Friday, August 14, 2009

Ripley's Seeing is Believing

One day on vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia, a couple of years ago, my Dad, stepmother, and I went to the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, followed by a visit to the Yankee Candle Outlet. My sister and family spent the day at the nearby waterpark and when they arrived back at the house, they commented on my purchase - a plush two-headed snake. "What a great souvenir from Ripley's!" "No," I replied, "I got it at Yankee Candle!"
That is my lead-in to a description of the 6th Believe It or Not! annual published by Ripley's, Seeing Is Believing, which I just received yesterday. It begins by commenting that if you want the meal to be a lively and interesting one, you would do well to answer "Robert Ripley" to the question of which famous figure you would like to have dinner with. While that question is rhetorical, you can dine with Ripley in the form of this book. You'll only have to have a strong stomach for parts of it, like the snake eating a wallaby and the heron eating a rabbit (which reminded me of this video of a pelican eating a pigeon); seahorse kebabs and fried spiders; and the man who had a tooth implanted in his eye. The book is bursting with full-color photos, some of which are identified by a special symbol corresponding to further information on the website. It's got recent examples of Ripley's mainstays like the biggest ball of string (in this case, a rubber band ball), things built out of matchsticks, lots of two-headed animals, long fingernails (note that Lee Redmond no longer holds the record), and the perennial gross-out of a man with a snake going in his nose and coming out his mouth. Complementing the museum exhibit of Mike the headless chicken is an account of hen hypnosis. This year's annual features extreme Scrabble, a man doing a "William Tell" with a watermelon on his head, submersion in a crocodile cage rather than a shark cage, and competitive eating.
I have blogged about some of the book's subjects myself: amputees (here the double-arm transplant, a dentist with no arms, and the first armless pilot), roadkill, strange trees, robo-animals (repair of a crocodile's broken jaw, penguin with a wetsuit, chihuahuas with wheels), Chinese footbinding, giant Bao Xishun, and polydactyly. Most of the tidbits in the book are contemporary rather than historical - which my blog posts tend to favor, but there is a spread on Houdini and a fold-out of Barnum attractions. Seeing Is Believing also include things I have yet to blog about, namely feral children, the rat king, and primordial dwarves. And it covers stories that benefit by having your ear to the ground. For instance, it includes the news that a 70-year-old has become a mother, but does not mention that the oldest mother of twins died in July at the age of 69. This hardcover book may not compete as well with the weird news on the web, except for the fact that it has a thorough index. So if you are a Fortean and need something to keep yourself occupied when you're away from the computer, you can get one for under $20 from Amazon - and if you are willing to decide by the end of the day on August 15th, you can get a copy from Ripley's for only $15.

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