Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 19, 2013
Ripley's Believe It or Not

Ripley’s Believe It or Not

December 19, 1918: The New York Globe prints Robert’s cartoon series – Champs and Chumps for the first time. Robert’s feature contained only sporting feats. He began adding other items of interest or amazement and in October 1919, to reflect that change, renamed his product. When the Globe went out of business in 1923, Robert moved to the New York Evening News. He also hired Norbert Pearlroth as his researcher. Pearlroth spent the next 52 years researching at the New York Public Library where he was a fixture for 10 hours per day, six days a week. All this just so we could be entertained by Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Believe It or Not was on the radio for years with different series of stories heard on various networks. Programs lasted 15 or 30 minutes and were broadcast in a variety of formats. Some of his strange stories were dramatized. His show was taken on the road and his troupe traveled across America finding odd stories wherever they might hide. His weekly radio show turned into twice a week and eventually, by 1944, he was on the air five nights a week broadcasting tales based primarily on news about World War II.

Robert (Bob) Ripley was born on Christmas Day in 1890. His first love was baseball. He drew sports cartoons in San Francisco and moved to New York City in 1912. He tried out for the New York Giants baseball team. He sustained an injury in 1913, ending his dream of a career in baseball. He was also an amateur anthropologist and astute businessman. He parlayed his cartoon panel into an entertainment industry that expanded to radio, television, movies, and museums. His legend lives on with an Internet presence and even games and mobile phone content.

Other researchers joined the team over the years. Lester Byck and Don Wimmer searched out obscure facts (some accuse the enterprise of exaggerating if not outright lying). Ripley died in 1949 and a variety of artists/cartoonists have been creating the panels ever since. Today, the panels are drawn by John Graziano, an illustrator since 1983. The panel is published in nearly 40 countries. Museums also circle the world. A movie about Robert Ripley is scheduled for release in 2009 with Jim Carrey in the starring role.

“This is how humans are:  we question all our beliefs, except for the ones we really believe, and those we never think to question.” – Orson Scott Card

“Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgment.” – Seneca

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” – Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

“Generally the theories we believe we call facts, and the facts we disbelieve we call theories.” – Felix Cohen

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Norbert Pearlroth was born in 1893 in Austria. He attended university it Krakow, Poland and had planned on becoming a lawyer. However, World War I interfered with that plan and he came to America in 1920. Pearlroth spoke 11 languages and was an ideal candidate as Ripley’s researcher since he was able to read foreign newspapers and find new items for the column. He worked for Ripley from 1923, happy to leave his job in banking, until his retirement in 1975, long after Ripley himself had died. He spent his days in the New York Public Library’s Main Reading Room and it was estimated that he examined about 7,000 books per year. That means that during his time doing research, he used more than 350,000 books. Because he was a freelancer, he did not get royalties or a pension. He died of heart and kidney disease in 1983.

Also on this day: Monumental – In 1960, the San Jacinto Monument was declared a National History Landmark.
Tiny Tim – In 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.
What’s Up, Doc? – In 1956, Dr. John Bodkin Adams was arrested.


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