Month: April 2017

Ricardo Sacci, hunger artist. 1929.

This is not a crime but a man died.  If you live in Blackpool you have walked past the spot where he appeared.  You will have walked past the house where he died.

On Sunday November 3rd 1929 Richard Hans Jone died at 19 Cookson Street.  He was 48 years old.  Ricardo Sacci was internationally famous for his fasting activities.  He had spent 65 days in a glass case at 76 Church Street without eating.  He lived on soda water and 20 cigarettes a day.

Why?  Money.  People paid to see Ricardo  whose real name was  Richard Jone.  For his performance he used the name Ricardo Sacco  and I will call him Ricardo.   Ten thousand people a day paid a penny to see him.  He received letters from women all over the world and he was offered work in Philadelphia.  But he was planning to retire in Blackpool.  He was prompted to extend his fast by a week, possibly fatally,  in Blackpool to beat his French rival Moss le Blanc who was also fasting in Blackpool.

Richard Jone was trained as a baker in the Netherlands but as a young man he came to England.  He was a young man of great strength and endurance.  He discovered  fasting before the war where he appeared at Southend.  In 1913 when he was thirty one Richard married Mary Jane Sophia Gifford who was seventeen.

During the First World War he served abroad in the British Army.

After the war he continued fasting.  He made a career out of fasting probably in Europe as well as Southend and Manchester.   Why?  Well for money and because he was good at it and because there was an established tradition of “hunger artists” in Europe.  These originally claimed religious motives and were likely a mixture of frauds and people with mental illnesses.  In the nineteenth and twentieth century these became showmen and were exhibited at carnivals and circuses.  In most cases the motive was money although one American “hunger artist” was independently wealthy and did it as a challenge.  It is slightly jaw-dropping that at the time of Ricardo Sacci’s fast there was another hunger artist in Blackpool and it was rivalry which caused Ricardo Sacci to extend his fast.  The more suspicious amongst us will wonder how we know that Ricardo kept to his fast.  How do we know that when the show closed he didn’t pop out for a well-deserved packet of fish and chips and a nice pint?  We don’t but the evidence suggests that he didn’t.  Later shows…”the Starving Brides” were straightforward frauds, but in this case the impresario… the elusive Luke Gannon… may not have fully taken on the lesson that he later learned… you can exhibit anybody and make any claims…  people pay to gawk not to research.  In any case Ricardo had a reputation  which drew more people in and he was almost certainly genuine in his fast.

Ricardo as the photo shows was a personable gentleman and many of his followers were ladies.  As the West Lancashire Evening Gazette says: “he received hundreds of letters and photographs from women admirers.” Ricardo undertook his fast against medical advice and he extended it for a week because of his rivalry with another “hunger artist” Moss le Blanc.  His fast lasted for 65 days.  I cannot find a reliable record of a longer fast.   Whether it was a record or not it is close to the longest recorded fast.

After his fast Ricardo was unwell.  He had been advised against the fast on account of stomach trouble and more seriously an enlarged liver.  Possibly earlier fasts had compromised his health.  After a fast people are unable to eat normally and have died for  through eating after a  fast.  Ricardo went on a careful diet including milk and eggs.  But after some recovery he became ill again and died at his home at Cookson Street.

His death was headline news because of his celebrity and his adoring followers.  There was an inquest and the details are unpleasant.

At the inquest it was found that Ricardo  appeared in a glass case at Church Street.  The site, an arcade,  was owned by a gentleman called Cohen.  I assume that it was sub-let to Luke Gannon.  Luke Gannon is never mentioned in the Inquest although the Coroner, Harold Parker, makes disparaging comments about the circumstances in which Ricardo was exhibited.  Ricardo’s mother in law, Sarah Gifford, who stayed with him in Cookson Street, testified that he had not been in the best of health. Ricardo Sacco’s fast had started on 29 June.  A Blackpool doctor, Clifford Ward, had advised against the fast because of Ricardo’s known ill-health.  Ricardo’s fast lasted until September 1st when Dr Clifford Ward saw him again.  He was very weak and Dr Ward advised a diet of milk and water.  He was later able to eat custard and stewed fruit and then eggs and chicken.  But Ricardo’s health deteriorated: “I feel I will never get better.”

He died on November 3 1929 from cardiac failure, ascites, dropsy and his liver condition. Dr Ward said that Ricardo’s fast had contributed to his death.

The inquest revealed the squalid conditions at 76 Church Street.  Not only was Ricardo displayed in a glass case but other attractions included bears, monkeys and “funny cats.”  Ricardo  complained that it was a menangerie and was unhappy with the conditions.

The coroner was critical of the manager… the elusive Luke Gannon who it seems was: “Out of town.”  When he wanted to be Luke Gannon could be very present.  The chances are that being a money orientated person he detected an opportunity and was not  displeased by the publicity surrounding Ricardo’s death.  In future he would display the “Starving Brides” where the starving was  fraudulent.  If you don’t altogether like Luke Gannon you have to admire his audacity.  When Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike Luke Gannon wrote to him and asked him if he wanted to do it on the Golden Mile.  And the Empress of Abyssinia protesting against Italian Invasion… Luke Gannon…  well you can guess.  His assessment of the public: : “50% of them are certifiable 30% on the brink and the other 20% living on the others.” …  No sentimentalist Luke Gannon and his shadowy presence and his conflicts with Blackpool Council… who didn’t like him at all… went on for decades.  The Rector of Stiffkey… who was working for Luke Gannon was charged with attempting suicide and imprisoned in 1935.  He was later awarded damages against Blackpool Council (anyone who makes money from Blackpool Council…).   Surely Blackpool Council had Ricardo Sacci in mind.

Richard Hans Jone… Ricardo Sacci… was a pious Catholic.  Following a Requiem Mass at the Sacred Heart.  As the West Lancashire Evening Gazette says: “it was attended by a large congregation nearly all of whom were women! (sic) ” He was buried at Layton Cemetery on Thursday 7 November 1929.  His fifteen year old daughter Sadie  was present as was another “hunger artist”  Raymond Tac who came to pay his respects.

Fasting began as a religious custom and then became a commercial proposition and then it became a political act. Now even Ian Brady has got into the act…

There is a lot we do not know as there is with everything.  Where was Ricardo’s wife?  He seems to have had good relations with his in-laws and his daughter.  And was it more than a money-making proposition?  Was there was some inner compulsion.  But we will never know.

Spare  a second to think Ricardo Sacci when you walk down Church Street.