Shrunken human heads, animals with additional limbs and real vampire-slaying kits – these are a few of the oddities you might expect to find at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!. But when I recently visited headquarters, right here in Orlando, I learned that there is so much more to this 100+-year-old company.
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If you have ever driven past a Ripley’s, no doubt you took notice. From buildings that look like they are falling apart to buildings that represent the unusual, Ripley’s odditorium stands out. (Odditorium is what Ripley’s calls its “museums” because well, they are so much more than a typical museum.) With more than 90 attractions currently in 10 countries, you might expect the wow factor from Ripley’s headquarters, but frankly, when I drove up I thought I had the wrong address. One of the most unusual companies in the world has the most unassuming headquarters I have ever seen – at least on the outside.
Any doubt that I was in the wrong place disappeared when I walked through the front doors and was greeted by the craziest looking wax sculptures and a motorcycle completely made out of bones. Yep. I was in the right place.
But over the next couple of hours, I realized that what I thought I knew about Ripley’s barely scratched the surface. This company, it’s founder and the people who work there are just plain cool. It would be impossible to share with you everything I experienced on my journey behind the scenes of this bizarre company, but you better believe I am excited to share the highlights!
The company’s rich history began with a cartoon. Yes, believe it or not… it all started with a cartoon. It was actually a political cartoon in the beginning, but when it evolved into a cartoon about the unique and bizarre well that’s when Ripley became a household name. That cartoon paved the way for a book, which lead the way to radio followed by Odditoriums, TV, more books, toys, aquariums, hotels and on and on. But it all started with a cartoon.
The sheer genius of it all is that Ripley didn’t spend his time seeking out the unbelievable, he let the stories come to him and that’s the way it is done to this day. People from all over the world send letters, stories and photos to Ripley about strange and unusual things from unimaginable talents and customs to elaborate works of art made from truly odd materials (think candy, computer pieces and human hair) there seems to be no limit to the things people will create and submit for consideration.
As I toured the halls of HQ, I was impressed by the company’s history but even more so by the company’s dedication to proving the seemingly impossible to be true. Because as crazy and unbelievable as the stories told by Ripley’s seem, there is one underlying constant — it is all real. You can believe it or not, but it is.
Not only did I have a chance to explore the halls of the most interesting office building I have ever stepped foot in, but I received a personal tour from Edward Meyer a man who has spent his 35-year career with the Ripley’s company as an archivist, author, curator and so much more. If you want to know anything about Ripley’s — this is the guy to ask. It was like touring with a walking time capsule. Oh the things this man has seen.
As my mind was blown over and over by photos on the wall and living artifacts lining the shelves of the office, I had to ask Meyer his favorite purchases as curator. The question lead me to hold a $1 million dollar purchase that literally fit on the top of a pinhead — the Lord’s Prayer inscribed on a pinhead. To the naked eye, it looked like a rusty old pin, but magnified… Wow.
Then I was escorted into the warehouse where every day fascinating pieces big and small are coming and going – on their way to Odditoriums and back. This place was filled with amazing finds. (I could have spent all day exploring the aisles.)
This post could go on and on with pictures of all of the amazing sights, but I will limit it to a couple of my favorite pieces:
The world’s only working wood-carved Ferrari boat. Made in (where else) Venice, this thing actually works.
A wax sculpture of the world’s smallest man. He stood 17 inches tall, my baby girl towered over him at a whopping 30.5 inches.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Download the Weird
Ripley’s newest annual, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Download the Weird, is now available with a new twist – readers can actually download the weird. The new Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! App (available in iTunes and for Android) allows hidden content in the book to come alive. By simply pointing your smartphone at special logos in the book, readers can see the story come to life with exclusive bonus content.
The bonus content is pretty cool, but I have to tell you that I could spend all day just looking through the book — wow!
GIVEAWAY – One lucky reader will win a copy of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Download the Weird.
This giveaway has ended.