Mimi Garneau was born as Hazel Jude Thomas in 1890 (also reported as 1894) near Phillipsburg, PA. The young woman learned to swallow swords and began performing under the name Jude by the late 1920s. She soon gained acclaim by becoming the first woman to swallow a neon sword. By the early 1930s Jude met her husband-to-be, Fred Garneau. It’s unknown why she eventually adopted the first name Mimi.
Garneau’s early sword swallowing career included performances with Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and with the Al G. Barnes, Sells-Floto, and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey shows. In addition to guzzling steel, she also occasionally operated a flea circus and managed a sideshow.
The early 1940s proved to be a difficult period for Garneau. Her husband died in ‘41, and her son from a previous relationship, Billee Hamilton, was drafted into World War Two and killed in Sicily.
Garneau persevered and continued performing for several decades, and even made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen in 1961. Toward the end of the ‘60s she finally hung up her swords. Garneau continued to perform with her flea circus, complete with specially designed props and real fleas. She traveled for several years with her talented parasites before finally retiring in the mid-1970s.
Garneau spent her final years in Tampa, FL, where she passed away on Feb. 22, 1986.
Photo courtesy of Ward Hall's collection.