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
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.
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.