America’s love affair with the incredible is longstanding. So it’s no surprise to learn that Robert Ripley’s ever expanding collection of outlandish finds dates back nearly a century to a 1919 cartoon feature that appeared in the New York Globe. Originally focused on sports feats (and titled Champs and Chumps), Ripley’s Believe It or Not quickly became a popular feature for New Yorkers seeking a taste of the unusual, the exotic, and the downright strange. Ripley moved his column from the Globe to the New York Post and then the New York American before entering
Today the Ripley tradition continues with museums in 13 states nationwide. The museum in New York City, where Ripley’s column first took hold, opened in 2007 and is located at the heart of New York’s Times Square neighborhood at 234 West 42nd Street (between 7th & 8th Avenues).
Ripley’s is organized into a series of “Odditoriums,” each containing amazing finds gathered from across the globe, and each accompanied by a suitably incredible backstory.
Many of the artifacts and treasures were collected by Robert Ripley himself during his four decades traveling the world in search of the unusual, the shocking, and the thought-provoking.
Ripley‘s obsession with traveling and collecting oddities began when he took his first trip abroad to Europe. His second trip abroad in 1922 was to cover the Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium which led to a trip around the world. What he found and experienced on his exotic adventures was shared in his daily cartoon and a Believe It or Not book was published the following year. Ripley visited over 201 countries over the next fifteen years. Robert Ripley’s live radio broadcasts and movie shorts with Vitaphone Pictures followed, but his greatest success came when his first “Odditorium” opened in Chicago, Illinois in July 1933 during the Chicago World’s Fair, where his wild and weird collections brought in nearly 2 million visitors. In 1948, he created a television pilot that became the basis for one of the first weekly television series. Unfortunately Ripley himself passed away the following year of a heart attack at the age of 55.
But the Ripley legacy lives on! As you tour the museum, you’ll experience immersive interactive exhibits learn how diverse and fascinating our world really is. With over 20 galleries spanning two floors, Ripley’s Times Square is the largest Ripley’s attraction in North America and is home to the most amazing exhibits, including the Little Apple, the Impossible LaseRace, and the Spinning Vortex. You’ll also see the two-headed calf, the albino giraffe, the jade boat, and the shrunken head!
Ripley’s also hosts occasional free sideshow performances right in front of the marquee on 42nd Street. In the grand tradition of the American sideshow, these performances range from the unusual to the bizarre, with artists such as The Human Blockhead; Jellyboy, the Sword-Swallowing Clown; Dubini, the Man with the Iron Stomach, Donny Vomit, the sword swallower; and two of the most dramatic examples of human body modification and full-body tattooing—Enigma and Lizard Man.
No visit to New York City is complete without a trip to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Ripley’s is available for group tours and special events, but be sure to book well in advance, as availability is limited and these slots fill quickly.