Enter a world of shrunken heads, mystic holy men, shriveled aliens, and bizarre relics in the delightfully odd tale of Robert Ripley. Born in California, Ripley began his career as a sports cartoonist. He went on to chronicle global records and oddities in his weekly column, Believe It Or Not! After publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst took an interest in the column, it became a syndicated global success. Ripley spent his life traveling to more than 200 countries in search of strange objects and interesting facts. His penchant for the peculiar launched an entertainment empire, and his collection of artifacts can be seen worldwide at his famous Odditoriums. Believe It Or Not!
About the Author
Kirsten Anderson is a freelance writer and actress who lives in New York City with her charming Pomeranian, Sunflower.
Read an Excerpt
Who Was Robert Ripley?
By December 1918, Robert Ripley had been drawing sports illustrations for almost ten years. He was used to drawing boxing matches, baseball games, and pro golfers. But now he was stuck. He was in a big hurry to leave the newspaper office. He had a date. But he couldn’t leave until he had the sports cartoon finished.
Ripley loved to collect weird and interesting facts. He kept a folder of them on his desk for a rainy day, when he was out of cartoon ideas. Today felt like that day. He began to look through the folder . . .
A little while later, Ripley finished his drawing. It showed people accomplishing amazing things. A man who walked backward across a continent. Another who hopped one hundred yards in eleven seconds. A fellow who jumped rope 11,810 times in a row, and one who ran backward for one hundred yards in only fourteen seconds. There were some track and field facts, record-breaking times spent underwater, and three-legged racers. These were the fascinating things people did to which Ripley paid attention.
Ripley needed a title. He had drawn pictures of people who were incredible athletes and others who did downright silly things. He scrawled “Champs and Chumps” across the page, then signed the drawing “Ripley,” as usual. He didn’t think it was a great idea, but it was better than nothing. Ripley wasn’t sure what his editor would think of the cartoon. He handed in the sheet of paper, put on his coat, and rushed out the door. He didn’t want to be late for his date.
“Champs and Chumps” would become a popular illustrated feature of the New York Globe after Ripley drew more and more of the weird and wonderful cartoons. The title was later changed to the catchier Believe It or Not! Readers began to notice and asked for more. In ten years, Bob Ripley’s cartoons would be seen in newspapers all over the United States, and he would go on to become a world traveler and a best-selling author. In twenty years, he would be a well-known movie and radio star.
This is his story . . . Believe It or Not!
Chapter 1: Santa Rosa
LeRoy Robert Ripley was born on February 22, 1890, in Santa Rosa, California. Three years later, his parents, Isaac and Lillie, had a daughter, Ethel. Isaac was a carpenter. He built the family’s house. Lillie did laundry for extra money. His parents always called LeRoy “Roy.”
Roy was thin. He had freckles, and his ears stuck out. His front teeth were crooked and poked out of his mouth. They made it hard for him to speak clearly. Roy was always embarrassed by his teeth.
The Ripleys were poor, so Roy’s mother made his clothes out of laundry that her customers had left behind. The kids at school teased him about his clothes and his teeth. His teachers weren’t too happy with him, either. He drew pictures during class when he was supposed to be paying attention to his lessons.
Roy drew constantly. The family didn’t have money for extra paper, so he used any scraps he could find. He drew his mother and sister, and sometimes himself. He copied pictures he saw. He did anything he could to become a better artist. By high school he had developed another talent. He became a star pitcher on the school baseball team.
In 1905, Isaac Ripley died. Lillie now had to take care of fifteen-year-old Roy, Ethel, and baby Douglas. Lillie pushed Roy to get a job to help out the family.
Roy tried delivering newspapers, but he hated getting up early. He soon quit. His decision to quit his first job may have saved his life. When a massive earthquake struck San Francisco in 1906, Santa Rosa—only about fifty miles from San Francisco—suffered serious damage. At least a hundred people died there, including some of the newsboys waiting outside the Santa Rosa newspaper office to pick up their early morning papers.
Roy thought about the two disasters that had happened in less than a year: his father’s death and the earthquake. He decided he wanted to leave Santa Rosa. Baseball or art—or maybe both—could be the key to his success.
Frances O’Meara, Roy’s high-school English teacher, saw how difficult it was for him to write essays and read them aloud to the class. She let him draw instead. Roy drew pictures to illustrate the stories and poems they read in class. Miss O’Meara loved them. She hung his pictures in the classroom. Her encouragement gave him confidence.
Lillie Ripley wanted Roy to get a steady job to help the family. He found a job polishing tombstones but soon quit because it was too gloomy. He told his mother that he could make a living as an artist. He had been trying hard to get one of his drawings published. She thought Roy should be more practical.
Just a few weeks before his high-school graduation in 1908, Roy quit school. No one really knew why. He later told Miss O’Meara he needed to earn money for his family. But it seemed like he spent most of his time pitching for some of the semiprofessional baseball teams that played in the area. He also drew ads and posters for one of the teams. He may have left school because he felt it was time to get on with being a baseball player, or an artist. After all, Life magazine had just bought one of his cartoons!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
He was funny. He made Ripley's "Believe It or Not." That is a popular museum in New York.