Believe It Or Not, Ripley's Been Dead 60 Years

May 27 is the 60th anniversary of the death of Robert Ripley, who founded Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Host Liane Hansen talks Edward Meyer, vice president of exhibits and archives for Ripley Entertainment, about Ripley and the criteria for making it into "Believe It Or Not" territory.

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Unidentified Man: Believe It Or Not, Bob Ripley.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIANE HANSEN, host:

For more than a century, Ripley's Believe It Or Not has been showcasing bizarre events, weird objects, strange places and exotic people. Robert Ripley started Believe It Or Not as a cartoon in 1918 and eventually turned it into a book, a radio and TV show and a series of museums.

This Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of his death. Ripley collapsed while taping the 13th episode of his TV show. Believe It Or Not, however, lived on and is now a worldwide entertainment franchise.

Edward Meyer is the vice president of exhibits and archives at Ripley Entertainment. He's in the studio of member station WUCF in Orlando, Florida to tell us more about Mr. Ripley. Welcome to the show.

Mr. EDWARD MEYER (Vice President, Exhibits and Archives, Ripley Entertainment): Thanks for having us.

HANSEN: Was Robert Ripley always obsessed with life's oddities?

Mr. MEYER: Well, I don't know about always. But certainly from a pretty early age. He was obviously, really, a curious guy. He's a cartoonist. And the first Believe It Or Not panel was stories that were sports-oriented, but they were losers - people that had done something either silly or at least not memorable. People very quickly liked the Believe It Or Not aspect, that he starts doing it more and more.

And when he runs out of Believe It Or Nots about sports, he gets into everything else. And at that point people start calling him the world's biggest liar. And he draws it in the picture and people go, aw, there can't possibly be shrunken heads in Ecuador. You know, he's got to be making this stuff up. So he goes to Ecuador and he brings back the shrunken head.

HANSEN: He opened his first, what he called an odditorium, O-D-D-itorium, in Chicago during the World's Fair.

Mr. MEYER: Yeah, the first odditorium was in 1933. He basically had two very distinct rooms. One in which he displayed the artifacts that he had gained from the travels to 201 countries: the shrunken head from Ecuador, the six-legged cow from Wisconsin. But the second room was pure sideshow carnival - human oddities that typically could perform, they weren't literally just odd looking. And it was a separate admission price to go backstage and see real genuine Believe It Or Nots.

HANSEN: I visited Ripley's in Orlando a long time ago - took the kids down -and I have to admit the thing I remember most is a replica of the Mona Lisa made with pieces of toast.

Mr. MEYER: Yeah, Tadahiko Ogawa from Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Ogawa literally covers the bread with aluminum foil, cuts out the area he wants to toast and does it by degree in a horizontal toaster, so that each individual piece has its own little piece of art to it. Then he puts it all together like a jigsaw puzzle to get the final product.

HANSEN: What would you consider to be the strangest thing you've ever seen?

Mr. MEYER: The most unusual thing I've ever bought was a full-size taxidermied head of an African elephant with two full working trunks.

HANSEN: What?

Mr. MEYER: This is from Zimbabwe in 2003. I had a guy over there looking for a reported albino giraffe, which he also did find, by the way, but he called me in the middle of the night from Africa and said, well, forget the giraffe, I found something even better. And when he told me, I said, I agree. You know, don't forget the giraffe necessarily, but don't lose the elephant.

HANSEN: Edward Meyer is the vice president for exhibits and archives at Ripley Entertainment. He joined us from member station WUCF in Orlando, Florida to remember Robert Ripley who died 60 years ago this Wednesday. Thanks again.

Mr. MEYER: Thank you.

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