Biography of Queen of Fire-Eaters Jo Girardelli

About the Queen of Fire-Eaters Jo Girardelli, biography and history of the woman who could chew on live coals.


The Incombustible Lady

At the beginning of the 19th century, fire-eaters astounded audiences by chewing on live coals and holding red-hot iron bars in their bare hands. Jo Girardelli was undoubtedly the queen of the fire-eaters.

This "pleasant-looking lady" was born in Italy about 1780. When she toured England in 1818, she earned a considerable reputation by performing more daring feats than any other fire-eater. She was billed as "the Incombustible Lady" and was extremely popular because of her eagerness to prove to her audience that her performances were authentic. No juggling, no faking, no mystery. She actually ate fire. Her performances were divided into five types, according to the material used. She used nitric acid; boiling oil and melted wax; molten metal; hot metal; and lighted candles. When playing with nitric acid, she would put some into her mouth, keep it there for a while, then spit it out onto iron. The strength of the acid was proved by the orange fumes given off by the iron.

When demonstrating her immunity to boiling oil, she would fill a small pan with oil and boil it. To prove it was boiling, she would drop the white of an egg into it so that all present could see it cook. Filling her mouth with the boiling oil, she would hold it for a few seconds, then spit it out into a brazier, where it would blaze up, proving again that it was real oil. Next she would take melted sealing wax and hold it on her tongue while someone made an impression on it with a seal.

To prove her resistance to boiling lead, Jo would dip her fingers into the melted metal, then scoop some out and put it into her mouth. Having chewed it awhile, she spat out thin round pieces the size of a silver dollar. She demonstrated that her feet possessed the same immunity by jumping barefoot onto uncongealed pieces of molten metal. She showed that she was impervious to hot metal by heating a shovel until it could--and did--set fire to wood. First she stroked her arms with its fierce blade, then her feet, and finally her hair. It left no mark on her skin, and it did not burn her tresses. There was no smoke, no smell of scorching. She then laid the shovel on a board and kicked it until it bent. The dramatic climax of this part of her performance came when she licked the shovel and the entire audience could hear the hissing as it touched her tongue.

As final evidence that she was fireproof, she passed eight burning candles slowly and steadily beneath each forearm. She followed this by moving her foot over the flames, showing the light from the candles between her toes. Although soot blackened her skin, she remained unharmed.

She was extremely skillful, cleverly using every opportunity to increase the impact of her demonstrations. When asked about her astounding talent, she wryly answered that she used "a secret composition." But experiments proved that if she had sought to protect herself with some special lotion, it would have melted or evaporated during her act; yet when molten metal touched her skin, no vapor ever arose from it. On examination, her skin proved to be completely dry and her tongue perfectly clean and red. Her examiners concluded that Jo's insensitivity to heat was due to some amazing, unknown physical abnormality.

While Jo evaded questions about how she performed her act, she was never reticent about what she could ultimately do. She told her examiners that she could even enter an oven with a leg of mutton and stay with it until it was roasted. However, this dramatic scene was never performed before witnesses. Jo Girardelli seems to have deserved her extraordinary reputation. Her ability to remain cool in blistering situations is well documented. How she did it is still a mystery.

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