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Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday Ground Up: History Comes Alive At Ripley's In Gatlinburg

Robert Ripley was an eccentric man and an avid traveler. He took the world by storm visiting far off lands and unblemished territories and cultures. Places like India and the Orient were unconventional areas for the American traveler during the 19th century, however Ripley's obsession drove him to these areas to study the local customs and speak with people in the area.

His favorite location to visit was China, and considering the amount of oddities from that particular country in the museums, it surely shows his passion for the country. Over the years, Robert Ripley collected an amazing collection of oddities and stories that serve to entertain the public even today.

“I have traveled in 201 countries and the strangest thing I saw was man”
— Robert Ripley

Reflecting on Ripley's in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The first Ripley's I ever went to was in St.Augustine Florida several years ago. From there, it spiraled into a healthy obsession for me I suppose. To explore every Ripley's Believe It Or Not around the country I could find. Of course, Kelly insisted we stay away from the nearest Ripley's while in the Smokies, however I guess my powers of persuasion were just to much for him and he caved.

I can't say I was impressed with Ripley's collection in Gatlinburg, as the historical pieces he picked up over the years were few and far between. Not to say they weren't interesting in their own right. I just think finding modern art made of toast is a bit too hokey and a little overdone. I'd rather see something rare, as this is what I expect from Ripley's.

What I did find were dinosaur bones and eggs. I'm not exactly certain they're authentic. There were also a handful of Tibetan artifacts. What I did document was a bit of history and several photos from the few artifacts present there.

Tibetan Prayer Book

The Tibetan Prayer Book is used by Buddhist Monks in the monasteries of Tibet. The writing is beautifully scribed on palm leaves and it contains prayers designated to aid an ordinary monk towards reaching nirvana. The book was discovered by Ripley in Tibet in 1936.

The Giant Tibetan Prayer Wheel

This 18th century Tibetan Prayer Wheel is the largest wheel brought out of Tibet.  Tibetan Buddhists believe spinning a wheel constitutes an act of praying. The wheel itself has an interesting history. Carried on horseback from the temple near Ladak, it contains four massive, tightly rolled cylinders of prayers, each made up of tens of thousands of wood block prints on very thin sheets of paper.

Japanese Geisa Girl Horn Hairpins

These horn hairpins are from the 19th century and were used by Japanese Geisa girls.

Prehistoric Gibeon Meteorite

The Prehistoric Gibeon Meteorite was found in Nambia at the edge of the Kalahari desert in 1836. A rare find indeed, as this particular iron meteorite is believed to have originated in the core of an asteroid or an exploding planet.

Fossilized Elephant Jaw

Believe It Or Not, this is a fossilized elephant jaw. Although elephants are known to live in Africa and Asia, they are said to have once roamed North America. Who knew!

Sauropod Nest

The Sauropod nest contains 9 fossilized dinosaur eggs found in the Hunan Province, China in 1993. The top right football shaped egg belongs to a Yangchuanosaurus (a relative of T-Rex) found in China dating to 70 million years ago.

Dinosaur Stomach Stones

One of the earliest memories I have about dinosaurs is from the Natural History museum, where a tour guide explained to be that dinosaurs had to swallow stones in order to digest their food. The stones are called "gastroliths" by paleontologists and they range in size from a soft ball or baseball to a pea.

Apatosaurus Leg Bone

The Apatosaurus, also known by the popular but obsolete synonym Brontosaurus, lived over 150 million years ago. Apatosaurus was the largest land animal that ever lived.

Final Remarks

As you can see, Ripley's historical artifacts in Gatlinburg are hardly prominent throughout the museum. I imagine this is because of the great diversity of tourists and the hundreds of kids coming through that would rather have all the bells and whistles than look at some dusty antiques. Either way, I enjoyed what they did have, but it will probably be my last time at that particular location.

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