Leroy Ripley by
it or not, Robert Leroy Ripley did not hail from Texas, but the Lone Star State
proved to be a rich source of material for the syndicated newspaper cartoon that
made him famous.|
In 1918, Santa Rosa, CA native Ripley worked as a sports
cartoonist on the old New York Globe. He started doing a cartoon called “Champs
and Chumps,” an illustrated montage of sports trivia.
Ripley’s editor thought
the cartoon needed a catchier title, so, after considerable study, it became “Believe
It Or Not!,” a phrase that in that form is now a registered trade mark.
Not long after getting its new name, the focus of the column moved beyond the
sporting world to just about anything of interest anywhere in the world, including
assorted Texas oddities used by Ripley:
In 1896, a cowboy named E.F. Tubb carved his initials on the back of a big turtle.
Two decades later, the same cowboy found the same turtle, still alive and still
Jonathan A. Wilson of Bowie, 94, still had all his teeth, despite never having
owned a toothbrush or seen a dentist. Sweetwater
(at least at the time Ripley reported it) got its water supply from Bitter Creek.
1922, fire destroyed a concrete bridge over the Navasota River on then State Highway
14 in Limestone County.
Bizarre as that sounds, the explanation proved simple enough: Flash flooding had
lodged a lot of driftwood under and around the bridge. About the time the wood
had thoroughly dried, a pipeline used to pump oil from the boom town of Mexia
broke, soaking the debris with volatile crude. Somehow all that combustible material
caught fire, burning at a temperature that disintegrated the concrete.
Lemar D. Ramel of Dallas could spell his name either forward or backward.
of Dallas, in 1936 Ripley opened a museum there called Ripley’s Odditorium. That,
of course, was the year Texas celebrated its centennial of independence from Mexico
and Big D had a huge world’s fair under way.
Clearly an astute businessman,
Ripley realized the Lone Star centennial would draw large crowds. While not officially
part of the fair, his museum capitalized on that tourist traffic.
all of Ripley’s Texas-related items were bits likely to knock a reader’s proverbial
socks off. A man from San Antonio named Ben once wrote Ripley to report that he
had two brothers, Sam and Morris. One day, Ben continued, he and his two brothers
happened to be sitting in their Alamo City office a stranger walked in and asked
to use their telephone.
The cordial Texan readily obliged the man and could
not help overhearing his conversation: “Hello Sam, this is Ben, I am waiting for
Morris, where is he!”
The Ben who reported this to Ripley said that he
and his brothers “almost fainted,” B.I.O.N. (Believe It Or Not!) Of course, when
you’re trying to fill a daily column, some days the material is stronger than
cartoonist got a much better story out of what happened in Eastland not long before
the Depression began. Ripley should get a lot of the credit for helping to perpetuate
the legend of Old
Rip, a horned toad named after Rip Van Winkle, not the famous cartoonist and
trivia collector. It’s a great story, though common as tumbleweeds in Pecos.
Back in 1897, one W.M. Wood of Eastland
placed a horned toad (actually a lizard, but facts should never get in the way
of a good story) in the cornerstone of the new county
court house. Thirty-one years later, when that public building was being razed
to make room for a larger structure, the horned toad was still alive when the
cornerstone was opened on Feb. 17, 1928.
Rip became an instant celebrity, but if a horned toad is capable of enjoying
star status, the glory lasted less than two years. The famous toad died of pneumonia
in January 1930.
Now that’s a real B.I.O.N.
The man who helped
spread the dubious story of Old
Rip did not get to enjoy his golden years. Born on Christmas Day 1893, Ripley
died in 1949 on live television during the 13th show of his Believe It Or Not
TV series -- B.I.O.N.
July 31, 2007 column
by Mike Cox|
Texas Ranger Tales II