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Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium

Field review by the editors.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco's Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium is nestled among souvenir shops and tourist restaurants, a careful balance of museum-style artifacts with the modern multitasker's ache for twitchy diversion.

There are many animated contraptions: a Mirror Maze, a Kaleidoscope passageway, and a disorienting rotating tunnel of light. These lead to more sedate, moody exhibit spaces, where glass cabinets are filled with rare objects and mounted creatures, explained with Ripley's signature hand-lettered cartoons.

Every Ripley's shares certain surefire items -- the Robert Wadlow giant statue, the goofy guy who unhinges his jaw and pulls it over his nose, the exotic, distended hoop-necked woman. The animatronic freak band at the entrance in San Francisco matches one we saw at a Ripley's in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

We still object -- in principle -- to a corporation scooping up lone treasures in small towns and re-displaying them somewhere else. But many of those items might otherwise disappear, and the Ripley's chain certainly puts curiosities to work, back among the admission-paying public. Here are three that we especially liked in the renovated attraction:

When the 1989 San Francisco earthquake caused the double-deck I-880 freeway to collapse, it was grim for anyone in the pancaked vehicles caught underneath. But 90 hours after the quake, Buck Helm was pulled out alive, conscious and able to wave. The 57-year old "Lucky Buck" was hospitalized for 29 days before respiratory failure occurred and he died.

His crushed silver Chevy Sprint is a prize exhibit on the second floor at Ripley's. We recall seeing it down here before, but now the whole Loma Prieta 7.1 shaker has been boiled down to this iconic not-quite death trap.

A classic sideshow freak, aka Feejee Mermaid or Merman, is behind glass, one of only two said to be originals from P.T. Barnum's circus. It's large when compared to fiji mermaids we've seen in other collections (though the Merman at Arkansas Alligator Farm is equal or bigger). The Ripley's sign makes the case that the half-fish, half-monkey creature was "The Greatest Hoax." We don't know what they're talking about.....

A centerpiece of the new "Space Room" at Ripley's is an excruciatingly detailed replica of a Space Shuttle made of wooden matchsticks. It took creator Ken Applegate, of Clearwater, Florida, nearly 10 years to design and 12 years to build.

We were told that the room was built around it, so this is one exhibit that probably won't be on the Ripley's traveling circuit.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium

175 Jefferson St., San Francisco, CA
Fisherman's Wharf at Taylor St. and Jefferson St.
M-Th, Su 10 am - 10 pm, Sa 10 am -midnight. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Madame TussaudsMadame Tussauds, San Francisco, CA - < 1 mi.
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USS Pampanito Submarine MuseumUSS Pampanito Submarine Museum, San Francisco, CA - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Tallest Artwork in San Francisco, San Francisco, CA - 2 mi.

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