Tall sto­ries and heavy facts

The ‘Be­lieve it or Not!’ ex­hi­bi­tion at V&A Wa­ter­front is an in­ter­ac­tive dis­play of the won­ders of hu­man­ity, writes Bianca Cole­man

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

THE tallest man in med­i­cal his­tory for whom there is ir­refutable ev­i­dence was Robert Per­sh­ing Wad­low, who was born in Al­ton, Illi­nois on Fe­bru­ary 22, 1918. Trag­i­cally, the young man died in 1940 at the age of 22, at which time he was 2.72m tall.

A life size wax fig­ure of Wad­low is one of the many at­trac­tions you can see at the Ri­p­ley’s Be­lieve It Or Not! ex­hi­bi­tion at the V&A Wa­ter­front. It is quite re­mark­able to stand along­side him, and to see the size of his clothes and shoes, which are also on dis­play. A tele­vi­sion screen plays footage of Wad­low.

In con­trast, a glass case at the en­trance holds the clothes worn by Mr & Mrs Tom Thumb, who were the small­est man and woman in the world at the time they lived. Mercy Lavinia War­ren Strat­ton (née Bump, Oc­to­ber 31, 1842 – Novem­ber 25, 1919) was an Amer­i­can pro­por­tion­ate dwarf and the wife of Gen­eral Tom Thumb, real name Charles Sher­wood Strat­ton (Jan­uary 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883). She was 81cm tall and weighed 13kg; her hus­band was 102cm tall and weighed a whop­ping 32kg.

Robert Ri­p­ley (1890-1949) was an ex­plorer and col­lec­tor who trav­elled the world ex­ten­sively (in­clud­ing South Africa), gath­er­ing all sorts of weird and won­der­ful facts, arte­facts, and peo­ple. Older gen­er­a­tions will re­call the news­pa­per strips – which were the only way for Ri­p­ley to doc­u­ment his finds back in the day – and later from the syn­di­cated tele­vi­sion show. With mu­se­ums all over the world, ours con­tains more than 170 au­then­tic items col­lected by Ri­p­ley, and later by the team at Ri­p­ley En­ter­tain- ment in the US, in­clud­ing skulls, shrunken heads, the most in­cred­i­ble sculp­tures in­side the eye of a nee­dle which can only be viewed through a mi­cro­scope, a piece of Mars, di­nosaur eggs, a por­trait of Michael Jack­son made from dog hair, an­other of Nel­son Man­dela cre­ated with duct tape, and as­sorted freaks and skele­tons.

The Mex­i­can Vam­pire Woman, with all her tat­toos and body modi- fi­ca­tions may look a lit­tle freak­ish and scary, but she is a real per­son called Maria Jose Cris­terna, who used to be a lawyer. Her trans­for­ma­tion came about to rep­re­sent how she felt when she was emo­tion­ally abused as a teenager.

Obe­sity is a much big­ger prob­lem now than ever be­fore, but Wal­ter Hud­son was once the world’s heav­i­est man, weigh­ing in at 635kg in 1987. He’s there too, dressed in his orig­i­nal clothes along with a list of what he ate each day.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is self-guided but there are staff mem­bers to ex­plain the fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries in more de­tail, which will en­rich the ex­pe­ri­ence. Un­like many other ex­hi­bi­tions, the tak­ing of photographs – and shar­ing on so­cial me­dia – is en­cour­aged, and even some touch­ing, which makes it truly in­ter­ac­tive.

Open daily from 9am till 9pm, the Ri­p­ley’s at­trac­tion is at the Clock Tower precinct of the V&A Wa­ter­front is an ideal day or evening out for the fam­ily. Ticket prices range from R150 to R175 on www. webtick­ets.co.za. A Hal­loween spe­cial runs un­til Oc­to­ber 31 – R150 (adults), R120 (se­niors & un­der 16s) and free for chil­dren un­der 5.

For more in­for­ma­tion go to www.rip­leyscapetown.com.

PICTURES: NEELS KLEYNHANS

Mil­lions around the world fol­low the amaz­ing state­ments of Robert L Ri­p­ley (1890-1949) ev­ery day. Called a liar more of­ten than any man who ever lived, Ri­p­ley ran­sacked 201 coun­tries around the globe in his quest for mar­vels.

The Mex­i­can Vam­pire Woman, Maria Jose Cris­terna, is the world’s most un­usual woman.

Wal­ter Hud­son, the world’s heav­i­est man at nearly 640kg in 1987.

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