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Ripley’s Times Square Gets Lucky

April 23, 2011
I’ll be honest.  When we first launched the first ever Ripley’s Unbelievable Talent Contest, I was nervous – kind of the same feeling you have when you plan a huge blowout party in college and worry if anyone is going to come.  Don’t get me wrong, we were well prepared and our social media and public relations teams did a tremendous job preparing the event.  However, you still never know what the response is going to be.  Will people enter?  Will people vote?  What type of talent will we see?
 
After a slow start, the submissions began rolling in.  However, with the prize being a chance to join our world class Ripley’s Sideshow Performers’ team, we still needed to not only get entries, but pray that there was some serious quality.  So these were all of the things weighing on our team as the contest progressed.  And then we got Lucky.

Richard Swartz, aka The Painproof Man, proudly displays his "check" as winner of the first ever Ripley's Unbelievable Talent Contest

Richard Swartz, aka Lucky the Pain Proof Man, was one of 27 entries we received for our contest.  And while his video was definitely one of the best submitted, it didn’t do his in person performance justice.  While all of the finalists did a tremendous job, Lucky, who was up last, blew the audience and judges away with his daring antics and unbelievable showmanship.

Traveling from Pennsylvania, Lucky kicked off his performance by eating a light bulb.  Let me repeat that – by eating a light bulb.  While we strongly recommend that you don’t try this at home, it is worth noting that Lucky recommends that the higher quality brand lightbulbs definitely taste better.

The Pain Proof Man lived up to his moniker after eating the light bulb by laying on a bed of nails – actual nails – and then climbing up a “ladder” of swords, blade up of course, without any shoes or socks on.  While doing all this, Lucky engaged the crowd, had them in awe, and left the judges, including myself, speechless.

Lucky’s efforts led to a unanimous decision among the esteemed panel of judges, which included Buck Wolf of AOL Weird News, Edward Meyer, Vice President of Exhibits and Archives for Ripley Entertainment, Albert Cadabra, leader of Ripley’s Sideshow Wonders and myself.  Editor’s Note:  “esteemed” should be applied to the first three judges.  For myself, well, let’s just say I went along for the ride.

From Left: Buck Wolf of AOL News, Edward Meyer, Vice President of Exhibits and Archives with Ripley Entertainment, Lucky, the Painproof Man, Michael Hirsch, General Manager of Ripley's Times Square, and Albert Cadabra, head and host of Ripley's Sideshow Wonders

The only question that remains unanswered is whether Lucky will be joining Ripley’s Sideshow Wonders this summer.  He still has to choose between the job or a $1,000 cash prize.  From my perspective, I certainly hopes he chooses the job so millions of people can see what we saw during the finals of our Unbelievable Contest search.

I guess you can say we hope we get lucky a second time.

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World’s Tallest Teen Looks For Normalcy

April 16, 2011

Robert Ripley’s fascination with the bizarre and the unusual was not about showing off “freaks of nature” to make a buck.  Ripley’s world travels was more about the celebration of diversity and acceptance of those cultures and people different from us.  While the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museums around the world bring to life everything that’s different, they also serve the purpose to open the minds of people to accept what strays from the norm.

The worlds tallest teenager, Malee Duangdee, just wants to live a normal teenagers life despite obstacles from her peers.

In that essence, Ripley was a true visionary about combatting what has now become a hot topic – bullying.  It seems as if every day we now read about a different horrific story about those in our society abusing someone else because they are different.  Hitting the headlines recenty is the story of the world’s tallest teenager, Malee Duangdee of Thailand, who is 19 years old and stands 6’10” tall.  And while Malee obviously stands out wherever she goes, all she is looking for is to “be like any other 19-year-old and live alone, build a life for myself and have fun.”  Instead, she told The Telegraph, “I used to feel like a freak, school children used to bully me and call me names.”

Enter any Ripley’s museum across the world, and you will see what Mr. Ripley believed were true wonders of the world.  Here at Ripley’s Times Square, the world’s tallest man, Robert Wadlow, is featured prominently as you enter the museum.  Wadlow was a man that Ripley befriended, brought him out of his shell of being embarrassed about his differences, and made him into a worldwide phenomenom.

While a visit to Ripley’s Times Square is a journey around the world and shares some of history’s amazing people, animals, and cultures, it is a celebration.  Every person, child or adult, will be forced to leave the realm of what is comfortable to them and, with an open mind, will depart with a greater understanding of how everyone is different and special.

In fact, our group programs for schools and camps has a special section on diversity and acceptance, helping guide teachers through a very difficult and abstract subject that is being emphasized more and more in our classrooms.

Yes, much of what you see at Ripley’s Times Square will make you say “I don’t believe it.”  But perhaps more importantly, it will allow you to accept others that are different as well as embrace the unique elements that make every person special, including yourself.

Mr. Trump, You’re Hired!

April 12, 2011

Real estate mogul, television star and producer, golf course developer, White House hopeful, and now…Ripley’s Sideshow Wonder?  In yesterday’s Daily News, the cover story was regarding Donald Trump’s potential bid for a 2012 presidential run and the White House responded to Trump’s allegations of President Obama not being a United States citizen as “sideshow”.  Assuming they meant that as an insult, here at Ripley’s Times Square, we consider that the  ultimate compliment.

The Daily News takes liberty with Donald Trump's photo, depicting their thoughts on how the White House perceives the billionaire

 We are not alone in our assertion that being called a sideshow clown is not an insult.  Earl (Orky the Clown) Temkin of the World Clown Association agrees with us, saying that “The association between clowns and politicians goes back a long way, so we don’t tend to get bothered by it.”  Mr. Temkin – neither do we.

Whether we side with Trump or the White House on Obama’s birth place and citizen issue is irrelevant.  And whether we think that Trump’s recent rise in the polls is any indication of how the Donald would fare in a bid for the presidency doesn’t matter.  What does matter is sideshow is alive and well at Ripley’s and breathing life into Times Square every week.

In fact, we recently conducted an online search for the next great member of Ripley’s Sideshow Wonders, looking to add to our amazing list of performers.  The nationwide search concludes tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., as the four finalists  – check out their videos here – will be on hand to peform for an esteemed (I use that word loosely as I am one of them) panel of judges with the winner receiving a summer gig performing at Ripley’s New York.

Albert Cadabra, host of Ripley's Sideshow Wonders and a judge of tomorrow's finale of Ripley's Unbelievable Talent Contest, would welcome Mr. Trump to his stable of talent

 So when chief President Obama advisor David Plouffe used words like “sideshow act”, “spectacle”, and “clown”, we think that he is complimenting Mr. Trump. 

Mr. Trump – your resume is long and distinguished but after careful review, there is one gaping hole:  Ripley’s Sideshow Wonder.  So if this White House thing doesn’t work out, give us a shout.  You have an open ended invitation to join our team at Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

Never a Dull Moment at Ripley’s Times Square

April 9, 2011

It started off like any other day for me at Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Times Square.  Got in early before anyone else arrived, checked previous day’s numbers, sorted through emails, etc.  The day continued as staff began to arrive – sales team coming to the office, front of house team getting ready to open the museum, you know, the usual stuff.

Then, about 10:30, a call went out over our internal radio system that a delivery person had called and was looking to deliver something to us.  Again, nothing out of the ordinary here.  The delivery could have been maintenance or cleaning supplies, new merchandise for our re-designed Ripley’s Little Shop of Oddities gift shop, or any number of things that go with the day-to-day operations of our business.  (Shameless Plug – if you’ve been to our gift shop, you need to come back.  You will be blown away by the new merchandise and lay out.  Totally cool).

New and improved Ripley's Little Shop of Oddities Photo

The Ripley's Times Square renovated gift shop offers a wide variety of cool, bizarre items, NY memorabilia, and enough candy to keep dentists in business for quite a while.

At 10:50, things began to take a turn to the strange.  A call came over the radio once again that the delivery guy was still waiting.  As it turns out, he was at the wrong loading dock.  As I came back into the office, I found a very angry person.  Our dialogue went like this:

Delivery Man – “I’ve been waiting for half an hour to make this delivery”

Me – “We’ve had someone at our loading dock for the last half hour waiting for you – where were you.”

Delivery Man – “I was downstairs by McDonald’s.  And I had to park two blocks away to deliver this thing.  There’s no parking on 41st street.”

Me – “Do you want me to call Mayor Bloomberg and see if I can get the parking rules changed?  Where’s the delivery?”

Delivery Man, now very annoyed, – “It’s right out here.  I had to lug this thing from two blocks away.  I have to get to my next delivery and don’t want to get a ticket.”

Me – “Listen, I can’t control parking rules and our staff was waiting for you by our loading dock.  Show me this delivery.”

We walked out of our administrative offices and when I saw the large crate, it immediately clicked what it was.  Something I’ve been waiting for but forgot it was coming.  Unfortunately, I cannot provide a spoiler alert here, but let me tell you it’s something you won’t see anywhere else other than Ripley’s and my excitement shot through the roof.

Contents of this box was delivered to Ripley's Times Square this past week

What's In The Box? We can't answer this question until late June but it will amaze and astonish you.

By now, you’re probably asking what is it.  Here’s the deal – you’re going to have to wait.  You see, we will be unveiling it on June 24th, and it is currently in my office and will remain there until that date.  Here are a couple hints:  I get surprised every time I walk into my office and see it, it’s something that every Ripley’s fan will be excited to see and take a picture with, and it’s sure to make you do a double take when you see it.

I’m open to any guesses – get it right and you can get a sneak preview of it as well as free admission into the museum.  Or, if you’re really crafty, find a way to setup a meeting with me and you’ll come face-to-face with it.

Other than that, you’ll have to wait until June 24th to find out what it is.  That’s what we call a classic cliffhanger in the business.

Hope Begins This Weekend for Millions

April 2, 2011

Robert Ripley would be very excited this weekend.  No, we haven’t added to the largest collection of shrunken heads at Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Times Square.  It’s Opening Day this weekend for Major League Baseball, meaning all teams begin the weekend tied for first place, and Robert Ripley was as big a baseball fan as anyone.

Robert Ripley's love of baseball never dissipated despite traveling the world in search of rare oddities and cultural phenomenoms

Most people are familiar with Mr. Ripley’s affection for the bizarre and unusual.  Whether a fan of his cartoon, radio show, the two iterations of television programs (one hosted by Jack Palance, one hosted by Dean Cain), the best-selling Ripley’s books, or famous “Odditoriums” around the world that are visited by millions of people, you are probably not aware that Ripley was promising baseball player and began his career as a sports cartoonist in San Francisco.

In fact, Ripley was a semi-pro baseball player on his way to making the Major Leagues before an injury set him back.  He was just recently named number two on the San Francisco Giants’ list of strangest baseball players ever associated with the team on the Bleacher Report, a blog by Giants featured columnist Jordan Plaut.

Joining Ripley in his affection for America’s National Pastime are millions of fans that truly believe this is the year for their hometown team.  Well, everyone except for Pittsburgh Pirate fans who know last place is being held for them yet again (sorry Pittsburgh).  More than any other sport, baseball brings a nostalgia that resets every year, and despite the financial disparities of team’s payrolls, the Cubbies “Wait Til Next Year” rallying cry is on hold until at least mid-May for most teams.  Sure, you have your perennial favorites like the Yankees and Red Sox, but as 2010 showed us, anything can happen over the grind of the season as both the Giants and Texas Rangers shocked the sports world and battled for the right to be called champions.  Note:  Ripley was cheering somewhere as his beloved Giants surprised everyone by bringing home the title.

Jubilation begins after Giants stun the sports world with their 2010 World Series victory. Robert Ripley would have been thrilled.

Stadiums will be packed this weekend with hot dogs and beer the menu of choice.  Each stadium will be filled with hope and excitement, and the corresponding cities will have a buzz about them.  For those that can’t make it to the ballpark, Spring will still be in the air as they can catch their hometown boys of summer on TV and radio.

And as Robert Ripley began his journey across the world as the real-life Indiana Jones, he never lost his passion for the great game of baseball.  As a true philanthropist, one of Ripley’s greatest events was a charity softball event held at Madison Square Garden to raise money for The Boys Club of New York.  The game was a collection of baseball players against Ripley’s team, aptly named the Believe it or Nots.  And Ripley’s main ringer – none other than the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.

In fact, on display at the Ripley’s Times Square museum are the uniforms of the Believe it or Nots, including the one worn by Ruth himself.  In addition, the Ripley collection at New York’s Odditorium includes a wooden postcard signed by Yankees from the 1930s including Ruth and fellow slugger Lou Gherig, chairs from the original Yankee Stadium, and the team picture of the Believe it or Nots with the Babe front and center.

On display at Ripley's Times Square is Robert Ripley's Believe it or Nots baseball team uniforms including one worn by Babe Ruth

So, if you’re feeling nostalgic and can’t make it to the ballpark, a visit to Ripley’s Times Square can certainly satisfy your baseball fix.  Robert Ripley would be thrilled to see you and share his love of baseball that only baseball fans can truly understand.

Play Ball!!

Best Phone App – Ever!

March 26, 2011

With new phone applications coming out every day, it’s rare when one stops you and makes you say “I don’t believe it”.  However, a Manhattan design studio, Gesture Theory, recently launched an app called “Silence of the Celebs” that has us even at Ripley’s Believe it or Not! in Times Square amazed.

As reported in The Daily News last Wednesday, this creative, FREE download allows you to filter out stories that include topics you are tired of.  Inspired by the thought of “Why do we still continue to hear about the Lindsay Lohans of the world”, you can now download the app and never receive another story about that person or topic again.

Now you can avoid hearing about Lindsay Lohan, pictured here during one of her not-so-great moments, by downloading the Silence of the Celebs app

Tired of the gang from the Jersey Shore – block ’em.  Sick of Charlie Sheen’s antics being romanticized (which admittedly this author recently contributed to the trainwreck), denied!  Don’t want to hear another thought from Mel Gibson’s deranged head – rejected!

The ranting and raving of Mel Gibson, who looks fairly harmless here, can be taken off your radar screen for good.

Currently, the program only works to filter from a few, selected sites  like The Huffington Post, New York Times and TMZ.com.  But the developers say not to worry, they are are working on developing a beta version that will allow the filter to work from all sites.

To Gesture Theory, we say Thank You!  Your unbelievable app is a game changer and true Believe it or Not! in how we can choose what we want to hear about.  And in an unofficial poll, I would love to hear who or what you would block first once downloading this amazing program.

Help Us All, Steve Jobs

March 19, 2011

There are two types of people in the world:  those that have had a colonoscopy and those that haven’t. 

Those that haven’t hear the word and are struck with fear.  Without going into the details, the idea of being prodded in that area is scary, intimidating, etc.  As someone who falls into the first category, I can share with you the reality is the procedure itself is nothing.  A little anesthesia, 30 minutes of recovery time, a day of rest due to feeling a little loopy, and you’re back to normal.  In fact, About.com says the risks of complications of a routine colonoscopy is .35 percent.

No, it’s the night before that us in the know that will bring you to your knees.  I had my first colonoscopy 10 years ago and all I could remember was having to drink the most awful mixture that from sip one to the end will make you gag.  In addition, about 45 minutes into the process, you will need to clear the path from where you are forcing this poison down to the bathroom, often times imitating Carl Lewis in his prime.

Carl Lewis celebrates one of many victories

You will need to harness your inner Carl Lewis once the prep for a colonoscopy kicks in.

 So, when the doctor uttered to me those dreaded words of needing to repeat the process, I was overcome with terror.  However, when being given the prescription, I asked the nurse if the prep had gotten any better, I was told “yes” and you can now mix it with anything you want.  Hope set in – perhaps this dreaded beverage had followed the path of technology and improved to the point where it was no problem.  Or at least, maybe it would be bearable.  Let me be the first to tell you that THE NURSE LIED!! 

I was prescribed a mixture called MoviPrep manufactured by a European pharmaceutical company called Norgine B.V. and it as disgusting as any other product on the market.  While not a typical topic for Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, there could be a whole book on how terrible this stuff is.  And what’s an even greater Believe it or Not!, why, after all these years, are they not capable of creating a prep process that will not devastate you?!

We live in a world that if you look back over where we were 15 years ago to where we are today, there have been drastic improvements and technological developments everywhere.  Whether it’s Apple revolutionizing the way we listen to music, HD and 3-D changing the way we watch TV and movies, global positioning systems altering the way we travel, or the Internet changing the way we communicate and do business, change is all around us.

But when it comes to prepping for a colonoscopy, nothing.  Still the same brutal process that tortures millions of people.  And when you look for advice on line for the best way to do this, do not listen!  It’s all terrible, no matter what you mix MoviPrep with or how cold you make it. 

So here’s my plea.  Steve Jobs – if you’re out there listening, I’m begging you.  Begging you to move some of your resources from developing the ipad 3 or iphone 5 and move them to developing a solution for colonoscopy prep.

The Apple ipad 2 is plenty good enough. Let's focus on a new colonoscopy prep solutions, please!

I promise you that this development will be bigger than anything you have in your development pipeline.  Apple stock will soar and millions will revere you forever.

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