By 1933, Honolulu-born showman Edwin Kane “E. K.” Fernandez (1883-1970), founder of Hawai‘i’s E. K. Fernandez Shows, had been staging carnivals, circuses, fairs and sideshow acts in Hawai‘i for 30 years.
And, of all his many performers during those years, none was more bizarre than Hadji Ali (1892-1937), who toured Kaua‘i in February 1933 with a Fernandez carnival that also featured a midget sword-swallower and rustic musical entertainment by the Haskins Brothers.
While performing on Kaua‘i, Ali, an Egyptian-born sideshow artist, would drink over 40 glasses of water without stopping and then, impersonating a fountain, spout the liquid from his mouth.
Next, he would swallow 30 hazelnuts with the shells on and one almond with the shell on and return the almond nut first, followed by the hazelnuts.
He’d also swallow a few live goldfish and bring them back alive.
For his finale, Ali would drink a gallon of water followed by 1 pint of ordinary kerosene, spray the kerosene on open flames as it left his lips, and finally put out the fire with the water he’d drunk first.
John Hopkins University and many other medical colleges had examined him and came to the same conclusion — that his stomach was anatomically normal.
What enabled him to perform was his phenomenal control of his stomach muscles.
When a The Garden Island newspaper reporter interviewed Hadji Ali at a rooming house in Hanapepe, Ali explained that he could move the muscles in his stomach just as easily as he could move his hands and feet.
Ali was featured in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” after he startled Robert J. Ripley by drinking 150 glasses of water in his presence.
He also spent three years in Hollywood making pictures with the likes of actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
After Hadji Ali died on Nov. 5, 1937, in Wolverhampton, England, from heart failure during a bout of bronchitis, his assistant, Princess Almenia, offered his body to Johns Hopkins University for study, but her offer was declined.
Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org