Robert Ripley was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and an amateur anthropologist that founded and created the Ripley’s Believe It or Not franchise. The franchise and Ripley’s legacy consists of museums around the world, radio shows, a TV series, a website and annual books that feature fascinating and odd facts from around the world.
Ripley’s museums became known as “Odditoriums” around the world, featuring tributes to many people who offer something different, and where the term freak is a term of endearment for people who stand out amongst the crowd for one reason or another. Whether it’s through body modification or turning what some people consider a physical ailment into something positive and an inspiration for those the world over.
Robert Ripley was fascinated by people who are capable of doing and achieving incredible things, and strange discoveries from different cultures around the world, and loved to entertain the world with his findings through cartoon illustrations and photographs. To this day, the Ripleys website continues this tradition by offering a platform for modern so-called freaks and discoveries to be displayed for the world to see. Here are 15 examples of freaks old and new that have found their way into the Ripley’s Believe It or Not record books.
15. The Queen of the Sword Swallowers
Edna Price was a woman that was literally born to perform in the circus. Her uncle Delno Fritz was already a famous sword swallower himself and started training Edna for stardom at an early age, getting her start in the sideshow business from the age of 16. She then joined her uncle at the age of 20 to travel with the Ringling Bros. and the Barnum and Bailey circus, where she was already making a name for herself as a brilliant sword swallower.
In 1934 Edna became one of the first “Human Oddities” featured at Ripley’s Odditorium during the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. She used to swallow up 12 swords at a time, and even performed with fragile neon tubes. Ripley dubbed her the Queen of “The Sword Swallowers”.
14. The Stalking Cat
The late Dennis Avner was a man of Lakota and Wyandot heritage and was given the name Stalking Cat by a medicine of his tribe at the age of 10 years old.
After leaving the Navy in 1981 he began altering his appearance in accordance with Wynadot tradition, where the people alter their bodies to resemble their totems. In Avner’s case, this was a tiger after a Native American chief told him to follow the ways of the tiger.
After becoming formally known as Stalking Cat, he began making regular appearances at Ripley’s conventions, as well as TV shows such as Animal Planet’s Weird, True, and Freaky.
13. The Limbo Queen
Shemika Charles of Buffalo, New York has been coached as a limbo dancer for 16 years. Coached by her mother Sherrie, Shemika trains for around six hours a day.
The physically demanding regime certainly paid off though as she became the first person in the world to limbo under the 9-inch gap clearance of a car. The record-breaking limbo queen regularly performs at Ripley’s shows and even wowed onlookers at an airport by performing the limbo under the waiting area chairs.
12. The Mexican Vampire Woman
Maria Jose Cristerna is a former a lawyer, a tattoo artist and a mother of four. Over 90 percent of her body is covered in either tattoos or modified with subcutaneous implants, titanium horns, eye coloration, and fangs, eventually becoming known as the “Mexican Vampire Woman”.
Cristerna wanted to re-invent herself as a “vampire” after suffering from a history of domestic abuse and has crafted a unique career for herself as an entertainer and a highly sought-after tattooist. In a sense, Cristerna discovered a way of becoming the immortal vampire she always wanted to be, after having life-sized wax statues created of her likeness, which are being featured in Ripley’s museums all over the world.
11. The Most Remarkable Man Alive
Johnny Eck was born with a truncated torso due to sacral agenesis which meant he had unusable and underdeveloped legs that he would hide under his custom-made clothing. At birth, he only weighed two pounds, and was less than eight inches in length, growing to reach a height of just eighteen inches in adulthood.
In spite of his disability, Eck was always upbeat about his condition and became an entertainer, actor, and a sideshow performer. He was also physically gifted and able to perform many feats of strength and athleticism with ease earning him such titles as the “Most Remarkable Man Alive”. There are plans make a biographical film based on his life with actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio and James Franco being attached in producing and acting roles respectively.
10. The World’s Most Pierced Woman
Elaine Davidson earned the right to be called the “Most Pierced Woman” in the Guinness World Records and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not books by having a reported 6,925 piercings all over her body at the time of her wedding.
Before becoming a regular entertainer at the annual Edinburgh Festivals the Brazilian born Elaine Davidson used to work as a nurse. Incredibly, Davidson has more piercings in her genitalia than anywhere else on her body, with the number totalling 500 internally and externally in that area alone. She is also estimated to be carrying around at least an extra 3 kilograms in nothing but piercings and metals.
9. The Three Legged King
Francisco A. Lentini was a legendary sideshow circus worker that earned a massive amount of respect as both a performer and human being. The Sicilian born showman was one of 12 children and became known for having three legs, four feet and two sets of genitals.
Lentini was born with a parasitic twin that was attached to the base of his spine and hip. In his early years he suffered terrible bullying from the other children, but instead of allowing it to defeat him, he learned to cope with his disability by seeing that some other children had it much worse than him.
8. Rico The Zombie Boy
Before becoming the Zombie Boy Rick Genest was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He spent six months on the waiting list to undergo surgery, and during this time he left home to begin living an anarchic lifestyle and became involved with both the punk rock and freak show scenes before his decision to tattoo himself. Thankfully, his surgery went without any complications, and Genest decided to live his life how he wanted by adopting an aesthetic that suited him.
The decision was a good one because since becoming the “Zombie Boy”, he has appeared in films, Vogue and GQ Magazines, and was featured in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video. Earning further recognition in Ripley’s Believe It or Not proves that sometimes living by your own rules in a positive way can often lead to good things in life.
7. The Monkey God
35-year-old Chandre Oraon from the Alipurduar region of India possesses a 14.5 tail growing out of his back, and the locals believe he is the reincarnation of the Hindu deity Hanuman. Oraon is also able to climb trees effortlessly leading many to believe that it’s further proof of his divinity.
People travel for hundreds of miles to his home in Bengal, and queue for hours just for the opportunity to touch Chandre Oraon’s tail because they believe it will bring them blessings and good fortune. The locals also believe he possesses healing powers with a lady claiming that he cured her brother’s child with a severe fever.
6. The Lizard Man
Erik Sprague became better known as The Lizard Man through countless hours of body modification that included the sharpening of his teeth, full body tattoos of green scales, subdermal implants, green tattooed lips, and a bifurcated tongue.
Over the years he has become a well-known freak and sideshow performer, but his talents far outweigh that of his lizard-like appearance. He performs fire eating and breathing tricks, sword swallowing, performing on bed of nails, and even offers himself as a human dartboard.
The Lizard Man has taken his act all around the globe touring with bands like Disturbed, Slayer, and Slipknot, as well as the Jim Rose Circus. The Lizard has now forever been immortalized as a life-sized Ripley’s waxwork statue, which can be found in every Ripley’s museum around the world.
5. Freakishly Strong
Kevin Fast has been featured in several of Ripley’s publications from 2005 right up to 2011. Being a favorite of Ripley’s Believe It or Not shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the impressive list of feats that the strong man has accomplished throughout his career. Some of his most memorable was accomplished during the Ripley’s Believe It or Not roadshow in Ontario, Canada.
At the Roadshow, Kevin Fast broke the WRA record for lifting the most people on a person’s back by powering up 22 women at the combined weight of 2000 pounds. At the same event, Kevin and his son broke the Guinness World Record for the heaviest vehicle pulled by two people when they teamed up to pull two fire trucks over 100 feet in 38 seconds.
4. Freakishly Fit At 75 Years Young
75-year-old Ray Mathews was recently featured on the official Ripley’s Believe It or Not website for running an incredible 75 marathons in 75 consecutive days to raise money for a local school.
Ray Mathews who is a resident of Maltby, South Yorkshire in the United Kingdom started the challenge on the July the 2nd 2016 and raised £13,000 for Rotherham’s Newman School which caters for children with disabilities and special needs.
Additionally, the incredibly fit pensioner also ran 150 miles in 36 hours at the age of 71. Showing no signs of slowing down he intends to continue to raise money for the school to have new equipment and external repairs.
3. A Genuine Eye-Popping Oddity
Any fans of the 1990 film Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger will remember that horrifying scene where the lack of atmosphere on Mars caused Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas Quaid’s eyes to start popping out of his skull. Movie watchers could rest easy knowing that what they were witnessing was nothing but great special effects, that is until Ripley’s “Great Face Off” competition.
The annual event is presented at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium in Atlantic City is designed to find the person who makes the weirdest or most unbelievable faces. Jalisa Thompson won that competition twice because of her uncanny ability to pop her eyes out of their sockets at will, beating seven previous winners for the $500 prize.
2. The World’s Tallest Man
Robert Wadlow was the tallest man to have ever lived and reached the massive height of 8 ft 11inches. He was nicknamed the “Alton Giant” because of his hometown of Alton, Illinois. Wadlow quickly gained celebrity status after his 1936 tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1936
Robert Waldow apparently used to perform massive feats of strength during his tours until his condition began to cause his discomfort, meaning that he used a cane and leg braces for the remainder of his life. Sadly, he continued to grow and his deteriorating health worsened after a blister from a faulty leg brace caused an infection and was unable to recover due to an autoimmune disorder, and eventually passed away in his sleep at the young age of 22.
1. The World’s Smallest Humanoid
After the discovery of the Atacama Mummy (also known as Ata) in the South American Desert there was a lot of hype surrounding the documentary known as Sirius which tried to hint at Ata being a creature of extraterrestrial origin. After discovering the creature was at least 91% human, there’s still a great deal of mystery that surrounds Ata.
However, it seems that in the 1930s Robert Ripley had his hands on his very own Ata otherwise known as Ata-boy which was a completely different mummy discovered in another area of the Atacama Desert. There’s a very obvious connection between the two discoveries, and they certainly raise more questions than answers, but it’s very interesting that Ripley was already on the case 80 years prior to the Sirius documentary.
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