Starfleet Commander Michael Malotte
Dan Meyer is your average, everyday-looking guy who swallows swords.
He's married, lives in Nashville, and works for a company that provides Internet access to some 1,900 schools in Tennessee. But he stuck out like a sore thumb last year at the Inkin' the Valley Tattoo Convention and Sideshow Gathering. Strolling among tattoo aficionados adorned with body art and strange piercings, Meyer overheard a comment about his group, the sword swallowers, who occupied the other side of the exhibit hall.
“Those people over there are weird,” said the man covered from head to toe in tattoos. Meyer, the executive director of the Sword Swallowers Association International, had to laugh.
“I thought that was the funniest thing — the pot calling the kettle black,” cracks Meyer, who launched SSAI two years ago and is also known as “Halfdan, the Human Dipstick” and “Belteshazzar, the Blade Glommer.” He is currently organizing the third Sword Swallowers Convention at the Inkin' the Valley Tattoo Convention and Sideshow Gathering, to be held over Labor Day weekend in Wilkes Barre, Pa.
It just goes to show that even in the world of “alternative”, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.Indeed, while mainstream professional societies and trade associations constitute the well-known face of the convention industry, there are thousands of groups getting together annually who are united in their unusual, off-beat, or just plain wacky interests — from women in red hats celebrating middle age to earnest believers in ghosts. It's a world reflective of the incredible diversity of American culture — and one where meeting planning faces its own set of challenges.
Sword Swallowers Unite
One challenge for the sword-gulping group, for instance, is getting their props to the annual event. Swords are not exactly airplane carry-on items. That's where an SSAI membership card comes in handy. “It kind of helps convince them to let me on the plane,” explains Meyer, although his crate of swords must fly in baggage. All performers are responsible for bringing their own props, whether they're swords or a bed of nails.
Meyer's biggest challenge — outside of getting a 24-inch blade down his throat without killing himself — is rounding up a select group of performers to attend the convention. As executive director of the SSAI, Meyer is in contact with all the active sword swallowers in the world, who number about 40. But to get them to come to the convention, Meyer found that he needed a hook, not a sword.
So he organized The Big Swallow, a midnight performance during the convention at which all the sword swallowers in attendance would attempt to set the record for most swords ingested at once. Since it had never been done before, setting the record the first time would be easy. The first year, 2002, 19 people swallowed a total of 50 swords to set the record. This year, Meyer and his associates will be looking to beat the 2002 record, which was not broken last year.
Getting publicity for the feat was an added bonus as CNN, The Discovery Channel, Shocked and Amazed TV, and the Travel Channel, have all done features on the Big Swallow. This year, the Big Swallow will be held at midnight on Friday, September 3.