If you are in Saint Augustine and you are into the odd, unusual or just down right weird then perhaps you may want to pay a visit to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, where weird is their specialty.
Robert Ripley had a knack for collecting the weird and unusual on his extensive travels throughout the world and after his death in 1949 his family wanted a special place to honor his memory and display his collection.
In the years prior to his death, Mr. Ripley had been a guest at Saint Augustine’s Warden Castle which was built in 1887 and was the the winter retreat home of William Warden. Mr Warden was a wealthy man and a business associate of John D. Rockefeller and had built an elaborate castle to show status and the castle became a centerpiece of wintertime social activity in Saint Augustine through the 1930’s. Mr Ripley was so enthralled with the castle on his visit that he expressed an interest in purchasing it. In 1950, one year after Robert Ripley’s passing the family purchased Warden Castle and the first Ripley’s believe It or Not Museum came into being as a fitting monument to the man who became well known for his promotion of the odd.
Housed in the Saint Augustine Believe It or Not museum are strange and unusual items collected from all over the world. From shrunken heads to exhibits depicting freaks of nature to displays demonstrating medieval torture techniques.
Some exhibits leave you scratching your head and asking yourself, Why? like the replica of the International Space Station made out of match sticks. Other exhibits may leave you a little queasy, like the insect cuisine display and a vending machine where you can actually purchase a bag of bugs for your snacking pleasure.
There are displays of contortionist and sword swallowing entertainers and examples of bizarre customs practiced around the globe. There are tales of events that have happened throughout history that are so unbelievable that you really do have to ask yourself if you “believe it or not”?
Even with all the weird, crazy and outlandish stuff in this building the most interesting and bizarre may be the building itself. Before the Ripley heirs acquired Warden Castle the building was sold to wealthy hotelier Norton Baskin and his wife, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In 1941 The couple renovated Warden Castle and converted it into a lavish hotel. Tragedy struck the hotel in April 1944 when, as it is believed, a carelessly discarded cigarette started a fire in which 2 women perished. It has been said that over the years since the fire that mysterious figures have appeared in windows and there are many claims of sightings of a ghostly appearance of a woman on the fourth floor.
Curious? Ripley’s original Believe It or Not is located at 19 San Marco Avenue in Saint Augustine Florida and package tickets for Red Train Tours and Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure are also available.
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