Nick Penney can swallow three swords and then turn two consecutive cartwheels while keeping the swords in place. He has also swallowed three swords at once while suspended upside down.

Other than that, he’s just an ordinary guy. Sort of.

Penney, a 26-year-old from Augusta, is one of four Maine entries in “Eye-Popping Oddities,” the latest book from the good and slightly demented people of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”

“Readers beware,” goes the warning at the top of the book’s news release. “The book has been known to induce actual eye-popping, jaw-dropping and head-spinning in people who stare at its pages for too long!”

A perfect place for Penney, in other words.

Penney’s act includes feats such as glass-munching, fire-eating, acrobatics and something called “The Money Tree,” which is described as “staple gun fun.” These are things he has been doing for the majority of his years and it all started when he was just a 4-year-old with very high ambitions.

“I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle,” Penney said.

He couldn’t become a Ninja Turtle, as it turns out, but he did latch on to the ninja part. Penney became obsessed with martial arts and with swords, studying the history of each and ultimately weaving magic into the fold.

“When I was 8, my mother got me a magic set, and it was like a free baby sitter,” Penney said. “The swords and magic, I saw it as a combination; a way for me to become a ninja.”

By the time he was a teenager, Penney already had a strong background in martial arts and in swords. Then he saw a Discovery Channel documentary about sword-swallowing. That sent him off on an 18-month journey to learn how to swallow a sword. He didn’t want to unveil his newest act until he could do it just right.

As it turns out, his very first audience was impressed, but not in the right way.

“The first time my mother saw me swallow a sword,” Penney said, “she thought I was crazy.”

His mother took him to see a psychiatrist, in fact. When the psychiatrist saw Penney swallow a sword, the doctor was impressed by the 17-year-old’s skill and understanding of the process. After that, it became OK for Penney to swallow swords, and swallow swords he did. Some were up to 29 inches long and sometimes when they were on fire.

“I’ve never injured myself,” Penney said.

He has singed his eyebrows, however, while eating fire. To prevent that from happening again, he now has taken to stapling a card to his forehead to protect his eyebrows from the flames.

Just like any ordinary person would do, right?

At some point, Penney realized that he wanted not to just shock his audiences, but to entertain them in ways that didn’t necessarily involve freakish feats. To achieve that, he’s been taking an online acting class led by Dustin Hoffman, the two-time Academy Award-winning actor and star of “The Graduate,” “Rain Man,” and Penney’s favorite film, “Hook.”

“His instruction,” Penney said, “has helped me to become a better performer. It’s taught me to not just gross out or scare an audience, but to outright entertain them.”

Swallowing swords and eating glass, as it turns out, is not a part-time gig. According to his resume, Penney is all over the place, opening for internationally acclaimed entertainers such as Bizzy Bone of Bone Thugs and Harmony and Young Dirty Bastard, son of Wu Tang Clan member Old Dirty Bastard. 

According the booking site Gigsalad.com, Penney is a performer who consistently draws five-star reviews.

“Through years of training and experience interacting with the public,” according to its profile, “he’s learned a thing or two about entertainment and what it takes to have a top-notch show. His arsenal of extreme world record breaking skills may be what captures peoples attention, but it’s his charm and passion for entertainment that really draws you in.”

This year’s issue of Ripley’s “Eye-Popping Oddities” also features a six-clawed lobster from Boothbay Harbor, a letter written by a Houlton woman that was delivered 83 years late, and a trio of particularly ardent football fans in Kennebunkport Beach.


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