The incombustible Spaniard, Senor Lionetto
Type of Spiritual Experience
Houdini indicates that the "Wonderful Phenomenon" may have been "the incombustible Spaniard, Senor Lionetto," whom the London Mirror mentions as performing in Paris in 1803 "where he attracted the particular attention of Dr. Sementeni, Professor of Chemistry, and other scientific gentlemen of that city". Houdini added that Dr. Sementeni became so interested in the subject that he made a series of experiments upon himself, and he claimed ‘these were finally crowned with success’. ……………… Houdini later states that:
I find an account of Sementini's discoveries in an old newspaper clipping, the name and date of which have unfortunately been lost:
Sementini's efforts, after performing several experiments upon himself, were finally crowned with success. He found that by friction with sulphuric acid deluted with water, the skin might be made insensible to the action of the heat of red-hot iron; a solution of alum, evaporated till it became spongy, appeared to be more effectual in these frictions. After having rubbed the parts which were thus rendered in some degree insensible, with hard soap, he discovered, on the application of hot iron, that their insensibility was increased. He then determined on again rubbing the parts with soap, and after that found that the hot iron not only occasioned no pain but that it actually did not burn the hair.
Being thus far satisfied, the Professor applied hard soap to his tongue until it became insensible to the heat of the iron; and having placed an ointment composed of soap mixed with a solution of alum upon it, burning oil did not burn it; while the oil remained on the tongue a slight hissing was heard, similar to that of hot iron when thrust into water; the oil soon cooled and might then be swallowed without danger. Several scientific men have since repeated the experiments of Professor Sementini, but we would not recommend any except professionals to try the experiments.
And if you believe this you will believe anything.
A description of the experience
From Miracle Mongers And Their Methods By Houdini
In the nineteenth century by far the most distinguished heat-resister was Chabert, who deserves and shall have a chapter to himself. He commenced exhibiting about 1818, but even earlier in the century certain obscurer performers had anticipated some of his best effects. Among my clippings, for instance, I find the following. I regret that I cannot give the date, but it is evident from the long form of the letters that it was quite early. This is the first mention I have found of the hot-oven effect afterwards made famous by Chabert.
A correspondent in France writes as follows: "Paris has, for some days, rung with relations of the wonderful exploits of a Spaniard in that city, who is endowed with qualities by which he resists the action of very high degrees of heat, as well as the influence of strong chemical reagents. Many histories of the trials to which he has been submitted before a Commission of the Institute and Medical School, have appeared in the public papers; but the public waits with impatience for the report to be made in the name of the Commission by Professor Pinel.
The subject of these trials is a young man, a native of Toledo, in Spain, 23 years of age, and free of any apparent peculiarities which can announce anything remarkable in the organization of his skin; after examination, one would be rather disposed to conclude a peculiar softness than that any hardness or thickness of the cuticle existed, either naturally or from mechanical causes. Nor was there any circumstance to indicate that the person had been previously rubbed with any matter capable of resisting the operation of the agents with which he was brought in contact.
This man bathed for the space of five minutes, and without any injury to his sensibility or the surface of the skin, his legs in oil, heated at 97 degrees of Reaumur (250 degrees of Fahrenheit) and with the same oil, at the same degree of heat, he washed his face and superior extremities. He held, for the same space of time, and with as little inconvenience, his legs in a solution of muriate of soda, heated to 102 of the same scale, (261 1/2 degrees Fahr.) He stood on and rubbed the soles of his feet with a bar of hot iron heated to a white heat; in this state he held the iron in his hands and rubbed the surface of his tongue.
He gargled his mouth with concentrated sulphuric and nitric acids, without the smallest injury or discoloration; the nitric acid changed the cuticle to a yellow color; with the acids in this state he rubbed his hands and arms. All these experiments were continued long enough to prove their inefficiency to produce any impression. It is said, on unquestionable authority, that he remained a considerable time in an oven heated to 65 degrees or 70 degrees, (178-189 degrees Fahr.) and from which he was with difficulty induced to retire, so comfortable did he feel at that high temperature.
It may be proper to remark, that this man seems totally uninfluenced by any motive to mislead, and, it is said, he has refused flattering offers from some religious sectaries of turning to emolument his singular qualities; yet on the whole it seems to be the opinion of most philosophical men, that this person must possess some matter which counteracts the operation of these agents. To suppose that nature has organized him differently, would be unphilosophic: by habit he might have blunted his sensibilities against those impressions that create pain under ordinary circumstances; but how to explain the power by which he resists the action of those agents which are known to have the strongest affinity for animal matter, is a circumstance difficult to comprehend. It has not failed, however, to excite the wonder of the ignorant and the inquiry of the learned at Paris."