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Tuesday, 18th December 2007
Believe it or not

N o surprise

I am continually fascinated by the improbable, or the downright impossible. This house is full of books on things unexplained. There are also plenty of books 'explaining' most of these things but that is not the point.

Everyone loves a mystery. We all like to say, 'How did they do that?' Sometimes it is even more fun to ask 'Why do they do that?' Pretty obvious then I am going to have a set of Carreras, Believe it or Not [1934] M50 in my collection of cards.

Whenever anyone suddenly announces, 'believe it or not' I immediately do not believe it, it's a cynics job but someone has to do it. It's a bit like saying 'Trust me'. God's way of saying, you have too much money.

Often people ask me if I actually collect cards myself. Well the answer is yes. Usually they want to know what. Well I do not collect any particular theme and certainly it is not a collection of fabulous wealth, there are no sets of Taddys Clowns for example (to paraphrase, buying a set of Taddys, Clowns is God's way of saying, you have too much money.) but there are some sets which are worth more to me than that.

For me that is part of the pleasure of collecting, it is not the accumulation of wealth (although that happens) it is the gathering of objects which mean more than the money it cost. If this is not the case then keep the money and buy a can of beans with it. My collection is separate from the stock element and never the twain shall met. Once a set of cards goes in the collection it never comes out again. Mind you such is life it rarely gets seen again either.

This is one such set, it has sat in a drawer for a good many years, I can remember the day I spent sorting it out. Most sets are sorted with the sort of efficiency which is borne of it being a job, not this one. Every card was studied and marvelled at, the 'facts and figures' mentioned mulled over in my mind.

When you discover there are only about 15 words on the reverse of the card and some frighteningly basic illustrations on the front of the card it could be considered an ideal set for my faded brain.

So there you have it, simple artwork, simple words and relatively cheap, it is not even a standard format but it is made of thick card. To think, some people would not have associated such a set with me, but if they had thought about it for a moment they would have realised it was made with me in mind.

I better mention the fact the cards also have a copyright message on them, Copyright reserved - Robert L Ripley. Interesting.


Now the very first card is a classic. A stone that grows. I went to see a stone that 'grew'. It was pretty old and had attained the size of a decent boulder, it had started life as a pebble centuries previously.

This puts me in mind of a story I had relayed to me by a fellow who indulged in metal detecting. He was stopped by an inquisitive school boy who wanted to know what the chap was up to. The fellow explained he was looking for buried coins and the like. Wide-eyed the school boy managed to ask, 'Does it hear them moving in the ground?'

Ripley had a regular newspaper feature in the states called "Believe it or Not". I think it started in the 20's or 30's and ran for quite awhile. I can remember the cartoons running in the Sunday papers as a kid, so I think they probably ran until about the 70's. Here in the states, there are several "tourist trap" museums, that exhibit the more bizarre of his finds
Thanks to Tim McNair for that and the Britannica article that went with it, it turns out the fellow was something of an industry.

Until the other day my education regarding Samarkand was pretty limited, since then I have heard references to it a number of times, isn't that always the way:
Samarkand: City in E Uzbekistan, capital of Samarkand region, near the river Zerafshan, 217 km/135 mi E of Bukhara; population (1987) 388,000. Industries include cotton-ginning, silk manufacture, and engineering. Samarkand was the capital of the empire of Tamerlane , the 14th-century Mongol ruler, who is buried here, and was once a major city on the Silk Road . It was occupied by the Russians in 1868 but remained a centre of Muslim culture until the Russian Revolution.
I'm glad I looked it up as well <g>.

I did not see the stone grow and I am not sure what I would have done if I had but I could have had a better chance if I had gone to see 'The Mysterious Growing Grave in Samarkand' The Sarcophagus of St Daniar is constantly growing. It is now 60 feet long (should be bigger by now).

That by the way is the entire text of the card. 60 foot long! It is likely to run you down if you sat still long enough. Plenty of cultures have growing stone stories and probably as many that have stones you cannot count twice to the same number. That's card two sorted out.

Now here is a jolly one, card 11: The Eiffel Tower. We have all heard the one about the conman that managed to sell it a couple of times but this is one about paint.

The card claims a coat of paint on the Eiffel Tower adds an additional 45 tons to the thing. Not inconsiderable but I wonder if that is less now we have lead free paint?

By card 15 there is a variation on the theme of 'put a grain of rice on the first square of a chessboard, two on the second, four on the third, by the time you get to square 64 you have a mountain of rice which would feed a nation.' It is the sort of thing which makes you wonder why there is never enough money in your bank account.

fishy tales

Anyway this is about the huge quantities of eggs a Spanish Mackerel produces (1.8 million). If each of these were to hatch within 5 generations the combined weight of fish would be exceed the weight of the earth by seven times. Makes you wonder if we have managed to fish them out of existence yet.

I have long been interested in the diversity of chimney pots which are on display.

I have long been interested in the diversity of chimney pots which are on display. Look down any road and there is an amazing variety of chimney pots for no apparent reason. Card 20 of this set notes The New Holland Hotel, Baltimore Md. was built and boilers installed before it was discovered it did not have a smoke stack.

Robert Louis Stevenson gave something of a unique gift to a child on Christmas Day. He legally arranged to give away his birth date as the child was born on Christmas Day and rather thought she was missing out on a set of celebrations one way or another.

I had never heard of that before (Katherine Hepburn adopted thhe birthdate of her older brother after he commited suicide but that was different). The article attached to Tim's e-mail mentioned Ripley was born on the 26 Dec 1893, so this might have been a subject close to the chaps heart.


Fellows do like to brag about their sexual prowess (or at least some do) but many seem to forget the mathematics of the situation. One well known personality claimed to have slept with a great many women, certainly not the first to do so.

...feat was near impossible without some sort of conveyor belt operation.

This fellows claim was so outrageous though a moments calculation meant the feat was near impossible without some sort of conveyor belt operation and him being fed via tubing. Still what people do behind closed doors (even if they are revolving) is their business entirely. Tom Thumb, the diminutive fellow, was something of a ladies man. Size clearly not being an issue in the minds of 1,500,000 women who fell pray to the man's kissing abilities over a three year period, thats 1370 women a day, or 57 an hour, twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year for three years.

The card does have the decency to claim this is more kissing than any man that has ever lived and I would suggest it is a 'record' which is going to remain. I suppose it is possible (space between kisses reduced to 10 seconds) and considering how tall the bloke was if anyone has had their growth stunted this is the man. Let it be a lesson to us all.

After this bit of incredible news the set follows it up swiftly with the news that a Newsboy makes more profit from the sale of a newspaper than the Publisher. All fine and dandy but there were many newsboys and only one publisher.

Tom Thumb, the tiny tonsil terror

Perhaps it is time to review the title and note a slight of hand. It is called Believe it or Not rather than Believe it, its true.

Cold shoulder

Card 30 brings a note of sanity back into proceedings. Well, a sort of sanity, Lord Paulston took a bet which saw him spending a night naked on the Tower of Notre Dame. The temperate fell to 27 below but he won the 5000 dollar bet but lost both his legs.

A pretty similar feat was attempted by Gus Simmons of Chicago. For some reason an ice sitting contest had been arranged and after being perched on a block of ice for 26 hours he was pulled off the thing under medical supervision as he was running a temperate of 102, July 31, 1933.

The Guinness Book of Records has closed the book on a number of the more bizarre records as there were serious risks of people doing injury to themselves or it was just plain ridiculous. Ice sitting is bound to be one of them (although pole sitting does not seem to be).

...the bicycle did not have any handlebars.

I am not sure if AJ Officer of Cape Colony South Africa would get into the record books as at the age of 66 he rode a bicycle for an average of 100 miles a day before breakfast. Quite impressive and made more so because the bicycle did not have any handlebars.

What the card does not tell us is exactly when he did have breakfast. If it was three in the afternoon a different gloss is put on.

A few years ago a mummy was found in a fun fair in the US. The fellow was a criminal from the days of the Wild West and had been used as a fair ground attraction for years before the fact he was once a human being passed from memory. Some sort of accident to it whilst standing in a darkened corner of a ghost train revealed the grim truth, when human bone stuck out of the mummified remains.

This was something the Persian's would have been very used to as card 38 explains that Bandits were turned into living statues by being moulded into a quicklime statue and left to stand by the roadside.

Card 48 should be a warning to us all. Moore, a London publisher spent two years in jail for managing to omit the word 'NOT' from the 7th commandment. If they read this site, the key would be thrown away :-)

Card 47, many people have been warned, 'Be careful for what you wish for, it might come true.' Well in 1926 Wiley Post announced, 'I would give my right eye to fly a plane of my own.'

The very next day an accident was to rob him of the sight in his right eye. With the insurance money he was able to by a plane which resulted in his solo flight around the world.

graveyard shift

...a definite advantage in running this business.

Card 46, details Armand Jacques Lherbette of Paris 1791-1864 did not sleep for 71 years after fracturing his skull. This would be a definite advantage in running this business and indeed useful in the modern world. However although there are examples of people going with very little sleep it seems unlikely there are people that can do away with sleep.

It seems people that do not sleep, fail to function properly within a very short period of time, a week, two at best and will eventually die, perhaps within six months. Armand ended up a famous lawyer instead.

A very finally this one, although it is card 49 of the series (I think they could have made it the last card). We all are painfully aware however much money you make you are not going to be taking it with you (the government would not let you to start with). My chum is fond of saying, there are no pockets in a shroud so do you really want to be the richest man in the graveyard.

However one, Jean Coiffier decided this was not going to stop him having a darn good go and set about eating all his money in the form of bank notes. Obviously he was a richer man than I as the effort killed him (a light indigestion would be the only effects I would suffer, if that). An autopsy ensured all his money was recovered.