Before the days of Google, YouTube, Wiki and the like, the only way for people to find out about stuff was by books and word of mouth. Unthinkable, huh? Well, in the early twentieth century Robert Ripley was one of the most experienced mouthpieces out there. He made a name for himself as a cartoonist, creating regular illustrations depicting exotic and unusual cultures from around the world for the New York Globe and later the New York Post. These led to a run of books, a radio slot that lasted 14 years and was broadcast from weird and wonderful places, including underwater, in the air and in a snake pit. Ripley also landed a TV show in 1948, shortly before his fatal heart attack a year later.
The late, great adventurer’s legacy lives on in Ripley’s Believe it or Not! These museums of oddities – the largest of which is here in the capital and first opened its doors in Piccadilly Circus in 2008 – are still delighting and disgusting viewers today (because who doesn’t want to gawp at a two-headed cow?).
As you embark on this self-guided tour through the five-storey building, you’ll encounter seven zones: Amazing Art, Curious Cultures, Remarkable People, Incredible Nature, History Rediscovered, Weird But Wonderful and Amazing Microsculptures by Willard Wigan.
Particularly bizarre exhibits include a picture of Michelle Obama made out of bottle tops, Jo Jo the dog-faced man, a gorilla made out of car bumpers, the man who had his body reshaped to look like a lizard, the tallest man on earth (8ft 11in) and so on. There’s also an outpost of the Hard Rock Café here – a fashion collection with garb charting musical icons from Elvis Presley to Lady Gaga.
If you get a little restless just looking at objects, see if you can twist and turn through the Impossible LaseRace, trying to avoid the laser beams and getting through the challenge in the fastest time. There’s also mind-boggling, ‘spinning’ Black Hole walk-through, a Mirror Maze and a digital graffiti wall – it’s all brilliantly silly, offbeat fun.
Basically, if you could imagine the opposite of the British Museum, this would be it. Here the humdrum is remarkable because it’s just plain weird, not because it’s thousands of years old – right down to the wedding dress made from toilet paper. Besides, just like the British Museum’s Hans Sloane, Ripley was ultimately an obsessive collector and an enthusiast for new discoveries. He just happened to take himself slightly less seriously.