John Fasel must have been one hell of a bad tailor, because the Williamsburg resident found it necessary to supplement his income performing as a freak who ingested metallic junk in low-brow museums, sideshows and saloons. And he wasn’t a faker who employed sleight of hand–Fasel absolutely chowed down on actual nails, pocket-watch chains, keys, pins, rings, knives, coins, etc.
The “Human Ostrich” was forced in January 1900 to cease the sideshow life and change his diet after doctors performed emergency surgery and removed the hardware store in his belly. But it isn’t easy to quit the glamour of show biz, and one August evening Fasel let a group of young men in a tavern goad him into drinking beers laced with coins and four-inch nails, resulting in the Ostrich ending up in a Brooklyn hospital in critical condition.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran at least four stories about Fasel, which is surprising, since I believe the paper only ran two stories about all of World War I (“Holy Crap, Everyone’s Fighting!” and “Wow, That Was A Bitch”). The New York Times also ran a couple of stories about the idiocy in August 1900, including one called, “Junk Eater Critically Ill.”
The Daily Eagle reported on his miraculous recovery a few days later in “Human Ostrich Recovering,” mocking Fasel with the line: “He is now able to partake of raw shingle nails and other light nourishment.” The Brooklyn paper ran a subsequent story lauding Fasel for not being a phony like other sideshow freaks.
But it was the New York Times four years later that seemed to have the final word when Fasel yet again fell off the wagon. An excerpt from the paper’s April 13, 1904 article, “Human Ostrich Dines Too Fast on Hardware“:
“The proudest man in Williamsburg today is undoubtedly John Fasel of 246 Varet Street, who is going around showing his friends an X-ray photograph which brings about in bold relief the extraordinary amount of tin tacks, scrap iron, pen knives, and miscellaneous nails which he swallowed one night last week, and which the doctors are now planning to remove.
Fasel used to be a professional ‘ostrich,’ but four years ago he found it necessary to call a halt on his metallic diet. At that time he was operated on by doctors at St. John’s Hospital, Brooklyn, and still with pride the ‘human ostrich’ recounts the list of junk taken from him on the operating table.
Fasel went on the plain food wagon and remained there until one night last week, when the old appetite for something heavy and solid made him break his pledge. It was at a ball of the White Association of Brooklyn. There Fasel saw another ‘human ostrich’ making a quick lunch of some dog-chains. The ex-ostrich felt a craving right away, and issued a challenge. His friends cheered vociferously, and the ex-ostrich mounted the platform.
The ravenous way in which he quickly disposed of all the knives on the table and the broken up water decanter made his rival stare.”
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