island since 1930 and his peculiarity was to make water gush from his hands and feet. How was this possible?
In reality, the solution was quite simple, albeit extraordinary. The man had real holes in his hands and feet and, sitting on a specially built chair, the ends of some copper pipes connected to a water tank came out of his sores, giving the illusion of a real human fountain!
A sort of evolution of fakirism, therefore, with a truly original component of spectacularity.
Mortado was born in Berlin, where he had already begun to perform in 1929 even if notoriety reached it in the United States. To prevent the wounds from healing, making the show no longer possible, corks were inserted into the holes.
To the few he had confided in, he told of when, as an officer in the German Navy, he had been captured in Africa by some natives who had crucified him. Miraculously managed to survive, he escaped and returned to Europe.
With those stigmata on hands and feet, he sometimes participated in religious re-enactments of the crucifixion, placing small bags of red liquid in the wounds, in place of corks, to give the impression of splashing blood and add realism. When interest in the show began to wane, the fakir disappeared as he came.
Mortado’s life remains largely unknown: according to the biography that was told in the sideshow, he was born in Berlin and fought during the First World War; performed for the first time in January 1929 before meeting a New York agent who made him sign a contract with Dreamland Circus for the summer of 1930.
But it’s hard to take this information at face value, as the same biography claimed that his injuries were the result of torture by phantom “native savages”.
The fact is that Mortado had holes in the palms of his hands and feet: when he was not acting on stage, he kept these wounds open by inserting corks.
Once the show started, he sat on a special throne equipped with copper tubes inserted into the open wounds.
Mortado, from time to time, proposed a live biblical crucifixion. He would place small bags of red liquid in his wounds, and let the assistant drive nails into his hands and feet: the bags broke, the fake blood flowed, and several people in the audience passed out.
As Mortado’s fame diminished, until it disappeared into oblivion, another man became famous for his supernatural gifts: the Dutch Mirin Dajo.
His stage name, in Esperanto, means “the wonderful“. He was born in 1912 in Rotterdam, with the name of Arnold Gerrit Henskes. Mirin Dajo took the art of the human pincushion to unattainable heights, yet he hid a much more interesting secret.
His show was truly extreme: Mirin Dajo, with the help of an assistant, let himself be pierced by a real sword. The blade passed through various vital organs, without causing harmful effects.
The wounds, which would have resulted in certain death for any other human being, did not seem to bother Dajo who could walk and move even when the sword had pierced the kidneys, liver, lungs, or (according to some witnesses) even the heart. Without the slightest trace of blood.
On several occasions, the blades were replaced with pipes that, a bit like Mortado did, pumped water, making Dajo’s body a spectacular fountain.
A similar type of undertaking is not unusual among Eastern fakirs: but normally they pierce the fat and “safe” layers of the body, where a sword is, if not harmless, at least not fatal.
Mirin Dajo, on the other hand, was puncturing himself in the most dangerous places. How did he do it? A matter of luck, of faith, or of a single biological apparatus?
He was subjected to several medical tests in Basel to try to understand what was the secret of his peculiar ability. The doctors of the time, despite x-rays and analyzes, could not understand how Dajo could survive such traumatic injuries.
But Mirin Dajo had a far more noble purpose. He was extremely religious and convinced that he was in contact with three guardian angels with whom he communicated telepathically: he had resolved to enter the world of entertainment not because he loved him, but simply because it seemed to him the easiest and fastest way to spread the message that he felt he had to deliver to humanity.
A message of peace, love, and abandonment of materialism. After each performance, he tried to deliver a short and inspiring speech to his audience.
He was sure that, faced with his indestructible body, people would begin to believe in a force that went beyond pure matter. That his example would have been a symbol of the man who resists death and would have made wars, hatred, and violence futile.
Unfortunately, he soon found himself frustrated by show business, which did not know what to do with his mystical sermons; his career lasted only three years, like that of Christ, the most cynical will notice, before Mirin Dajo died on May 26, 1948, due to a perforation of the aortic artery, perhaps following one of his shows “superhuman” in which he had ingested a nail which proved fatal.