Miss Tardo’s Poisonous Profession


An unknown Victorian-era snake charmer. From The Cult of Weird

An unknown Victorian-era snake charmer. From The Cult of Weird

Those of you who are not afraid of snakes and skewers, step right up and meet Evantina Tardo [also known as Evatima and as Eva Ferguson] the


Woman in the World

Experimented With By Physicians in Three Continents

She Is Proof Against Pain and Poison—Thrives on What Would Kill Others

[Minnesota  Cor. New York World]

Evatima Tardo is the strangest human being in the world. Thousands of physicians have said so. In her 26 years of life she has never experienced the sense of touch. She is utterly devoid of physical feeling.

Moreover, she is proof against disease. The venom of snakes, the germs of the deadliest diseases, affect her not at all….

Physicians from the eminent Dr. Playfair, of London, to the humblest practitioner, have tried to kill her, for purely scientific reasons, of course, and she still lives. Bullets have passed through her body; the wounds heal in hours


Have demonstrated that only in three ways can Evatima’s life be ended. The penetration of the ganglion centers just above the heart would result in instant death. The scientists believe that direct injury to the brain or the spinal cord would also destroy the young woman’s life.

For many years Evatima Tardo has been known to the medical world. She has made a very excellent living by permitting them to experiment upon her and study the results which have only puzzled them. She has never exhibited herself to the general public. [not so—see below.] Within the past week 200 doctors in Minneapolis and St. Paul have had her under careful supervision.

She is a blond and cheerful woman of medium height and rather slender. She is not pretty, but her face is not unattractive. She dresses with taste, and when she passes along the street there is nothing about her to attract attention.

But when she holds her hands over a gas flame, when she thrusts pins and needles into her arms and requests doctors to shoot her, the young woman is looked upon as something apart. There is something uncanny about her demonstrations. She outrages natural laws, and instead of dying she thrives upon what would be fatal to others….

Miss Tardo thrusts a pin into her body and all she feels is a slight jar. She will submit to any test that is looked upon as painful with a smile. It makes not the slightest difference to her. Needles thrust under her nails, a red-hot iron applied to her skin, the gash of a knife, all mean nothing to this woman. She thrusts a hat-pin through her cheeks and through her tongue.

She feels nothing, and in two hours the wound is healed. The most jagged cuts that can be made will heal in two or three days. Her heart has been pierced with a knife, her neck has been dislocated. Neither gave


Had such liberties been taken with any other person he must have died.

Now, the physicians have said that the reason Miss Tardo is free from feeling is because there is no connection between the sensory and motor nerves in her body. This is Dr. Playfair’s view. Others do not believe in it.

Miss Tardo is not only free from all pain but she has absolute control over the circulation of her blood. A gash can be made where there is no way for a surgeon to stop the flow of blood. This young woman can stop it in a second and then permit it to flow again. And there doesn’t seem to be any explanation at all for this. It is simply a fact.

Many scientific men have said that if Miss Tardo’s arm were cut off she could join the severed part and it would become hard and fast again, leaving not a scar. She eats glass with perfect equanimity. Thin glass and Saratoga potatoes  [chips] taste very much alike to her….

Now and then she will herself pry out one of her eyes so that it rests on her cheek….

But the immunity from all forms of poison and contagion is even more remarkable. Physicians have taken their deadliest cultures and placed them in her blood. Cholera germs, diphtheria, consumption, typhoid fever, all the dreadful list, have attacked this woman and she was not in


Every scientific man who has studied her has said that she will never die of disease or violence. Her end can only come when the whole machine is worn out unless, indeed, she were chopped up into bits.… Snakes do not attack her unless they are forced to do so. They seem to realize that it means death for them to bite her.

Miss Tardo doesn’t demonstrate in the dark nor under peculiar conditions. When she was preparing to have [some] pictures taken she thrust the long pins into her body, gashed herself and engaged in mutilation that made the onlookers gasp with amazement and horror. The snakes were lying in a basket. They had arrived only a few hours before from the snake farm in Rochester, Minn. There were six rattlers, and they looked to be particularly vicious and active. They had been carried from the express office directly to the photographer’s. When she


One by one, H.L. Rene, the operator, dodged behind the camera. He requested Miss Tardo to handle but one at a time, as he didn’t want rattlesnakes running about the place.

She selected the largest of the half dozen. It was three feet long and very handsome as snakes go. The woman handled the snake with impunity, making not the slightest attempt to keep it quiet. She made it angry, and it rattled ominously.

It was with difficulty that she could make the snake bite her. She stood directly before the camera with the pins thrust in her arms and face and held the rattler’s head close to her bared bosom. She struck and pinched the snake until it struck her.

Three times the fangs were buried in her flesh. She allowed the wound to bleed to show that the bite was a deep one. Then she made the snake bite her wrist. About each wound there was slight puffing, but within 10 minutes this had disappeared, and the marks of the teeth could be seen faintly.

This snake was immediately killed and the head carefully dissected. The fangs and poison glands were in a perfectly normal and healthy condition. There was enough venom distilled to


These are only a few of the demonstrations which Miss Tardo has made. She has been bitten by every poisonous creature that can be found. The terrible Gila monster has fastened its teeth in her arm so tightly that the creature had to be killed and the jaws pried apart.

The young woman was born in the Island of Trinidad in the West Indies, of mixed ancestry. She cannot remember having the sense of feeling. She has been married and is now a widow. She has resumed her maiden name. [There is some doubt about these personal details.]

“My parents say that I never gave any evidence of sense of feeling,” Miss Tardo said to the World correspondent, “but some of the doctors think that they must be mistaken.

“My condition is usually traced back to the time when I was 5 years old.  I was bitten by cobra. It was taken for granted that I must die. The doctors said there was not the slightest hope, and parents gave me up. The bite did not make me very sick. Not long afterward I was again bitten, and then the snakes were permitted to bite me by way of an experiment. They had not the slightest effect on me. “Then my parents were amazed by my absence of feeling. I was never hurt. I never cried. Cuts and scratches did not trouble me in the least. I did not know I had them unless I saw them. I could hold my hand in the fire and have no sensation of pain.

“When I was 10 years old I was taken to the United States, and from there I went to England, where I was placed in the hands of the doctors who experimented upon me for years, and used me in their lectures and clinics on nervous trouble.

“Some people think that I am unfortunate. I think that I am very much blessed. I have never had a sick day in my life. I do not know what pain is, and I wouldn’t be subject to it for anything in the world.

“I cannot see the use of pain anyway. It seems to me that I get through life as well as any person. All of the nerves that give real pleasure are left to me. Why should I care for those which give pain?… Miss Tardo is perfectly willing to be shot at any time. Many bullets have been sent through the fleshy parts of her body. When she commands the wound to stop bleeding the flow ceases instantly. There is never any soreness and only a slight stiffness. And the wound heals before there is any danger at all.

The Minneapolis doctors have examined and debated. Not one of them has said that the woman is a fraud. It was supposed at first that Miss Tardo might take some anaesthetic [cocaine was suggested in another article] which deadened the pain, and her will power enabled her to stand the torture without flinching. But they know there is no anesthetic powerful enough to act in this way.

Miss Tardo looks upon her powers, if so they may be called, in purely a business light. They give her opportunity for making a living in a way she regards as a very easy and comfortable. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 28 August 1897: p. 12

Her “programme” for this Chicago medical student clinic seems less like science and more like a side-show act.



Conducts Her Own Experiments

Snake Bites Are Harmless

Plunged a Hatpin Through Her Arm

Cobra’s Venom In Her Childhood Did Not Hurt Her.

Mrs. Evatima Tardo recently appeared at her first Chicago clinic in the Post-graduate Medical college. The woman boasts that she is entirely lacking in the sense of feeling, and in the Postgraduate clinic she apparently made good her claim. Said she:

“I never had a pain in my life. I don’t know what an ache is. I am always happy, never sad.” Beatific state!

Mrs. Tardo was dressed much like a female equilibrist or juggler at a circus and not unlike a warbler at a continuous show. In her hands she carried a selection of “instruments,” at which the surgeon and his assistance look askance. The “instruments” were cheap hatpins and knitting needles, and when the surgeon proposed to substitute a set of his carefully washed and disinfected tools she declined.

Then the surgeon in charge of the clinic announced that the woman was present to exhibit her lack of the sense of pain and that she would conduct her own “experiments,” self-inflicted.

As a preliminary Mrs. Tardo announced that she was absolutely immune from the poison of snake bites. The deadly cobra, the spider tarantula, the hooded Portuguese snake, the centipede, the rattlesnake, the copperhead, she said, were alike harmless to her unique constitution. A principal feature of her exhibitions was to allow venomous reptiles to sink their fangs into her flesh, to let the poison ooze out again and to permit the physicians to make any tests that would convince them of its fatal quality. This exhibition with the snakes she had given in a doctor’s office earlier in her stay in Chicago before a number of physicians, one of whom was Dr. John Little Morris of the Plaza hotel, but her snakes had died and she was unable to exhibit these powers or this immunity at the Postgraduate clinic.

The first number of Mrs. Tardo’s “programme” was to plunge a hatpin clear through the biceps muscles of her left arm. She exerted evident pressure in driving the stele instrument through, and when she had clearly speared herself she worked her forearm and proved that she retained full possession of her power of movement. No pain whatever accompanied the exhibition. That was evident from her expression and manner.

In the second place she thrust the hatpin in the interosseous space in the forearm. The pin appeared on the underside of her arm and evidently gave her no more inconvenience than if she had stuck the big steel needle into a pincushion on her dressing table. Arriving out of this second test was a third, in which the hatpin was jabbed an inch deep into her forearm while she opened and shut her hand. The movement of the flexor and extensor muscles drew the pin in and out a distance of half an inch. A hollow pin, resembling a knitting needle, was then thrust clear through the woman’s check with as much ease and unconcern as if she were driving it through a piece of sole leather. Then the woman drank a tablespoonful of gasoline, attached a brass pipe over the outside end of the hollow needle, shut her mouth, allowed the fumes of the gasoline to arise from her stomach and touched a lighted match to the end of the brass tube. The fumes, of course were escaping through that channel as thorough a gas jet and burst into a respectable flame upon the application of the match, burning for two or three minutes.

Then the young woman smoked a cigarette, and in order to be sociable, supplied one of the surgeon’s assistants with a small rubber pipe attached over the hollow needle that pierced her check. He smoked and she smoked—the same cigarette.

Finally with the hollow needle still her cheek, the woman asked the surgeon to drive a hatpin through her tongue. He complied, first seizing the end of it and drawing it far out of her mouth. The operation was painless to the subject and somewhat amusing to the doctor. With these two big pins in her face Mrs. Tardo conversed with the spectators fluently and answered the questions that were put to her. As a climax to the good work of the hour, she plunged a hatpin through the fore part of her neck and left it there for some time without any possible evidence of inconvenience.

In none of these test was there any flow of blood. A few drops followed the extraction of the big needle form the cheek, but in a moment they were dried away. Infinitesimal brown specks in her cheeks, where dimples should be, are all the evidence she carries of previous woundings from these tests. She declares the slight wounds she makes are always healed within four or five days, and she fears no bad results from the use of hatpins, which are never cleansed or disinfected as doctors cleanse and disinfect their instruments. The sight effusion of blood, the woman declared, was proof that she was human. “If you did not see any blood,” she said, “you might think I was an artificial person—made of wax.” Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 1 February 1898: p. 3

The Enquirer article above says that Miss Tardo never exhibited herself in public, but sensational news articles such as the following tell a different story.


She Chatted and Sang While Being Nailed on a Cross.

Miss Evatina Tardo, a young woman who recently gave several remarkable exhibitions of withstanding the bites of poisonous snakes before medical experts, was recently nailed to a cross in a Clark street dime museum and kept suspended for two hours and a half. Only her left hand and foot were pierced, but Miss Tardo went through the ordeal without flinching. Indeed, she laughed, chatted and sang while the nails were being driven into her flesh and declared she had never enjoyed herself before quite so well.

Miss Tardo insists that no optical illusion was employed. The tree was placed on a platform where the progress of the steel through the flesh and wood could be seen by the 500 spectators. After she had been securely fastened to the improvised cross a long line of visitors filed past the impaled woman, felt the heads of the nails and shuddered.

Dr. George A. Bangs superintended the crucifixion. A volunteer was asked for to drive the nails, but no one responded. The physician was compelled to do the work of the Roman soldier. [Whatever happened to “First, do no harm”?]

Not a drop of blood showed where the nail had pierced the tissue of the hand. Miss Tardo explained that she had such control over the circulation in her body that she could draw all the blood out of her arm from the elbow. The left foot of the little woman was bared and another nail hammered through the member.

“Before I gave the nails to the doctor I had them steeped in deadly poison,” lectured Miss Tardo. “There wouldn’t be any fun unless I had put prussic acid on the ends.” Miss Tardo remained impaled from 8:30 o’clock until 11. New York Journal. The Gazette [York, PA] 20 February 1898: p. 5

She also appeared in a dime museum, after attempting to use legitimate physicians for publicity.

A Clark street dime museum is now the center of attraction for a woman — Mme. Evatima Tardo, who claims that she is absolutely immune to the bite of a poisonous reptile. In order to demonstrate the truth of her proposition she keeps a collection of “rattlers,” which she permits to bite her with impunity. How this trick is accomplished any one familiar with Mexican “rattler” can readily explain. [Will someone explain it to me, please?]

In order to get a little free advertising this woman visited the various medical colleges of the city, to see how many gullible “professors” she could find. At the Chicago Post-Graduate Medical School she ran up against Prof. Klebs, and she was compelled to retire from the field. Prof. Klebs is a scientist. He is accustomed to submit every problem to rigid test conditions. He did so in the case of Mme. Tardo. He demonstrated that the Madame’s snakes couldn’t kill a rat and as a consequence he voted the Madame a fraud, and dismissed her and her snakes.

At Rush Medical College Dr. Dodson, the Professor of Physiology, fell a victim to the trick. The Madame was here successful in working in her “little joker,” and, as a consequence, the rat died, and Dr. Dodson was nonplussed. The woman got what she was after, a free advertisement, and the next week she entered upon her career as the star attraction at the dime museum. This was a great satisfaction to the woman.

But Dr. Dodson has the satisfaction of knowing that this is not the first time in history that a man has been taken in by a woman and a serpent.

Medical Era, Volume 16, No. 3, Edited by Robert Newton Tooker, et al, March, 1898

A homeopathic journal speculates about her methods and gives some frank details.

 She spends some twenty minutes in silent preparation before performing her feats, and this leads one to suspect the possibility of cocainization being the cause of her lack of sensibility, or perhaps that hers is a case of auto-hypnotization. But what has rendered her immune to rattlesnake poison, for she surely allows herself to be bitten by a Crotalus horridus [timber or canebrake rattlesnake], is a question still unsettled. Is she a disciple of Calmette, the Frenchman, who has been experimenting for years in India, and has demonstrated satisfactorily that one can be rendered immune to all virulent snake poisons by increasing doses of cobra poison and hypochlorite of lime in solution injected hypodermically? Again, many appear to believe that the little woman in question is a freak of nature, and that her sensory nerves are lacking in development. She claims to be devoid of tactile sensibility and of the genital or sexual sense in the external genitalia, but that the orgasm occurs in the uterus alone. The Pacific Coast Journal of Homeopathy, Volume 5, 1897

How did she do it?

There is, of course, a disease that renders people insensitive to pain. There are periodically stories in the modern press about children who bite off bits of their own tongues or lose fingers and toes due to accidents which they have no way to feel or prevent.

It’s also known that endorphins are released in the brain of persons who cut or self-harm. Miss Tardo’s happiness and exultation makes me wonder about this aspect of her career. It would not explain immunity to germs and poisons, although, as noted above, graded exposure can create venom immunity.

It has been demonstrated that some voodoo practitioners feel no pain during their trances and that hypnosis can be used for painless surgeries.

And we are all familiar with images of fakirs and participants in Thai festivals piercing their cheeks and chests with skewers. I can’t bear to study the phenomenon too closely so I leave it to you whether it is a conjuring trick or mystic state or something else altogether.

Other possible clues might be Miss Tardo’s insistence on using her own “instruments” and in doing the stabbing herself. Was the remark about wax a hint? Were the medicos so entranced by the lady’s abbreviated costume (cut low and short to leave plenty of skin for demonstration purposes, said one article.) that they were fooled by sleight-of-hand?

Miss Tondo’s serpentine career was cut tragically short in 1905, not by a snake or poison, or by being cut into bits, but by a gunshot wound inflicted by a jealous lover: a wound that just this once, bled and did not heal.


Deadly Reptiles’ Venom Was not Fatal

Eva Ferguson Survived to Figure in Three-Cornered Tragedy

 Memphis, Tenn., May 18. According to statements made by the mother of Eva Ferguson, the young woman who with Hal Williamson was killed by Thomas McCall [an Illinois Central detective] in a Calhoun street restaurant [in Williamson’s saloon], her daughter had led a remarkable career. Born in Cuba, bitten by a venomous reptile in the tropics at an early age, she survived the bite and proved herself immune from pain or poison. This in brief is the statement of the mother.

As a result of the double murder, which was followed by the suicide of Tom McCall, who killed both the Ferguson girl and Williamson in a moment of jealousy, there will be three funerals. [Another article suggests that Eva was shot by accident and McCall killed himself in remorse.]

The woman’s maiden name was Eva Kennedy. Her parents live in St. Louis. She was born in the West Indies. At the age of four she was bitten by a fer de lance, and the bite did not poison her. That fact attracted the attention of scientists, and in her effects were stories printed in various papers of her being bitten by other poisonous snakes without injury. She spoke French fluently and had traveled the world over At one time she was on the stage and claimed to have been married to a man by the name of Tardo and that her stage name was Eva Tardo. Her child is in a school in Georgia and she sent it money regularly….Bay City [MI] Times 18 May 1905: p. 1

I’ve seen an 1896 account of a man who performed many of the same tricks. Any sensible medical explanation or was it just a side-show act? Incisive answers, please to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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