Who knew this stuff existed?

It started with The Great LaCardo, who turned up on a circus sideshow banner at a Pook & Pook auction. The 89- by 115-inch oil-on-canvas banner showed the performer swallowing a neon tube. What struck me about the image was the man wore a dress shirt and tie. No rhinestone-studded, open-to-your-navel outfit for this guy.

This circus sideshow banner shows The Great LaCardo swallowing a lit neon tube. (Photo: Pook & Pook)

Intrigued, I decided to see what I could find out about The Great LaCardo. In the process I discovered a Web site with the type of readily available information unfathomable prior to the Internet.

The Great LaCardo was listed at SwordSwallow.com, a site run by Sword Swallowers Association International. A page for the Sword Swallower’s Hall of Fame included The Great LaCardo, a.k.a. Capt. Fritz Lacardo and Capt. Fritz Lecardo. The following background was provided: “Fritz Lecardo performed as a sword swallower in the 1920s under the name ‘Capt. Fritz Lecardo’, and possibly on into the 1940s under the name ‘The Great LaCardo’. He was known for swallowing a sword and hanging a chair over the hilt of the sword, and later for swallowing a neon tube.”

It was enough to put the sideshow banner in perspective and to help date the piece.

The real gem of the discovery was the plethora of other information on the Sword Swallow site — from multiple biographies to videos to lists of resources. Expect some broken links along the way, but that minor frustration is worth the knowledge to be gained.

Pictured above: The banner depicting The Great LaCardo, estimated at $4,000 to $6,000, was bid to $3,800, but apparently did not sell. It was offered by Pook & Pook of Downington, Pennsylvania, during an auction on September 8, 2011.