Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! (Ripley’s Time Warp, 2018, etc.) celebrates a century of amassing curios and unbelievable facts.
This colorful, oversized book opens with a short but detailed biography of company founder and namesake, Robert Ripley. Born in 1890, Ripley was a socially awkward boy who turned his love for art into a career as a cartoonist. When working for the New York Globe in 1918, he created a cartoon panel called “Champs and Chumps,” a compilation of impressive athletic achievements that most consider the inception of Believe It Or Not! We learn about everything from his romances and handball obsession to his love of traveling. After his death in 1949, the company carried on, eventually adding to Ripley’s extensive collection of artifacts from around the world, like Marilyn Monroe’s gown (“the World’s Most Expensive Dress!”). While the collector had been involved in Vitaphone, radio, and TV productions, Believe It Or Not! continued in television and subsequently found its way online in the digital age. The book spotlights the lead cartoonists, from Ripley’s death to the present day, as well as lead researchers, including Norbert Pearlroth, whom Ripley hired in 1923 and who held the position for an astounding 53 years. There’s abundant coverage of places Ripley toured, like India, Africa, and, his favorite country to visit, China; specifics on artifacts collected, including shrunken heads from Ecuador; and descriptions of various attractions, like the company’s trademark Odditoriums, with locations worldwide.
As in previous Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! publications, this book is jam-packed with full-page photographs and illustrations. A couple of pages are foldouts, like Ripley’s India-inspired cartoons, and there’s even a two-page collage of the company’s book covers. But the book also prominently features Ripley’s original artwork and comes with replicas (affixed to pages) of such items as an Odditorium pass and a Ripley-designed Christmas card that he would send to friends. Readers will surely appreciate images of Ripley’s personal collection, which filled three homes at the time of his death. But there are more recent acquisitions, too: African fantasy coffins (hard-carved coffins of unusual designs, such as a Mercedes Benz); Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber from the first two Star Wars films; and an artist’s rendering of James Bond’s 1960s Aston Martin made of recycled cardboard and glue. Equally intriguing are highlights of Ripley’s sometimes-provocative cartoons. For example, he published a cartoon soon after Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 flight, claiming Lindbergh was the 67th man to make a nonstop flight over the Atlantic Ocean. (This inflamed readers since it seemingly undermined Lindbergh’s achievement. It was a factual statement, however, as Ripley was accounting for all flights, not merely the solo ones.) The work fully catalogs present-day projects (museums and regularly published books) as well as things of yesteryear, such as television series (the Dean Cain–hosted 2000 revival remains in syndication). Overall, it’s a comprehensive package, with illuminating tidbits on Ripley—the man and the franchise.
A goodies-filled account of a company just as fascinating as its subject matter.