'Under the Big Top' Part 4: Death-defying acts

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Part 4 of "Under the Big Top" takes an in-depth look at the mysterious world of sword swallowing.

News 12’s Tara Rosenblum embedded with Tommy Breen, the new owner of America's last traditional traveling sideshow. Breen is one of only a handful of professional sword swallowers on the planet.  He took News 12 into his personal living space to show what life is really like in the back lot.

The New Jersey native quit his job and joined the last touring sideshow in America right after he graduated film school at Rutgers University.

MORE: 'Under the Big Top' full series
MORE: Extended interviews with circus stars

He says his mother cried and his dad was upset, but mainly because they were baffled - and had no idea that Breen secretly taught himself how to swallow a sword as a high school student.

"I found a book that kind of told you how it’s done. I just practiced every day," he said.

He eventually learned how to suppress his gag reflex enough so he could shove a 15-inch blade down his esophagus, in between his lungs, miss his heart by an eighth of an inch before reaching the bottom of his stomach.

"The first time I swallowed a sword it was terrifying because you feel all kinds of things you never felt before inside your body, but when I pulled it out and I was fine, I said, 'Wow, that was awesome.'"

He was hooked and soon found Ward Hall, who some say was the most successful and colorful showman ever to live.  When it came time for Hall to leave the road in 2007, Breen bought the show.

Now, he lives with his roommate: a 6-foot long boa constrictor named Sneaky.

Breen says though the pay is not good, he gets to do what he loves and he doesn’t have to work in an office.

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