The Cliffords: “The Most Sensational Act of the 20th Century”

The circus and vaudeville act known as The Cliffords was a rare example of matriarchy in Western Culture. The star of the act was lady sword swallower Edith Clifford (1886-1942), who plied her trade from 1899 through 1922. Originally from Boston, she was said to have learned her dangerous craft from the legendary Delno Fritz, and to have transmitted the tricks of the trade to Marie De Vere. She was already traveling with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey shows as a teenager, and was reputed to be able to swallow every sort of sharp object known to man, as well as up to 13 swords at the same time. Houdini was one of her fans! Clifford’s first husband was Jim Maurice (or Morris), an Indian Rubber Man. The second was German trapeze artist, Karl Bauer, who became her assistant. In both cases, the men took Clifford’s surname professionally, as she was the bigger star. When Edith retired in 1922, she took Bauer’s name and the pair retired to Canton, Ohio where they ran a grocery store. For much more on this act, I refer you to this excellent article by Ilise Carter, better known as The Lady Aye, who just so happens to be one of the great lady sword swallowers of THIS century.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.