The Mysterious Case of Mirin Dajo, The Human Pin Cushion

In the 1940s, Mirin Dajo was known for his stage performances, in which he’d stand barechested while his assistant take fencing foils, and one by one, run him through. The show was appalling to watch, but Dajo never flinched and never showed the slightest pain. Curious spectators were invited to watch as closely as they liked, and to examine the blades even while they were stuck through him.

Doctors wanted to know more, so he was invited in to a medical center for tests. Under the doctors’ scrutiny, Dajo’s assistant stuck a foil into his back, and then pieced him all the way through. The doctors watched in awe as the skin pushed outward on Dajo's chest and the foil finally broke through.

Despite all the doctors’ tests, Dajo seemed quite well. With the foil still stuck through him, Dajo walked to their X-ray lab, and they took shots verifying that there was no trickery. The foil did indeed pierce his abdomen all the way through, passing through and among major organs.

Professional magicians believed it’s real, and that Dajo had simply learned a mental technique for coping with the trauma. Dajo claim to have visited India and learned from fakirs -- mystics who perform similar but much less dramatic feats. Performers who do self-mutilation are actually doing what they appear to be doing; they’re just well practiced, well disciplined, and used to it. But nobody had ever heard of a case as dramatic as Mirin Dajo. Studying from the fakirs was as plausible an explanation as anyone could come up with.

And though it sound unbelievable, it may indeed be the way he learned how to do what he did. Some fakirs would pierce their own bodies in the same way that westerners pierce their ears or other body parts. When you do this, it creates what’s called a fistula, a tunnel of scar tissue. So long as you keep the fistula open by having something inserted through it, like an earring, it won’t close up. Modern doctors and bodypiercing professionals agree that’s probably how Dajo did it. Little by little, he and his assistant would drive a sharp object a little further into a hole in his abdomen, leaving it in place, letting it heal, and then driving it in a little further.

Photos of Dajo’s back show it riddle with scars and holes, which are probably failed fistulas where their efforts were blocked by bones, nerves, major organs, or something too painful to get past. Eventually Danjo had at least four fistulas that went all the way through. He probably lived with metal bars inserted through them all the time, and when it came time for a performance, these were removed. His assistant had only to carefully slide the fencing foils through the fistulas at the proper angles, as they’d practiced together many times.

And thus were the doctors fooled, the magicians stumped, and the audiences thrilled. It was perhaps not the best career choice, though, as Dajo died at age 35 from an aortic rupture, resulting from swallowing a long steel needle. Guess the fakirs hadn’t clued him in on that one.

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