In Hollywood, a rather strange looking pre-historic creature sits atop a colorful red, blue and yellow building with a line of people constantly at the front door. It’s the Ripley’s Odditorium, or the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum where you will find over 300 exhibits and highly unusual artifacts collected into 15 themed galleries on the corner of Hollywood Blvd and Highland.
The popularity of Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium wasn’t born overnight. It dates back to a newspaper sports column started by Robert Ripley in 1918. He began adding other things to the column and by 1919 he changed the title of the column to Believe it or Not. In 1923, Ripley moved to the New York Evening Post . That same year, Ripley hired a researcher that spent six days a week in the library finding unusual facts for Ripley to write about. That relentless search for odd, unbelievable things has been occurring ever since.
The Ripley collection now includes 20,000 photographs, 30,000 artifacts and more than 100,000 cartoon panels. Ripley Entertainment, Inc., a division of the Jim Pattison Group, is a global company with an annual attendance of more than 12 million guests in over 32 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums around the world.
When Ripley first displayed his collection to the public at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, it was labeled Ripley’s Odditorium and attracted over two million visitors during the run of the fair. The success of the exhibition led to more shows and Ripley’s collections were exhibited at major fairs and exhibitions across the country.
At the peak of its popularity, Ripley’s syndicated feature was read daily by about 80 million readers, and during the first three weeks of May 1932 alone, he received over two million pieces of fan mail. Dozens of paperback editions reprinting the newspaper panels have been published over the decades.
In 1930, Ripley brought “Believe It or Not” to radio, the first of several series heard on NBC, CBS and the Mutual Broadcasting System. Ripley was the first to broadcast nationwide on a radio network from mid-ocean, and he also participated in the first broadcast from Buenos Aires to New York. Assisted by a corps of translators, he was the first to broadcast to every nation in the world simultaneously.
Between 1930 and 1932 Ripley hosted a series of two dozen Believe It or Not! short films for Warner Bros. In 1949 a live Believe it or Not show hosted by Ripley premiered. When Ripley died of a heart attack on May 27, 1949, several of his friends substituted as host until 1950.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! took to television in a show that aired from 1982 to 1986 on ABC. It featured film star Jack Palance a host throughout its run, and three different co-hosts, who appeared from season to season: actress Catherine Shirriff, followed by Palance’s daughter, Holly Palance, and last singer and television personality Marie Osmond. The 1980s series reran on the Sci-Fi Channel (UK) and Sci-Fi Channel (US) during the 1990s. For the record, it is worth pulling up some of these old Ripley’s shows on YouTube. Much of what they dug up is actually quite fascinating.
With such a rich history of being in the public eye, and a staff devoted to unearthing the most unusual and unbelievable things they can find, it is no small wonder there are lines at the door to the Odditorium.
As of December 2010, there were 32 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums around the world. Some include theaters and arcades. Others are constructed oddly, such as the Orlando Florida Odditorium which is built to appear the building is sinking, or another that was built to appear that is was cracking apart in an earthquake.
As for what you will see when you go into the Hollywood Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, it is entirely up to you as to whether or not you choose to believe it. (note, Ripley’s does swear everything they have collected is verifiable.)