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Don’t do this at home

Don’t do this at home
Don’t do this at home
Otto the Sword Swallower does his thing in front of the First State Capitol Saturday afternoon at Old Capital Days. (Photo by Randy West)

Alexander Kensington is on the cutting edge of contemporary carnival sideshow work. Performing what he calls “dangerous and stupid tricks,” the Noblesville resident with the Hollywood good looks, colorful plantation costume and professional actor’s confidence held spectators in his blackened hands Saturday and Sunday at the entrance to the First State Capitol.
Going by the professional name of “Otto the Sword Swallower,” Kensington, 35, in turn:
‘ Snapped in half thin wooden sticks behind his back, on top of his head, and then held in his teeth with a very long Australian kangaroo hyde bullwhip;
‘ Stuck, with great agony, a long spike through his tongue. Actually, that was Kensington’s only “magic trick,” the self-styled carney admitted to the crowd. The spike was bent nicely around his tongue. Everything else he did, he said, was real.
‘ Pounded a long spike up his nose with a hammer (An old “human blockhead” feat, Kensington explained.);
‘ Exhaled a great ball of fire that momentarily warmed the spectators, even several feet away;
‘ And then, for the grand climax, his piece de resistance, Kensington directed a 16-inch bayonet (authenticated by Harrison County Sheriff C. Wendell Smith) down his throat, then a 29-inch German officer’s sword, then three swords at once.
Each time the former paramedic carefully inserted a weapon down his bottomless throat, he took a rather stiff bow.
And before each self-learned feat of derring-do, Kensington warned the children in the audience: “Don’t do this at home!” He also encouraged the more fiendish children present not to experiment with their pets either.
One woman at the 1 p.m. Saturday show at Old Capital Days high-tailed it out of there, and another small child (see picture above) covered his mouth during Kensington’s show.
Kensington, who has opened for several rock bands with his act, has already been booked for next year’s festival.
The rest of Old Capital Days was not quite so dramatic, but the thousands of people who came to the two-day event seemed satisfied. Festival organizers Tim and Bec Riley were also pleased. “I came home happy,” said Bec. “We didn’t come home and complain about anything.”
Tim said: “We had half a dozen more entrants in the parade, more craftspeople, more re-enactors, more demonstrators. Everything grew a little bit this year, and it turned out great.”
Tim said Saturday’s crowd was “as good as we did last year” when the festival was “Old Settlers Day,” a one-day event on the Fourth of July. Tim estimated the parade crowd at about 3,000, compared to crowds he’s seen at previous Old Settlers Day and the annual Halloween Parade.
The parade was led by the Corydon VFW Post 2950 Color Guard and ended with representatives of the police, volunteer fire departments and Emergency Medical Services.
A number of candidates walked down Capitol Avenue, including Republican Mike Sodrel of New Albany, who’s running for the Ninth District Congressional seat now held by Democrat Baron Hill of Seymour.
There were several new events this year, including Otto; the full-costume military ball in which the public was encouraged to participate (Ten Penny Bit provided the live music for the ball, which has been held as part of the Battle of Corydon reenactment); former Harrison County Historian Frederick P. Griffin’s tours of the Gov. Hendricks Headquarters; Native American story-telling by “Stargazer” (Bonnie McKim), and the interdenominational Sunday morning church service, led by the Rev. Esther Wilson of the Corydon United Methodist Church. It was primarily an old-fashioned hymn sing, which the audience seemed to enjoy, at the Hurley D. Conrad Memorial Bandstand.
Another new event was the Ladies Teas, organized in only a month’s time and capably carried out by several Corydon Capital State Historic Site interpreters: Mary Lou (M.L.) James, Mary Garcia, Nancy Snyder, Kelly Kemp and Bonnie McKim, all dressed in elegant, formal period costume.
The women had prepared a wonderful table of goodies: stuffed apricots, savories, cookies, scones and Ruby tea biscuits, and three kinds of teas. Each of the ladies teas was “sold out” in the Hendricks Headquarters’ dining room.
M.L. provided an interesting history of tea before inviting everyone to enjoy the refreshments. Did you know that tea from China was first used in Europoe for medicinal purposes, and it came in tiny blocks? At first, it was very expensive and only the wealthy could afford it. However, their servants would re-use the tea leaves, sometimes selling it.
The first tea room developed in 1717, and it was for men only. Tea rooms for ladies didn’t come along until about 1884, M.L. said. The reason why tea became popular in the afternoon, M.L. said, is because the Duchess of Bedford grew faint from waiting so long between lunch and dinner, which was normally served rather late in the evening. The duchess started having a little repast in the afternoon to tide her over.
It was Queen Victoria who decided that her tea might be better with a slice of lemon in it. And when the queen did it, everyone else followed.
The festival was sponsored by the Corydon Capital State Historic Site and Friends of the First State Capitol.

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