The latest Ripley’s Believe It or Not! annual, Strikingly True! (1st image), was published last month and there is a lot to recommend it. As much as the namesake’s interests dovetailed with my own, his continuing printed legacy* still has the power to make me say out loud “Oh, my God” at the turn of a page. That happened several times in this 8th volume, not least of which occurred when I came to the photo of the horrific goring of Spanish matador Julio Aparisio in the bullring last May (2nd image). Another head-turner is the world's most matted dog, shown in pictures taken before and after the grooming that followed his unlikely rescue. And just when you thought you had seen all the ugliest dogs, you meet Doug (3rd image), known before his adoption as "Ug."Ripley's toots their own horn, but only a little bit. They inventory a few of their purchases this year, including yet another matchstick sculpture, this one an oil rig entitled “Cathedrals of the Sea.” More to my liking is a relic of burnt skin from the elephant that unfortunately perished in the 1895 fire at P.T. Barnum's New York City Museum. The now international outfit congratulates themselves on the opening of the 31st Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum in South Korea, complete with its own collection of shrunken heads. And they look back to the 1933 world’s fair in Chicago, which drew 2 million visitors to the 1st odditorium. There are plenty of things I don’t necessarily like to look at or read about (but maybe you do): extreme escapes by modern-day magicians, religious feats like holding one's limb up so long it atrophies, competitive eating, portraits made with butterly wings, and a few too many kidney and bladder stones. This annual covers some air show near disasters, but not the recent fatalities of a pilot and 11 spectators in Nevada and another pilot in West Virginia. And it touches on the strange sport of cluster ballooning without mentioning the fact that the world is running out of helium.
But with that said, the volume contains a preponderance of things that do pique my interest, like climbing frozen waterfalls and skiing sand dunes. I also learned about Icelandic chef Fridgeir Eiriksson's commissioned dinner for 2 cooked on the lava of the active Fimmvorduhals volcano. And there are a gratifying number of things that I myself have blogged about: diving horses, beard and mustache champions, the impression of a bird left on a car window, the mouse baked in a bread loaf; Wendy the double-muscled dog, the Paris catacombs, the lamb and pig each born with 2 legs that have learned to walk on them, the equally remarkable abilities of the Alpine ibex, and the massive spider web in Texas. The Ripley's annual and Quigley's Cabinet are both peopled with unusual characters - or characters with unusual stories, such as the man who walked from Paris to Moscow on stilts in 1891, the guy who found out his birth mother was bearded lady, the lady who compulsively swallowed cutlery, the guy who was embalmed and placed on his motorcycle, and the surgeon who removed his own appendix. Also included are examples of my broader interests, like mummies, strange funerals, roadkill, strange buildings, swimming with whales, wirewalking, spontaneous human combustion, little people, lightning strikes, and polydactyls. And there are elephants, lots of elephants! There is the story about the Indian elephant that carried around a monitor lizard for days (4th image), a spread about Barnum’s famed Jumbo, Ripley's acquisition of a set of Indo-Persian elephant armor with chain mail eye protectors, the tug o’ war between a baby elephant and a crocodile, and two unfortunate beasts: one electrocuted in 1903 and the other hanged in 1916. There is even Ringling's strongman George Lavoiseur, who could carry the weight of an elephant (though he is shown hoisting up a crowd of people).
Of course there are the old standards sprinkled throughout (big snakes and spiders, bee beards, eating bugs, contortionists, tattoos, teeth filed to a point, and hypertrichosis ), but Ripley’s never ceases to offer items that are new to me. These include a pink lake in Senegal, a one-eared rabbit, a 6’ 9” Brazilian teenager, a cake in the shape of an incredibly lifelike Chihuahua, a Chinese vending machine that dispenses live hairy crabs…the list goes on. And I chuckled to see that an Australian company, Marino Leather Exports, is making use of the country's overpopulation of cane toads! Interestingly, there is a large section devoted to artists, and although I was a bit disgusted by the inflated animal skins of Chinese sculptor Yang Maoyuan (5th image), I was curious about the crocheted animals of Shauna Richardson of England, impressed by how Kansas sculptor Kris Kulski transforms discarded toys and British artist Ptolemy Elrington disassembles and repurposes abandoned shopping carts, bemused by the tiny sculptures Connecticut artist Dalton Ghetti carves on pencil tips, and transfixed by the 3-dimensional drawings of 17-year-old Chilean artist Fredo (6th image). And fittingly, since the 1st series of Believe It or Not! books was published in 1941, Ripley’s remains rooted in the past. Strikingly True! offers a scattering of the quaint original cartoons by Robert Ripley, but an even more satisfying number of classic (and in one case newly discovered) old photos: building skyscrapers, amputees Charles Tripp and Eli Bowen riding a tandem bike, a daguerreotype of famous impalement victim Phineas Gage, historic Olympics moments, and the almost unbelievable 1895 train accident at Paris's Montparnasse Station. But perhaps the best selling point for those of us with an unquenchable thirst for weird news is that for each of the strange photos throughout the book, there are an exponential number of strange stories and statistics. It’s like a bottomless pit of weird – but with an index.