Evatima Tardo’s remarkable life lasted 34 years. In just over three decades, she was a:
- Phenomena to the medical community
- Muse to Houdini
- Vaudeville star
- Murder victim
Many people would have considered her survival a miracle, but Eva’s family identified her health as a sort of superpower. From that point on, the girl deliberately allowed herself to be bitten by snakes, spiders, and other venomous creatures.
When she was a young woman touring the vaudeville circuit, she adopted the stage name Evatima Tardo. Newspapers referred to her variously as Mrs. Tardo, Miss Tardo, Eva Ferguson, Edith Ferguson, and Eva Kennedy.
Each night, Evatima Tardo ascended the stage, and allowed herself to sustain injuries that would have killed most men. People flocked to see snakes hiss and strike at Evatima, and stared in amazement as she calmly allowed the reptiles’ fangs to inject her with deadly venom.
At some point, critter bites became passé. To keep her act fresh, Tardo incorporated new types of injuries and hazards, like drinking gasoline.
She drove huge needles into her neck and face, and left them there. Spectators watched in fascination as Tardo laughed and talked, apparently untroubled by the needles that were visible outside her cheeks and inside her mouth when she spoke.
Assistants pressed a red hot iron into her skin as she watched unflinchingly.
Evatima drove long, sharp hatpins completely through her own arms and hands. She waved to her audience, demonstrating that she could not only sustain such an injury, but she would simultaneously continue to move just as if a large, wicked-looking needle was not lodged deep in her arm.
Evatima conceived another shocking idea: crucifixion.
After considerable publicity, Tardo was nailed to a wooden cross with large horseshoe nails piercing her hands and feet. She remained on the cross for hours, talking and giggling as a huge crowd looked on. Lest her audience believe this was a trick, Evatima invited them to file past, so they could touch the wood and nails and verify her authenticity for themselves.
Reporters questioned the star skeptically. Why didn’t she bleed when her skin was pierced? Was she supposed to be immortal? Tardo responded that she could control her own circulation, so she could prevent blood loss when her skin was pierced. She added jubilantly, “I never had a pain in my life. I don’t know what an ache is. I am always happy, never sad.”
The reporters did not buy it. Newspaper columns referred to her as a “freak” and darkly implied her show was an elaborate hoax that played on the gullibility of her audience.
Evatima met her end in 1905, under seedy circumstances. She was seeing a man named Hal Williamson and on May 18, she visited him in the saloon he owned in Memphis, Tennessee. As they sat on a divan, laughing and talking, the door opened and a wild-eyed man burst into the room. It was Thomas McCall: a sometime-detective, night watchman, and former lover of Evatima.
Before Hal and Evatima could react, the spurned man aimed a revolver and fired at Williamson, killing him. A fraction of a second later, he fired again. The beautiful Evatima, who was immune to poison, burns, piercings, and crucifixion, could not withstand a bullet. She died instantly. McCall wheeled and ran back to his hotel, where he committed suicide a short while later. Police declared McCall’s motive was jealousy.
Evatima left behind a son, but all that is known of him is that the boy attended school in Georgia while his mother toured the country.
Tardo’s case is notable because immunity to pain remains a rare, unexplained phenomena, and because if she was a fraud, she was never found out.