If Strange Is Your Thing: Ripley’s Believe It or Not

“I have traveled 201 countries and the strangest thing I’ve seen is man.” – Robert Ripley

Believe it or not, one of the most storied and diverse collections of oddities and human curiosities started as a single exhibit in 1933 at Chicago’s famed World’s Fair before famed curator Robert Ripley took his Odditorium across the country as a traveling trailer show. Today, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum is among the most popular attractions in historic St. Augustine and one of 95 museums attractions on four continents. It’s location at 19 San Marco Avenue is the site of the former Castle Warden and was purchased by Ripley’s estate shortly after his death in 1949. While Ripley was never able to visit the museum, he was one of many famous guests that stayed on the property during its tenure as a hotel.

Castle Warden 1930sCastle Warden was built in 1887 by millionaire William Warden for use as a winter house. Ripley’s Believe It or Not opened for business in 1950 and is the oldest museum in the group. The Odditorium features over 20,000-square-feet and 300 exhibits on three floors. Guests are greeted by the largest operational Ferris wheel built entirely from an Erector set. A grand wooden staircase is lined with photos of Ripley’s travels, many featuring him alongside his global fascinations. Many objects in Ripley’s collection are works of art created from normal household items like matchsticks, bottle caps, buttons, and even money. A series of micro-sculptures includes the Lord’s Prayer handwritten on a single grain of rice and sculptures so miniscule that they fit on the eye of a needle.

carousel_440One of the most recognizable artifacts in the museum is a group of shrunken heads from Ripley’s encounter with a jungle tribe. They also have several animals Ripley collected with bizarre abnormalities, like a two-headed sheep or Mike the Headless Rooster. Some of the other things are less bizarre, but no less awe-inspiring, like a Mona Lisa made with Lego pieces and the world’s largest hairball. Ripley was also fond of incredible human marvels, physical oddities, genetic mutations, and other conditions he referred to as “pranks of nature.” Extreme body modifications and super human feats of strength and physical ability are also on display throughout the museum in photos, videos, and lifelike figures.

2ea968dc9f68447baf5927192ac7b5a41b7a89b8The wonders of the human body collide with science, illusion, and effects. Guests can travel between exhibits in a long and twisting tunnel while testing balance skills and ability to withstand the disorienting transition. A series of interactive displays provides hand-on fun involving all of the senses. Create still shadows in front of a green screen or make a wax model of your hand.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a family-friendly experience that challenges reality, makes you question the strange and wonderful human condition, and takes you on a virtual trip through countries, their culture, and their histories with a spirit even Ripley himself would struggle to believe. Open 365 days a year, 9am-8pm daily. 824-1606, www.ripleys.com.

About Liza Mitchell