Believe it or not: shrunken heads attract shrunken minds

July 16, 2007

Today’s words of wisdom come from the manager at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum in Gatlinburg.  The subject is shrunken heads.  “The more hair they have, the more valuable they are,” says the guy who should know.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has a good article on the extensive holdings of Ripley’s Entertainment in Sevier County. According to the piece, Ripley’s has an “investment in Sevier County of $80 to $90 million and employs about 400 people.” A trip to the Ripley website informs the cyber visitor that “our advanced odditiorium research will allow you to find a Ripley location near you.” Odd, indeed. Ripleys has locations from coast to coast, but the most fertile ground for this cash-vacuuming operation is Gatlinburg.

In this charming town, the company operates Ripley’s Believe it or Not(!) Museum, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s Moving Theater, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini Golf, Ripley’s Super Fun Zone, and the Guinness World Records Museum. Nearby Sevierville hosts Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini Golf and another Ripley’s Super Fun Zone.

The flagship operation in Gatlinburg, however, is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which offers perhaps the most sensationalist view of underwater life on the planet. Billboards on I-40 and the website trumpet SHARKS! complete with scary-looking photos of those undersea creatures. The aquarium itself, compared to the far better Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, is a featureless tank in which bored sharks circle aimlessly while human visitors stand on a moving walkway that slowly transports them through a tunnel beneath the tank.

As H. K. Mencken put it so well, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public, and Gatlinburg and the talented Mr. Ripley’s company have every right to separate visitors from their dollars. Nonetheless, I think there is a direct correlation between the overall stupidity that so characterizes Gatlinburg and the “odditoriums” of shrunken heads that characterizes Ripley’s.

Believe it or not.


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