'Captain' Don Leslie


World Record Sword Swallower Lived Colorful Life


There was a time when every kid dreamed of running away to join the circus.

"Captain" Don Leslie lived the dream.


He was one of a vanishing breed, a lifelong sideshow carny who swallowed swords, ate fire and shoved sharp metal objects up his nose. He smoked like a Frenchman, wore his hair long like a rock star and had more tattoos than a sailor.


The Captain spent 42 years on the road. There isn't a circus worth mentioning or a place worth seeing where he didn't perform. He lived in a trailer, bathed from a bucket and stashed his pay in a sock. Circus life was all he ever knew, or cared to.


"He loved it," said Henry Goldfield, a San Francisco tattoo artist. He befriended the Captain 25 years ago when the sword swallower started performing at Fisherman's Wharf. "He always said that whenever he smelled elephants -- he knew he was home."


Donald Paul Leslie died June 4 at home in Chico, six months after being diagnosed with throat cancer brought on by decades of eating fire. He was 69, and his peers said his death closes the golden age of sideshow sword swallowing.


Thursday, June 21, 2007 (SF Chronicle)

Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer

Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle



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