I-Drive: Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

Orlando is packed to overflowing with interesting and exciting attractions. Most people are familiar with Orlando’s biggest draws -- Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. However, there are so many other attractions to be found that many first time Orlando visitors quickly become confused and overwhelmed. Just a short drive down the main tourist strips on Hwy 192 and International Drive (I-Drive to those “in the know”) turns up an incredible cornucopia of T-shirt shops, roadside attractions and carnival-style rides. Somewhere between the big draws and the roadside attractions are the mid-sized attractions, those that can be easily seen in one day and provide a full day’s worth of fun for the whole family.

Ripleys Believe It or Not is just this type of attraction. Robert Ripley was a famed explorer and collector for over forty years. He traveled the world in search of unique and unusual artifacts to add to his collection. Ripleys original aspiration was professional baseball player, but his career was cut short due to injury in 1913, and he turned his attentions to his other love, cartooning. In December 1918, Ripley premiered a new cartoon panel titled Champs and Chumps in the New York Globe, although the title was quickly changed to Believe It or Not! When the Globe folded in 1923, Ripley took his cartoon to the New York Evening News.

The feature became wildly popular with a daily readership of over 80 million. Gradually Ripley expanded his enterprise to radio, premiering in April 1930, and eventually to television. Ripley was charismatic and a natural presenter, making the public fall in love with both himself and his collection of oddities.

Ripley first presented his collection to the public in 1933 at the Chicago Worlds Fair. The exhibit, called Ripleys Odditorium, was an immediate hit, drawing over two million visitors throughout the fairs run. From that point on, Ripley continued to display his exhibition, traveling the country with trailer shows and setting up at a variety of fairs and festivals. He also continued to travel the world adding to his collection, and debuted the first Believe It or Not! television series in 1949. Sadly, Ripley lived to film only thirteen episodes of the show before passing away from a heart attack on May 27, 1949 at age of 58.

Ripleys legacy lives on. Numerous television series featuring the trademark Believe It or Not! name have appeared over the years to successful runs. Books and even games continued to be published, featuring fictionalized accounts based on Ripleys travels. It is in the permanent Odditoriums, however, that Robert Ripleys collections continue to astonish and amaze guests of all ages.

The first permanent Odditorium opened in 1950, just a year after Robert Ripleys untimely death at the former Castle Warden in St. Augustine, FL. This location remains the permanent home of Ripleys personal collections and is the flagship of the Odditoriums. However, numerous additional locations have opened across the country and around the world. The Ripleys franchise certainly shows no signs of abating in popularity.

The Orlando Odditorium is unique in that the building is designed to look as if it sinking into one of Floridas infamous sinkholes. The collection includes some of Ripleys most famous artifacts such as the legendary shrunken heads from Ecuador. The heads of slain warriors were prized possessions and through a complicated process were removed from their skulls and boiled down to the size of a mans fist. Many of the Believe It or Not! museums feature examples of this extremely rare artifact.

One of the Ripley collections most prized possessions is the Fertility Statues. The totems were imported from the Baule tribe on the Ivory Coast of Africa in 1995. The intention was for the statues to serve simply as decoration for the outside of the Orlando Odditorium. However, soon some odd coincidences were noticed. In the first year of display, eight of twenty staffers became parents or parents-to-be. An Airborne Express delivery woman who frequently touched the statues while making or picking up deliveries also became pregnant, as did a female staffer who was on birth control pills.

The story of the statues was eventually picked up by a variety of media, from CNN News to Unsolved Mysteries. Since then, the statues have made a world tour and have been visited by countless women hoping to start a family. Some hopeful women who have been unable to visit in person have sent photocopies of their hands, pieces of clothing and other unusual items to Ripleys with a request that they be used to touch the statues. According to an official counter that was once kept on the Ripleys website, 935 confirmed pregnancies had been achieved as of 2002. Believe It or Not! The statues are not currently on tour and can be seen at their headquarters, the Orlando Odditorium. It is strongly advised that you not touch, just in case, unless you are hoping to start a family.

The Odditorium is open from 9:00 am until 1:00 am, although the last ticket is sold at midnight. There is easily enough territory to cover that a leisurely day could be spent exploring all the nooks and crannies, watching a variety of videos and reading all of the detailed signs and cartoon panels. If you are more pressed for time, however, an overview of the Odditorium can easily be achieved in just a few short hours. The extended operating hours make the Odditorium an excellent choice for an evening excursion after the big draw parks close. Another possibility would be to spend a half day at the Odditorium and the rest of the day at a nearby museum with a similar concept, Wonder Works.

Ripleys Believe It or Not! continues to be a popular franchise nearly 100 years after its beginnings as a newspaper cartoon panel. The popularity remains strong with Odditoriums across the world, books, games and television series. The Orlando franchise is relatively large and filled to the brim with unique and unusual artifacts. A visit is highly recommended.