Theme Park Ranger
February 24, 2011
For nearly two decades, the Ripley's museum on International Drive and I have co-existed. But until recently, I had not darkened the door of the Odditorium — believe it or not.
Sorry, I had to go there — to the slogan, not the attraction. That catch phrase is sprinkled throughout the building, mainly in the plaques that explain the exhibits. It's hokey and brilliant at the same time, somehow.
From the outside, the Ripley's building looks as if it's on a slant, slipping into a sinkhole. (Not to be confused with Wonderworks, the upside-down building down the street). It's fronted by a statue of pith-helmeted Robert Ripley, prolific cartoonist and world traveler. Inside, there are many items from Ripley's personal collection — it seems he was drawn to tribal masks — and corresponding reproductions of his "Believe It or Not" cartoon panel.
Other items are more contemporary, such as a large portrait of singer-actress Beyonce Knowles that's made of candy. For example, her red top is formed by licorice whips. A Lady Gaga picture consists of Airsoft balls.
Art created with unusual elements is a recurring theme: a portrait of van Gogh made with fingernail polish, a "Mona Lisa" mosaic pieced together by squares of toast, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln made of pennies. There's a miniature reproduction of a Super Bowl IV play crafted from gum wrappers.
Other displays made me think that some people have a lot of spare time and/or patience. Who makes a large dog out of wooden clothespins? Or versions of Wall-E or Optimus Prime out of used auto parts? Or a Rolls-Royce out of matchsticks? (But bonus points to Ripley's on the mirrored floor beneath the car, which showed off the matchstick undercarriage.)
There is some ick factor. Mannequins in positions of torture, including o-kee-pa, and the plaques describing "the backbreaker" and "inverted scorching" are wince-worthy. Those explain the gift shop T-shirts that read "Proudly freaking families out for 90 years."
It's an elaborate and unpredictable mishmash. I never would think to put a portion of the Berlin Wall next to a shooting gallery — or a collection of bedpans on a wall adjacent to a Jimi Hendrix portrait that's 24 feet tall and made of playing cards.
In the freak-of-nature animals area (which includes the dreaded cow hairballs), I was happy to see something that fell under the "OR NOT" heading. It's a display of a "Fiji mermaid," purported to be half-fish, half-monkey. It was really a P.T. Barnum ruse.
But the seeds of doubt already were established in this skeptic. How much of this could I believe? Ah, Ripley was way ahead of me. Near the front of the museum are documents trying to disprove Mr. Ripley's claims, one at a time. They were unsuccessful … if you can believe that.
Lump in your throat?
Odditoriums around the world are marking Sword Swallower's Day on Saturday. The public can see an exhibition by swallower Dan Meyer just outside Ripley's International Drive museum. The show begins at 1:30 p.m. with a finale at 2:26 p.m.
The event is designed to raise funds for esophageal cancer research and the Injured Sword Swallower's Relief Fund, Meyer says, and to increase awareness "of the medical contributions sword swallowers have made to the fields of medicine and science."
See for yourself
Ripley's Believe It or Not museum
Where: 8201 International Drive, Orlando
When: Daily, 9:30 a.m.-midnight
Cost: $18.99 general, $11.99 ages 5-12 ($2-$3 discount for tickets purchased online)
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