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The One That Didn’t Get Away

August 24, 2011

Despite the fear Shark Week might create, Sharks attacking humans are incredibly rare occurrences, but even rarer still do human fisherman catch these mighty predators.  And catching a shark that breaks world records? That certainly earned a “Wow” from me given Ripley’s relationship with Guinness World Records.

But Brett Sinclair did exactly this with his cousin, Chris Bonnici, and his boat’s captain, Aaron Pierkarski as the group fished in the Dampier Classic off of Western Australia. Expecting much smaller game for this competition the group managed to reel in a 575-pound tiger shark that shatters the present record for the line class Sinclair was using by more than 220 pounds.  This is where Sinclair’s amazing catch crosses into Believe It Or Not territory – he was using fishing line that was rated with a breaking strength of just 13 pounds on a small 19 foot boat that was barely bigger than the shark they had hooked. And without understating it, this means the shark that the group eventually reeled in was nearly 45 times heavier than what their line should have been capable of withstanding.

Sinclair and his team with their amazing catch

Even compared to the Ripley’s shark exhibits, Sinclair’s catch is impressive, and can potentially cause an equal number of jaws to drop (pun regrettably intended). Much like Sinclair’s great catch, the shark we have in Times Square was also a record breaker – Donnie Braddick managed to reel in a massive 16’8” great white shark weighing in at over 3,400 pounds. Braddick’s catch in 1986 was accomplished with a much stronger line and tackle gear than what Sinclair had on his line, but in a funny little coincidence Braddick’s shark shattered the previous record for largest catch belonging to a shark from Western Australia – where Sinclair just made his catch. And hopefully this won’t cause any nightmares for New Yorkers, but Braddick’s catch occurred not too far from Ripley’s New York, just off the coast of Montauk, NY.  Can you imagine this pattern continuing? Going out to catch some bass while vacationing in Montauk, and reeling in a massive 600-pound shark? If only it were more unbelievable…

In a fashion reminiscent of Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea character Santiago and his great catch of a huge marlin, Sinclair’s groups had to pull their anchor and follow the shark until it tired out enough for them reel the shark in. Much too large for the boat, like Santiago, Sinclair had to tow the shark alongside his boat into port to have it weighed. If I were on that boat and had something as large as this shark take my bait it certainly would have ended up as another classic tale of ‘the big one that got away’. But Sinclair and his team had the experience to prevent this mighty beast from stripping their line, and were able to make a catch so big that it probably shouldn’t be possible, and almost unbelievable!

 

One Man, both Dwarf and Giant

August 18, 2011

Continuing my streak of writing about strange and bizarre things that people can do, choose to do, or the unique physical features others might display I want to highlight another example of amazing physical appearance. This story is of the only man in history to be classified as both a giant and dwarf.

Chart of Adam Rainer's growth

A man by the name of Adam Rainer stood 3 feet 10 inches on his 21st birthday and was classified as a dwarf, but by the time he died at age 51 the man had grown to 7 feet 8 inches tall. At the stage in life where most people stop growing Adam Rainer instead began a growth-spurt that launched him an additional 3 ft. and 10 in. to a height that towers over most people. In other words, Rainer stood roughly a foot below average adult height in his twenties but by the time his late growth was finished he was only about 1 ft. 2 in. shorter than the tallest man in recorded history, Robert Wadlow, who looms over visitors to our Ripley’s Times Square Odditorium at 8 ft. 11 in.

Robert Wadlow compared to his father, Harold Franklin Wadlow

 

Rainer’s remarkable growth was likely due to activity from his pituitary gland – the organ in our bodies responsible for releasing the body’s growth hormones. Typically most active during puberty, Rainer’s pituitary gland instead would have been a very tiny amount of the growth hormones during his teens and young-adult life leaving him medically classified as a dwarf. However, after he turned 21 it seems that his pituitary unleashed a torrent of these hormones that began and sustained a rate of growth of about 3.6 in. per year. The human body is not designed to support that amount of growth for a sustained period, especially at the age that it began for Rainer. His body effectively focused all of its energy on continuous growth, which ultimately left him bed-ridden. Undoubtedly this is a sad story for Rainer, but an amazing oddity in medical history of the only man to be classified as both a dwarf and a giant, and truly worth of the Believe It Or Not tag.

Heidi Montag Stretches More Than Just Our Disbelief

August 9, 2011

On November 20th Heidi Montag of MTV’s The Hills fame walked into a doctor’s office as a beautiful woman, and walked out 10 cosmetic surgeries later as a questionably more beautiful woman. At least that’s what she was expecting. That’s what countless other males and females alike expect when they opt to change their physical features with surgery. But as I sit in my office I can’t help but wonder: why do people like Heidi feel the need to do this to their bodies?

The answer seems to literally pop out at me each morning as I walk through the huge body modification room in our Times Square BION Odditorium. Some people look aghast, others might crack a smile, and many eyes pop wide out in true believe it or not fashion as they press the magic button at the cosmetic surgery exhibit and a woman’s chest inflates to proportions that would rival Heidi’s DDD size.  It’s an easy gag, but it never fails to attract attention. But I don’t think the attention is necessarily the point here. If you step away from this one particular exhibit and look at the body modification room as a whole there is a deeper story to be told by the unbelievable things people and cultures do to their bodies.

You decide: when did Heidi look her best?

Take for instance the Padaung women of Burma who are also exhibited in the room alongside the cosmetic surgery display. These women are famous and earned a BION status for wearing brass coils around their necks in an effort to stretch them to fantastic lengths. At first the coils were intended to scare away men from other villages and prevent adultery, this example of body modification became a symbol of beauty within the Padaung culture. Girls from a young age would have these coils placed on their neck to elongate their neck as much as 18” throughout their lives, and also increasing their attractiveness within the Padaung society. The Padaung practice was a totally normal, even desirable, form of body modification that is similar to foot binding in some Eastern cultures, corsets and waist shrinking in 16th century France, or our modern day surgical modifications in the quest for ultimate beauty.

There is something else remarkable here about Heidi’s individual decision to supposedly improve her appearance through surgery. Beauty through surgery is far from our culture’s consensus on what beauty is. While the ideal that the Padaung women strove to achieve developed through circumstance to become the accepted norm within their culture, Heidi Montag is just one person who felt unsatisfied with her appearance. Seeking personal satisfaction Heidi indulged in an amazing feat of medical surgery to fix her appearance. Perhaps I should say it again: Heidi Montag underwent TEN cosmetic surgeries in ONE day. Can you imagine the pain and trauma a Padaung women might have to endure to compress a lifetime of neck-elongation into a 24-hour 18” stretch-athon?

What is really important here is the remarkable lengths a person will go to in order to achieve an ideal of beauty. And to top it off, Montag wasn’t satisfied with her initial breast augmentation surgery so she had it redone for an even larger size, and finally Montag even admits she regrets getting these cosmetic surgeries altogether. Believe it or not, some people will just never be happy – and for the record, Heidi I thought you were perfectly beautiful before you decided to fix what you perceived as flaws.

Sword Swallowing Goes Mobile with the iSword

August 5, 2011

Ever wanted to attempt one of the amazing feats of strength you can catch a glimpse of during one of the live free sideshow performances under the marquee at Ripley’s BION Times Square? Perhaps sword swallowing has always been an aspiration you were too afraid to try? Thanks to Ripley’s new iSword game for your iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone you can put your sword swallowing skills to the test without fear of bodily harm or dismemberment. Check it out here.

The iSword is more than just a game you can challenge your friends to. If you’re brave enough to play and you get a really high score you can unlock the iSword. With the iSword unlocked you can scare your friends and family to make it appear as if you’re actually swallowing a sword with help from your device’s camera. Also included in the app is information about sword swallowers and their stories, listings on all 31 Ripley’s Odditorium across the country and internationally, as well as a sneak peak at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Strikingly True annual publication. And if those extras haven’t landed in you the app store yet, just wait until you try putting the game down. It’s addictive. Really. I still have the highest score in our office competition, but the growing pile of papers on my desk might mean its time to take a break from sword swallowing and get back to real work…after just one more round.

Sword swallowers perform outside of Ripley's NYC

Why a sword swallowing app? Well, sword swallowing is literally a pastime here at Ripley’s, and at Ripley’s New York we even celebrate the annual World Sword Swallowers Day by inviting some of the most talented sword swallowers in the world to perform their daring ability right in the heart of Times Square. Sword swallowing just seemed like the most natural way to get out fans involved in the wild and weird world of Ripley’s on their mobile devices. And it certainly wont be the only way you will be able to try your hand at some of the amazing feats showcased by Ripley performers – be on the lookout for two more apps from Ripley’s coming this year.

Future Voice Actor, or Sideshow Performer?

August 1, 2011

Believe it or not, I have not disappeared off the face of the earth.  I’m not going to make any excuses; well, maybe one.  I’ll go with I’ve been waiting for inspiration to post and let’s just say, I found it!

Maybe you’ve seen it already, but here at Ripley’s Times Square we’re always fascinated by amazing talents that make you stop and say “Whoa”. Or, “How does she do that?” This internet sensation is no exception, as the video’s star, Mel, recreates with jaw-dropping accuracy the sounds from a wider variety of animals than you might find in most zoos. This talent is especially unbelievable for someone like me who can barely whistle!   Check out her talents here.

Many of the wonders of the world that Robert Ripley showcased in his newspaper panel, books, television shows, and short movies were in fact people with rare and amazing talents, abilities, or physical characteristics. Many performers like Half Man Johnny Eck were able to make a living by using their unique nature or ability, and even created a lasting legacy through the exhibits we have at the Ripley’s Odditorium inNew York City.

Johnny Eck was one of Robert Ripley's amazing discoveries of unique people.

One would assume then that a person with as much voice-talent as Mel would have a pretty good shot at cashing in on her talent. Where do you think you are most likely to see Mel first: on the Ellen DeGeneres show performing her no-longer-hidden talent or in a Hollywood movie? A better question, which animal noise do you think she is most likely to do whenever she finds her way into the spotlight next?

Although very different from sword swallowing or being the world’s tallest man or woman, Mel’s kookaburra or American robin impressions are truly a believe it or not!

Use Your Keyboard Lock!

May 30, 2011

It’s really a simple concept. But Believe it or Not!, people still don’t use their keyboard locks on their cell phones which can lead to serial pocket dialing. Usually nothing more than a nuisance, as one man learned in Bangor, Maine, the result can be a loss of freedom.

As a man in Maine can attest, of all the features on a smartphone, your keyboard lock may be the most important!

Intrigued? Well, at Ripley’s Times Square, we are amazed. According to an article in the Bangor Daily News, a man was arrested after repeatedly pocket dialing 911 while using a backpack leaf blower.  While most of us have either been the sender or recipient of a pocket dial, I’m guessing that the typical offender isn’t usually, well, a public offender.  In this case, the man had two active warrants for failure to pay fines.

As we all know today, phones are more than just a means to make a phone call.  For better or worse, they are also a GPS tracking device and police used this to their advantage when Mr. James Green began his unintentional (or perhaps it was a cry for help) emergency calls.  Because of the repeated calls, police tracked the location of where they were coming from and upon arrival, determined Mr. Green’s deadbeat fine responsibilities.

As someone with a 17-month old daughter, the keyboard lock is an essential tool.  Because my phone is more fun than the hundreds of toys designed by toy experts, the lock function on my Blackberry has prevented all of my settings from being reset, to minutes being saved due to unintentional calls.  Little did I know that it served an additional function of keeping a low profile and out of the spotlight.

When you think about this story, it truly is straight out of the annals of Ripley’s Believe it or Not!  There you are, on what was probably a beautiful spring day in Maine, doing a little yardwork when the police arrive.  At first, Maine’s finest were concerned about your well-being – after all, there were repeated calls to 911.  After clearing up that the calls were not needed, and a little conversation with the cops, you are now busted.  Pretty unbelievable if you ask me.

Note to self – make sure keyboard lock is on at all times.

Verizon Fios vs. Cablevision – Nobody Wins

May 14, 2011

We’ve all moved.  We all know how stressful an experience it can be.  You make the list, from changing your address, setting up utilities, scheduling appointments, etc.  For better or for worse, I’ve moved quite a bit in my lifetime and despite all the variables involved with each specific move, there is one constant you can count on like death and taxes:  the process of setting up cable will frustrate you to no end.  This is a true “Believe it or Not” that we have accepted as part of the process, and my recent move was no different.

Why is this as we say a “BION”?  It doesn’t matter what state you are in, what cable company you are potentially dealing with, if you could tape the excercise in setting up cable, this could be displayed in any Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum around the world and people would watch in awe.  And with the cable competition in New York City, Ripley’s Times Square would without question have the best video of them all.

My experience started with a phone call to Verizon Fios.  Whether it was a result of the bombardment of advertising I’ve seen from them or curiosity because this is the first location I’ve lived in where it was available, they were my first call. 

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  in a lot of their advertising, Verizon Fios touts themselves as having the highest customer satisfaction of any cable company in the tri-state area.  If you look really close and read the fine print, you’ll see that their satisfaction rate is 48 percent.  And that’s the best in the industry.  I shudder to think where the others come in.

Ready to sign up for the standard bundle – cable, telephone and Internet services – at this amazing price I saw advertised, after answering a few questions of what I wanted the price came in 40 percent higher than the advertised price.  Now mind you, I didn’t wany any pay channels, wasn’t looking for 10 tvs to have cable.  Just your basic setup with good solid Internet service.  The bundle that’s advertised literally brings you back 8-10 years if you stick with what’s offered in the basic package.  So after establishing the final price, I tried to setup installation.  Scheduling this was more difficult than climbing Mount Everest.  Without getting into all of the details, I finally set something up that was a week after we would be moved in.

Not completely satisfied, I continued my quest and made the foolish mistake of calling Cablevision, the other company that was available in my area.  I have to tell you this was the most ridiculous phone call I had ever been a part of.  I started out being completely forthright, telling them I was looking at Verizon.  As opposed to telling me the advantages of Cablevision over Verizon, the person on the other end of the line spent the next 10 minutes telling me how bad Verizon was, how much they lied, and that I should have my head examined if I went with Verizon.  (They didn’t actually say that last part, but that’s how I felt).

This might as well have been me as I dealt with setting up cable in my new home!

I tried to understand the differences and advantages, and after 25 minutes of back and forth, I finally told them I would pass and thanked them for their time.  Being a semi-nice guy, I didn’t  hang up on the sales person until their fourth attempt at trying to change my mind.

So it’s over and I’m all set, right?  Wrong.  Over the next two days, I received three calls from Cablevision trying to convince us to go with them.  While I appreciate the persistence, the fact that each call was no different from the previous one was just plain annoying.  On the last call, the guy provided me with an offer I couldn’t refuse.  However, check out this dialogue which obviously made it easy to refuse:

Cablevision Guy:  I’m going to give you blah, blah, blah.  Verizon can’t top that, can they?

Me:  Definitely not.  How come you can give me that but everyone else I talked to couldn’t?

Cablevision Guy:  I have the ability to take care of customers and sign you up for exactly what you need.

Me:  Ok, I’m  interested.  Can you email me the offer?

Cablevision Guy:  I don’t have email.

Me:  What??  You’re trying to sell me Optimum Online and you don’t have email?  Verizon emailed me with they’re offering.

Cablevision Guy:  We don’t do that.

Me:  Well, then I don’t do Cablevision.

Cablevision Guy:  Sir, you’re making a mistake.

Me:  Really?  I guess I’ll just have to live with it.

Cablevision Guy:  Sir, Verizon Fios is the worst…

Me:  (Action:  phone hanging up).

So, we moved in and despite having to wait a week for the installation, Verizon Fios shows up for installation.  In what was quite a pleasant surprise, they actually showed up at the first part of the five hour window they give.  We were off to a great start! 

However, they forgot a DVR box and wireless router.  They came back later with the router but we’re still waiting for the DVR box.

I know, I know, sometimes my expectations are just too high.

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