SKOWHEGAN — John “Red” Stuart of Philadelphia has been a sword swallower for 49 years.

“Trixie,” 26, gave up her college career with a master’s degree in English and creative writing to join her boyfriend, Dizzy Diamond, 26, as a circus hula hoop expert and knife-throwing target.

They, along with “Sir Kade,” an escape artist; “Miss Spooky,” a tattooed circus clown with long dreadlocks; and “Insectavora,” a heavily tattooed fire eater, are all performers in the World of Wonders – the Strangest Show on Earth – appearing on the midway for the 197th annual Skowhegan State Fair, which opens Thursday and runs through Aug. 22.

World of Wonders and the sideshow Escape Explosion are based in Tampa, Florida.

“We’ve got fire eaters, sword swallowers, knife throwers, a magician, a hula hooper and ladder swords,” said Tommy Breen, manager of the show. “This show has been going for 70 years, and this is our first time to Maine in a long time. I’ve never been to Maine, and I’ve been with the show for 11 years.”

“I’m a clown and I walk on a ladder of swords blindfolded,” “Miss Spooky,” 26, said from the stage of the show Tuesday as the tent was set up and all the props were put in place. Most of the performers have been traveling with the show for two years as they move up and down the East Coast.

Stuart, 64, said he holds nine world records for sword swallowing and says he’s has taught nearly half of all the sword swallowers in the world the tricks of the trade.

The trick to sword swallowing is to place the long blade – he has more than a dozen different ones – “between the lips, over the tongue, behind the heart, between the lungs – watch out stomach, here it comes,” he said. “That’s the way sword swallowing is done.”

Stuart also swallows a car axle and a coat hanger.

In Escape Explosion, “Sir Kade,” 25, now in his fifth year with the show, says he is lifted 25 feet in the air and does a Houdini-like act, releasing himself from restraints.

“Trixie” said she is in her second year of being the knife-throwing target, traveling the carnival route in the Strangest Show on Earth.

“It’s fun. I like it. I’m really happy,” she said, a bright red shawl swaddling her head and shoulders. “I was working on my Ph.D. and I quit. My undergraduate degree is in English and creative writing, and then I have a master’s in fine art and creative writing. I was going for my Ph.D. in English. I went to college for nine years and I’m done. This is our career.”

Aside from knife throwing, her boyfriend, Dizzy Diamond, also does juggling and swallows swords. The couple met in California while touring the coast last year.

World of Wonders will perform five shows a day. Escape Explosion is performed three times a day.

The fair’s 10-day run will feature daily and nightly shows, kiddie and adult rides by Fiesta Shows, live music, games of chance, lots of fair food, truck and tractor pulling events, demolition derbies and seven days of harness racing.

This year will feature Vicentas White Tigers, Independent Wrestling Entertainment and daily performances by M-Ag-Icultural magic show. All entertainment, including G-Force Laser Tag, is free with paid gate admission.

There will be art and photography exhibits and livestock displays.

In 2014 the fair had more than 6,000 entries in 29 departments, such as agricultural, arts, crafts, and flower exhibits; and cattle, goat, sheep, horse and poultry shows, including 4-H shows and exhibits. Some join the competition just for the fun of it, while others compete for the premiums to help with the cost of raising their animals or to help with college funds. Whatever the reason, thousands of exhibitors flock to the fair every year with their friends and families, rain or shine, to participate, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.