Yesterday I mentioned in passing that Mirin Dajo used his unique talent to turn himself into a ‘human fountain’. I would be in error if I did not mention Mortado, The Human Fountain.
Mortado actually had holes bored through his feet and hands. These holes were not traditional piercings and, while seated in a specially constructed chair, copper tubes were feed through the wounds. Water was then pumped through those pipes at high pressure and Mortado became a fountain.
Remarkably, there was no trickery in Mortado’s crucifixion-like wounds. When not seated in his chair, Mortado placed corks into his wounds to keep them from healing over. On occasion, Mortado did reenact a biblical crucifixion. After placing small bags of red fluid into his open wounds, he would then allow an assistant to drive nails into those same holes. The bags would break, the ‘blood’ would flow, and people would proceed to faint.
Not much is known of Mortado’s history. His pitch biography is mostly fictional and that makes reconstructing his true origin difficult. According to his biography he was born in Berlin and served in World War I. He first exhibited himself in Berlin in January of 1929 before meeting a New York Agent and signing a deal with Dreamland circus for their 1930 summer season. But, according to the same biography, his wounds were the result of torture at the hands of savage natives.
How Mortado got the idea for his bizarre act, how he managed to create the holes or even his eventual fate remains unknown. Mortado dropped in popularity and disappeared from public exhibition.
Mortado does live on in Ripley’s Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf as an exhibit featuring a statuesque fountain.
main image: Mortado at Coney Island’s Dreamland Circus in 1930, from Freaks: We Who Are Not As Others by D. P. Mannix.