'Science of Ripley's' Exhibit now at Peoria Riverfront Museum

Tim Alexander TimesNewspapers
Jaws of the shark teeth: Replica of a megalodon shark jaw — at up to 50 feet (15 m) long, the extinct shark was the largest predatory shark that ever lived (it’s also very similar to modern day sharks with its serrated teeth, bony jaw, and cartilaginous — versus bone — skeleton).

PEORIA — The hide and skeleton of a mutated, two-faced calf. A shoe worn by the tallest man on earth. A faux vintage Rolls Royce automobile — with working engine parts — comprised of over one million matchsticks. These are but a few of the world-class oddities and bizarre items on display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum through Sept. 7 as part of “The Science of Ripley’s Believe it or Not” exhibit.

The all-new, 6,000-square-foot international exhibit is making only its third road stop and exclusive Midwest appearance in Peoria, showcasing just a smattering of the items from the vast collection of oddities and anomalies belonging to the late Robert Ripley, a world-famous illustrator, explorer, world traveler, radio and television star. The exhibit is distinguished, in part, by its interactiveness. Visitors can participate in hands-on experiments, challenges and quizzes, touch specimens and artifacts, interact with high-tech computers and multimedia experiences and participate in a number of “extreme” science activities.

To add to the fun, museum officials are taking “interactive” to another level by inviting central Illinois residents to submit their own oddities for review and possible display in conjunction with Ripley’s Exhibit. In addition, the public is invited to a special Ripley’s “oddities roadshow” where they can have their unusual possessions and creations appraised by longtime Ripley’s curator, Edward Meyer.

“I can’t wait to see what people submit. Everybody’s got something in their attics; I’ve got a couple things myself,” said Ann Schmitt, vice-president of programs for the Peoria Riverfront Museum. “I think once people see what kinds of objects are in the Science of Ripley’s exhibit, they’ll say ‘I have some incredible stuff too.’ We invite them to share those objects with the public as part of the exhibit.”

Submitted objects must be no larger than 20 inches by 20 inches by 16 inches (width, depth, height). Submitters should email a photo and description of the object to oddities@peoriariverfrontmuseum.org. A submission form and instructions are available on the museum’s website.

Schmitt describes Ripley’s curator Meyer’s appearance as a “bizarre buying bazaar” resembling a more eclectic and occasionally macabre version of Antiques Roadshow.  “He invites people to bring in their weird stuff and he will do an appraisal and tell them about the object on the spot. If it’s something that would really fit well in the Ripley’s collection he’ll offer to buy it,” Schmitt said. “His website shows what his recent acquisitions are, and there is some weird stuff out there.”

Meyer will appear at the museum all day Aug. 8 and Aug. 9. He will also give a presentation at the museum at 2 p.m. Aug. 10.

In addition, through the summer the museum will offer a Ripley’s-themed series of classes, camps and programming for all ages.

“We’ll have Ripley’s Believe it or Not! camp the week of June 23. Kids are going to be doing experiments and activities investigating the science behind subjects in the exhibit. The exhibit is heavy on illusion, sleight of hand, extreme animals, biology, minerals and meteorites, and the camp will cover them all,” said Schmitt.

Science North, the Ontario museum that created The Science of Ripley’s exhibit, worked very closely with the Peoria Riverfront Museum to develop the display and plan the associated activities, according to Kristan McKinsey, Peoria Riverfront Museum curator. 

“They work very closely with museums interested in booking their upcoming shows to make sure that their displays and interactives will be of interest to the visitors. We were one of several museums that participated in a series of feedback sessions with both Science North and the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum during the planning of this show,” McKinsey said.

The Science of Ripley’s exhibit takes visitors a step further than other displays of oddball items and amazing feats, Schmitt explained. “For example, the first thing you see when you get into the heart of the exhibit is a two-faced calf. At any other venue you would simply be looking at it and saying, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it — a two-faced calf.’ 

“Here you can read about the mutation that causes the (condition ) and how it differs from a two-headed animal. One is incomplete separation of the egg and one is a malfunction of a protein that doubles the face,” Schmitt said.

Locally-submitted items intended for possible display in the Science of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! exhibit should be brought in before the end of July, Schmitt said.