L. Robert Ripley was born in 1890 in California. When his father died, he dropped out of high school to support his family. He was hired to be a sports cartoonist. When his reputation grew, he moved to New York City. He was 23. Five years later, he began to produce a cartoon which would become his claim to fame.

The Believe It or Not cartoon featured oddities and was very popular. Over time, the cartoon series would be viewed by 80 million people. He received more mail than the White House. Many of the letters were suggestions for future cartoons.

Robert expanded his efforts beyond cartoons. He published a number of sports books especially handball and baseball. He became extremely wealthy when the Hearst owned King Features Syndicate ran his cartoon series in papers worldwide.

Robert began to hire researchers, artists, and others to support his cartoons. Perhaps his most famous cartoon was in 1929 when he made the claim that America had no national anthem. Congress had never designated the Star Spangled Banner as the national anthem. Two years later, Congress finally designated a national anthem.

Robert then moved to radio, short films, and even a musical. Unfortunately he died after only 13 episodes. In 1933, Robert opened his first museum, called an Odditorium, in Chicago.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not has faded in awareness of many younger Americans today. But what he created lives on with a number of internet sites such as YouTube and TikTok, which features videos of unique phenomena. We seem to have an insatiable appetite for “gaping”. We love to be astonished.

Is our love of gaping good or bad? It’s good if it fosters our curiosity to find out more. But it’s bad if the gaping is really false information. Ripley claimed that every one of his Believe It or Not cartoons were true. But with reality bending technology, can we ever be sure what we see, hear, or read is real? Even with those reality challenges, gaping remains popular and unfortunately effective in achieving a desired result.

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“Mankind, in the gross, is a gaping monster, that loves to be deceived, and has seldom been disappointed.” – Henry MacKenzie (Lawyer, Novelist)

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