Containing hundreds of items from the ridiculous (the world’s heaviest turban, 3rd image) to the sublime (the incorruptible body of St. Catherine of Bologna, 4th image), the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! annual is out, with an official publication date of August 10th and a list price of $28.95. But Enter if You Dare! A Yearbook of the Weird is available for pre-order from Amazon for under $20. Let me tell you why it’s worth its weight. We’ve all heard of the Elephant Man, but I hadn’t known of Anita, the elephant-faced girl. She has a page to herself and her colleagues at Coney Island have received a 2-page tribute. I have long been aware of the worms added to tequila bottles, but had never seen bottles of snake wine (5th image). The book bows to the current fascination with vampires by featuring them in a spread, but benefits from the inclusion of several 19th c. vampire kits outfitted with holy water and stakes.
As you can tell from my blog, my favorite facts and photos involve the natural world and weird news – preferably with a historical bent. My needs were satisfied, with a 2-page spread featuring the men and women who have gone over Niagara Falls in barrels and a behind-the-scenes look at how the models for the Ripley’s museums are sculpted. I was also happy to meet the piglet squid for the 1st time and to learn that a man is growing pears in the shape of Buddha. That this book intersects with the interests of Quigley’s Cabinet is demonstrated by the inclusion of the Chinese child with polydactyly, the wedding dress of wool, the stone house, bird-eating spiders, goose barnacles, Mexico’s Island of the Dolls, eating hair, and Khagendra Thapa Magar of Nepal, who succeeds He Pingping as the world’s shortest man. I was also gratified to see a gallery of Mona Lisas – including my personal favorite: the Madonna and Child in toast, from the Ripley collection.
The cover of the book features a lenticular of a man peeking through his fingers, which is what I have to do when perusing the images of contortionists, competitive eaters, and human and animal parasites. The usual fare of people eating bugs and other unmentionables is supplemented by a set of instructions on how to enjoy the Filipino delicacy of balut (duck embryos). Included herein are the old Ripley’s standbys of shrunken heads, strange tattoos, and a menagerie of 2-headed animals (2nd image), many of them from Todd Ray’s freak show in Venice, California. There are new incarnations of sculptures painstakingly crafted from toothpicks and matchsticks, but there is also the peculiar work of Mexican artist Enrique Ramos, who paints crickets. The book features Chinese photographer Liu Bolin, who makes himself disappear, and artist Edgar Mueller, who makes the sidewalk disappear (6th image). And I stepped for the 1st time into the world of Roger Hiorns, a British artist who covered the interior of an abandoned apartment with blue crystals, transforming it into an urban cave.
But my best discoveries in the book both had to do with publishing, a world I worked in for 16 years. I missed the news that the German publisher Eikhorn made a real buzz (if you’ll excuse the pun) at last year’s international trade show, the Frankfurt Book Fair 2009, by letting loose 200 live flies – each with a tiny banner attached! Another interesting snippet mentioned the publication by Taschen of a special limited edition of Norman Mailer’s book Moonfire – limited because the 12 copies are housed in an aluminum case that mirrors the topography of the lunar surface, include a framed photo autographed by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and contain a genuine piece of moon rock! In comparison to the €75,000 price, the Ripley’s annual is a bargain…