Tourist attractions are going to take your money. There is simply no way that they won’t. Which ones, though? What places do you see and immediately think that you have to go to? If you go to the beach, you’ll probably run into a Ron Jon Surf Shop. If you go to a big city, you could be walking around and see a Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Both share several attractions, but one that is sure to catch the eye is Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium.
Before I talk about those, let’s talk about the man behind it all: Robert Ripley. He has one of the coolest life stories that I’ve ever heard. You may have gone to several cities, or maybe even another country, but there’s no way that you’ve been to as many locations as he has. He collected many things from these locations and shared them to the public via his newspaper cartoons, radio show, and the first few Odditoriums ever. He enjoyed a good amount of fame before his death in 1949.
After his tragic death, the museums grew in number and revenue. These places are a hit with families, so much so that if you’ve ever been to a gift shop in one or a school’s Scholastic Book Fair, you’re bound to see a few Ripley’s books. I even have one myself!
But the Believe it or Not! Odditoriums weren’t the first Ripley’s attractions that I remember loving. When I was younger, my family and I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and we visited the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. I adored it because I love fish, water, and ambient music. I always thought the underwater tunnel was awesome, and I still do, but now I know other aquariums do it too. I loved this place, but I do wonder:
What does it have to do with Robert Ripley? They have a few novelty things occasionally, like the last time I was at the one in Myrtle Beach they had “mermaids,” and they share some facts that Believe it or Not! fans would be interested in. Still, it seems like a stretch to connect it that way. The name was probably added for brand recognition.
Speaking of which, that also applies to a few more attractions: Ripley’s Moving Theater and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. The theater was essentially that ride at Dollywood that changed its identity several times (from Dolly and her cousin Cleatus, to Hanna-Barbera, to Journey to the Center of the Earth). I went to the ones in Gatlinburg and Myrtle Beach, and they both had two movies. The first one was different at each one, but I unfortunately can’t remember what they were. They both had the same roller coaster movie to close on, though. If you wanted to ride a coaster, you could’ve gone to Dollywood or Hard Rock Park (in 2008 at least) respectively.
The Haunted Adventure was a little better according to my recollection. My Dad and I went to it, and we were waiting in line when I looked at a sign outside. It listed the plot of the experience and the bottom said something like “Enter at your own risk. Ripley’s does not ensure your return.” I knew it was bullshit, but at the same time, I was confused as to why they would put something so grim in a family attraction. I actually do remember getting scared when we walked down a dark hallway and entered a room. Darkness covered the room until a purple (I think that’s the color it was) light was emitted, and the grim reaper himself showed up in the air. Then the obligatory guy with a chainsaw chased us out of the place. It was your typical haunted house.
Another attraction was the Ripley’s Mirror Maze. It was exactly what it sounds like. I ran into a mirror. Then we got some candy from Ripley’s Candy Factory.
Now, let’s finally talk about the Believe it or Not! Odditoriums. I most recently went to the one in Panama City Beach, Florida, and I had a good time. Figures of people like Robert Pershing Wadlow, collectables from other countries, and the typical Ripley’s fare. The only one that I remember seriously doubting was a hair-covered trout. After the fun walkthrough, I decided to participate in another Ripley’s tourist trap: Ripley’s Impossible LaseRace. I had to dodge lasers as I “Put my hand on the two-headed fish [picture on a button]” as the announcer told me to do. I didn’t do well.
I’ve always loved the designs of the buildings themselves. They’re just bound to catch your attention because of the cracks and bizarre colors. Just look at some of these!
I’ll always have a special fondness for all of these locations, but my most recent visit made me appreciate the vision of Robert Ripley even more. He wanted to travel the world, engage with his audience, and share his findings with the world, and that’s exactly what he did. He created generations of fans of his work, and his influence sticks with many people. Rest in peace, Mr. Ripley.