Thanks to the tourist attraction Odditoriums that bear his name scattered across North America, Robert L. Ripley has become a household name that conjures images of oddities from all over the globe.
Born in Santa Rosa, California, in 1890 LeRoy Robert Ripley was a self-taught artist who began his career at 16 years old as a sports cartoonist for several local newspapers. His talent for comics would eventually be the pathway to his “Believe It or Not” fame.
Ripley moved to New York in 1913 to write and draw for the New York Globe with a panel titled “Champs and Chumps.” It originally featured sports-related facts, but gradually Ripley started to include more and more items unrelated to sports. Eventually the title was changed to “Believe It or Not.”
One of Ripley’s notable panels, published on November 3, 1929, is sometimes credited as paving the way for “The Star-Spangled Banner” to become the national anthem of the United States of America. Though it was commonly accepted that the lyrics and tune were the national anthem, Congress had not officially officially made it so. After Ripley’s feature brought attention to the technicality, which inspired other public figures to share their opinion on the matter. The song was made the official anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.
As the feature grew more and more popular with readers, it grew from being an occasional weekly feature to an almost daily publication that was published by a variety of newspapers from all over North America. At the height of its popularity it was estimated that “Believe It or Not” was being read by daily by 80 million people. Ripley expanded his empire with a radio show of the same name as the comic, several short films, and the establishment of the famed “Odditoriums” showcasing the humorous, exotic, and unusual things Ripley had found and learned during his travels. Eventually Ripley hoped to expand to television as well, but his plans for a program were cut short by his health issues.
On May 27, 1949, Robert Ripley succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 59. He is buried alongside his parents in his hometown, leaving by a legacy of delighting in the bizarre.
Know Before You Go
Ripley's grave is located in the Santa Rose Memorial Park, which encompasses the Odd Fellows Lot Cemetery and the Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery. Ripley is buried in the LOT section, the older section with the more obvious headstones, but his resting place is closer to the newer Lawn section of the park as opposed to the adjacent Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.
Please note the memorial park is still an active cemetery/burial site so remember to be respectful and stay on all marked paths.