Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum

Me and the man himself.
September 10, 2011 — To see the world’s most obscure oddities, you can trek across uncharted wilderness on the back of a lumpy animal, search through the unpaved back roads of dying cultures, or wait for mystical planetary alignments in heathen temples...or you can enter any Ripley's Believe it Or Not! Museum. They’ve got air-conditioning, you know.

Before Robert Ripley (1890- 1949) was a brand, he was a man. Actually, he might have been less than a man. He was a sports cartoonist, a position that he somehow parlayed into wealth, fame, adventure, travel, and an empire of collected oddity. His is a story worth reading sometime.

His legacy is partly a media one, with multiple television shows, radio programs, books, newspaper cartoons, and other publications, but his biggest place in culture right now might be the 30+ museums scattered across the world that bear his name, but which are actually part of a corporate entertainment portfolio that includes 3D theaters, aquariums, wax museums, mini-golf courses, and more, all of which are part of the even larger business portfolio of a multi-billion-dollar Canadian conglomerate. Oddity can be a commodity.

You can find these museums, often referred to as odditoriums, in the cheesiest places...Hollywood Boulevard, Times Square, Key West, Atlantic City. The only one I've ever been to so far is in the Clifton Hill area of Niagara Falls, Ontario, a place that fits the above criteria. And I've been twice.

Within walking distance of the famous falling water that is the Canadian Niagara, Clifton Hill is a gaudy, over-the-top strip of attractions of the sort people can usually only bring themselves to spend money on when they’re in the alternate universe we prosaically call vacation, those sideways points of our existence where all our morals, philosophies, personalities, survival instincts, and common sense are temporarily suspended so that we can have a good time…or at least a time opposite of the usual experience of our lives.    
Vampire killing kits are like radon detectors. You should
have one, even if you never think you'll need it.

A walk down Clifton Hill reveals a three-story Frankenstein monster, dinosaur statues, haunted houses, a sci-fi mini-golf course, arcades, a large Ferris wheel, and enough flashing lights to let distant alien civilizations know that we’re a real party planet.

Yet, even in all the Clifton Hill craziness, the Ripley museum still sticks out. The façade of the museum is the Empire State Building turned on its side, jutting out over the street, the top spire of which is adorned with a 12-foot-tall-or-so King Kong.

The first time I visited the museum, I was like 15. I don't remember much about that trip, honestly, but from the look of the place, it didn't look like it had changed since its founding.

Of course, in the decade and a half since my first visit, the Internet came into existence, and that hurts some of the displays, the ones that are mere replicas or the ones that basically just feature factoids printed on placards. However, it’s the original items that are the museum’s strength, and include art, artifacts, and bizarrerie that are pretty cool even if the accompanying informational signs use the word genuine a little too often.

But Ripley was okay with suspicion. Believe it or not, after all.

Oh, you know about these guys.

An example of one of the exhibits that hasn't fared well: A man with crocodile teeth dentures.
Neither the man nor his dentures are present in the exhibit.

It's a robot. Explanation unnecessary.

Speaking from experience, I believe
this is a medieval torture device.

"Genuine" shrunken head there at the right.

New Guinea human skull necklace is hardcore.

Artist Enrique Ramos painted these images on a Mexican
vampire bat because canvases are harder to catch in his country.

His name was Walter Hudson. He
holds an extremely guessable world record.

An oriental root carving.

White picket fence is a nice touch.
A bit of normalcy for this abnormality.

Don't care what you collect, if it
doesn't feature an Egyptian mummy, you've failed.

Oddly cute, right?

You exit the museum through a spinning tunnel, but by
the time you get here, you should already be dizzy.