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Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Ripley's Believe It or Not!

First seen in 1923 as a daily feature in the New York Globe, a cartoon by Robert L. Ripley (1893–1949) brought the phrase "Believe it or not!" into the common language. Ripley's cartoon depictions of amazing oddities, exotic rarities, and outrageous feats rapidly gained popularity as more and more readers, first in New York, then around the country and around the world, eagerly flipped through their papers searching for the latest Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Ripley was born in Santa Rosa, California, in 1893 to a working-class family. He was a promising baseball (see entry under 1900s—Sports and Games in volume 1) player, who rose through the semiprofessional league and seemed to have a chance to make the big leagues before an arm injury sidelined his career. However, a childhood talent for cartooning came to his aid and he was soon selling his drawings to magazines like Life (see entry under 1930s—Print Culture in volume 2). In the early 1900s, Ripley moved to New York, where he got a job as a sports cartoonist for the Globe. His first Believe It or Not! cartoons portrayed amazing sports feats, such as the man who skipped rope 11,810 times straight.

Readers were fascinated by Ripley's pictures. Soon, his look at the bizarre, quirky, and amazing side of life branched out beyond the sports arena. His cartoons began to show such wonders as a will written on an eggshell and a human pincushion who could push hat pins into his skin without pain. Although readers sent him hundreds of letters suggesting topics for his cartoon, Ripley sought even more. He began a series of expeditions around the world to seek out unusual objects and people to showcase in Believe It or Not!

In 1933, at the Chicago World's Fair (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1), Ripley unveiled his first "Odditorium," or museum of the exotic and unusual. The fair boasted that hundreds of people fainted at the ghastly sights they saw there. Soon, six more Odditoriums had opened around the country. In 1949, Ripley was given his own weekly television show on NBC, but only a few programs aired before his death of a heart attack. Since Ripley was such an avid recorder of "firsts," it is perhaps fitting that his cartoon, Ripley's Believe It or Not! holds the record for the longest continuous cartoon. In 2001, it was still running in 147 newspapers in 38 countries. There are 27 Believe It or Not! Museums around the world, showcasing more than 20,000 oddities, many of them collected by Robert Ripley himself.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Corelli, Rae. "Weird? Believe It!" Maclean's (Vol. 106, no. 38, September 20, 1993): pp. 50–53.

Jewel, Dan, and Fannie Weinstein. "Rare Bird: Fifty Years After His Death, Robert Ripley's Strange and Wonderful Legacy Lives On—Believe It or Not!" People Weekly (Vol. 52, July 12, 1999): pp. 89–92.

Ripley's . . . Believe It or Not! (accessed January 24, 2002).

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