Believe it! Ripley's is unbelievable! - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Believe it! Ripley’s is unbelievable!

Wash your hands in the restroom at the new Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and a ghostly man appears in the mirror over the sink, startling you.  If the pay phone on the wall rings, you may want to think twice about answering it.

Even the bathrooms are worth visiting at the Inner Harbor’s Ripley’s “Odditorium.”

On display is the cigarette coffin for those die-hard smokers. (Photos by Caryn Coyle.)

The 32nd Ripley’s, the Baltimore museum opened on the second floor of the Light Street pavilion in early June.  Dave Ugan, vice president of Ripley’s, whose corporate headquarters is in Orlando, Fla., reported, “This is state-of-the-art.  From iPhone apps to videos and more, we made it very interesting and family friendly.”

In one room, there is a two way mirror and you don’t discover that until you reach the room on the other side which has interactive games and a video of all who play them.  In between the mirrored rooms are an abundance of “oddities.”

The wire, for example, that Nik Wallenda walked over the Inner Harbor before he crossed Niagara Falls is on display.  Folks were trying their luck on it.  There is a coffin created entirely of cigarettes with cigar handles, an enormous tyrannosaurus rex made out of pop tart aluminum foil and a life like replica of Johnny Eck, the Baltimore native known as the “Half-Boy” in the 1932 film, “Freaks.”

Remember Johnny Eck?

Born with a truncated torso, Eck lived on North Milton Street and was a side show performer. One of Ripley’s galleries has devoted a corner to Eck, his replica infamously showcasing him balancing on one hand.

“When I think of Ripley’s, I think of big tourism destinations: Ocean City, Orlando, New York City, San Francisco,” said Nora Campbell, sales manager for the Inner Harbor Ripley’s.  Campbell, a member of the board of the International Hospitality, Sales and Marketing Association, is also the president of the Baltimore Tourism Association, a volunteer coalition. “This museum puts Baltimore on the map!”

She added that fans of Ripley’s, who have made it a point to visit all of them, have mentioned that the Inner Harbor Ripley’s is the most interactive.

The Ripley’s Mirror Maze is a key factor in that favorable impression.  Think of a dark, medieval castle, lined with small lights along the floor and mirrored walls that reflect you as you try to figure your way out.  Add the psychedelic glasses given to you when you purchase your ticket and the dark castle’s tunnels become hallucinogenic with swirls and rivers of bright colors.

The oddities are sometimes the donation of someone’s life work.  There is an eight- by 10-foot sea creature sculpture made out of driftwood that was found in Cedar Key, Fla. Dozens of painted wooden eggs were donated by a man in Michigan, whose daughter is making the pilgrimage to Baltimore to see them.  There is also a huge copper penny made out of – you guessed it – hundreds of actual pennies.

Robert Ripley here to greet you.

A replica of Robert L. Ripley greets you in the first of the nine galleries, near his own collection of the crown jewels. Ripley was born in 1890 and traveled to more than 200 countries from the 1920s to the 1940s searching for the oddities his museum’s showcase.

If you ever make it out of the mirror maze, take a seat in the 4D movie theatre.  There are two features that do a great job of placing you in the action from the chair in which you sit.  You will actually roll with the film, and the glasses you will be given to wear will complete the effect of transporting you.  Before he turns out the lights, the Ripley’s employee will ask you to raise your hand if do not want to experience the adventure.  In our case, one person did walk out!

The museum has a room of miniature landmarks – the Empire State Building, London’s Big Ben, the Opera House in Sydney, Australia – made out of toothpicks.  John Wilkes Booth’s revolver, which he dropped at Ford’s Theatre the night he shot Lincoln is also in this Ripley’s Museum.

Michael Jackson soda can portrait thrills fans.

A portrait of Michael Jackson, made entirely out of soda cans, is in the lobby and you might pass right by it without seeing him in it.

If you stand on the musical steps that lead up to the first gallery — the steps actually sound notes as you step on them! — the portrait becomes clearer to you.

Open 365 days a year, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum is a welcome addition and attraction to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Better believe it.


About the author

Caryn Coyle

Caryn Coyle writes about arts, culture and food for the websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Her fiction has been published in a dozen literary journals including Gargoyle, JMWW, The Little Patuxent Review, Loch Raven Review, Midway Journal, The Journal (Santa Fe) and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore from City Lit Press. She won the 2009 Maryland Writers Association Short Fiction Award, third prize in the first Delmarva Review Short Story Contest, 2011 and honorable mentions for her fiction from the Missouri Writer's Guild (2011) and the St. Louis Writer's Guild (2012). Contact the author.
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