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Van Milana, 65, was born on Dewey Place in the area of Coney Island called "The Gut" before Trump Village and Warbasse. He shares memories of both of his grandfathers, who were famous sideshow performers in Coney Island.
Milana recalls his paternal grandfather Joseph "Ajax the Great" Milana (1884-1959), who was a legendary sword swallower and lived at the Surf Hotel. He says that Ajax was the first to swallow a sword in a sheath, a heated sword and multiple swords, as well as the first to have X-rays taken to prove he actually swallowed swords. At the start of his career he toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West and was the featured sword swallower in Coney Island at Sam Gumpertz's Dreamland Circus Sideshow and Sam Wagner's World Circus Sideshow, among other venues, from 1917-1940's.
Milana's maternal grandfather was DeWise Purdin (1906-1985), who was born without hands, and worked as a longshoreman, a sideshow performer known as "The Handless Sharpshooter" and "The Handless Wonder," and a scooter ride operator. Milana also recalls his grandmother Edith Purdin (1903-1970), a ticket seller and talker at the World in Wax Musee, and visiting Coney Island with his mother in the last years of her life.