TAMPA — It doesn’t take strong teeth for acrobats to hang from a trapeze by their mouths.
“They’re protected by a mouthpiece called an iron jaw,” Mike Foley said. “It’s the neck that hurts.”
He should know.
Using a homemade iron jaw, Foley has hung from his children’s backyard rope swing.
He is also a dentist, perhaps Tampa’s most eccentric. Or is he the most unique?
“I just like to have fun,” said the 36-year-old Foley, who grew up here.
His unique and bizarre sort of fun is often related to teeth.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not magazine has twice honored Foley’s creations — a human denture made with shark teeth and a “KGB tooth,” which is a fake molar with a hidden compartment for a cyanide pill as seen in old spy movies.
Now he has his sights set on another publication: Guinness World Records.
He wants to break the speed record for pulling a 2,000-pound car by the teeth for 30 meters.
Using an iron jaw, which is a mouthpiece made of leather, Foley can pull his Lotus that distance in 30 seconds.
The world record is 18.13 seconds.
“I have a lot of work to do,” he laughed. “I don’t practice a lot. It’s just something to do when I have time.”
Foley has a lot going on outside of his dental job and responsibilities as a father of two. He’s an artist, having painted the “Mustard Mona Lisa,” which is, well, the Mona Lisa painted with mustard.
You might already know some of his other condiment canvases. He used ketchup to paint a picture of Mel’s Hot Dogs and barbecue sauce for a painting of Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q, both of which hang inside the Tampa restaurants.
He’s a collector, too. The most bizarre of Foley’s collectibles includes a cast of what is billed as an authentic Bigfoot footprint. He also has wooden Big Foot stompers that create fake footprints. Foley purchased one stomper and replicated one for the other foot. He then made two pairs of child-sized stompers for his daughters.
“One of my dreams is to hoax Bigfoot family tracks,” Foley said.
Speaking of big feet, he also owns a size 37AA shoe, the largest ever worn. It was made for the late Robert Wadlow, who at 8 feet, 11 inches is considered the world’s tallest man ever.
And speaking of big things, Foley owns an authentic 20-foot anaconda skin. He keeps it in a box that is fashioned with vent holes and labeled “20-foot man eater.”
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“That’s to make people a little nervous when I carry it around,” he said.
A woman is also painted on the box. “I made her look exactly like my wife, Catherine,” he said.
A mention of his wife recently helped Foley go viral on Instagram. He’s not sure how that happened, since he only has around 1,100 followers.
“People just found it interesting I guess,” Foley said.
At a local auction, Foley purchased a 9-foot fiberglass shark, which in the 1970s toured car and boat dealerships in the Southeast as an attraction that brought customers.
Foley gave it a fresh coat of paint and replaced the fake teeth with real ones taken from an antique shark jaw. He wants to take it on tour again, although only throughout the area.
He also posted an Instagram video poking fun at the shark purchase. It’s been viewed nearly 3 million times and garnered hundreds of comments related to the video’s central theme of buying it for $2,000 without his wife’s permission.
“My wife is wonderful to put up with all of this,” Foley said. “She lets me make and collect whatever I want, as long as I keep it in the one room,” which has become his personal museum of the bizarre.
His fascination with the weird dates to childhood.
“Ripley’s Believe It or Not has a huge Florida presence,” he said. “At one point, they had four museums in Florida. When I was a kid, I distinctly remember going to one with my mom and going home to re-create the exhibits we loved. One was the Fur Bearing Trout,” which is a mythical cold water furry fish.
He also made one as an adult that now hangs on the wall of his home museum.
That love of re-creating such items is what led him to pulling cars with his teeth. Foley purchased an antique iron jaw once used by a trapeze artist.
The circus performers attached the leather mouth guards, which were designed for their specific jawlines, to the trapeze, bit down and hung in the air.
“I thought, ‘Hey I’m a dentist. I can make this,’” Foley said.
As Foley demonstrated how he pulls a car with his teeth, neighbors walked by and waved. None seemed shocked enough to stop and watch or even give an extended glance.
“They’re used to me,” he said with a laugh. “They definitely see me doing weird stuff all the time.”