Interview with Edward Meyer, Vice President of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
By: Anna Faktorovich
For over 38 years Edward Meyer, Vice President of Exhibits & Archives for Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, has traveled around the world collecting unusual stories and unbelievable artifacts to fill Believe It or Not! books and museums. He is a walking encyclopedia of information, some strange, some gross – but all true! He has acquired over 20,000 different museum artifacts, everything from a pin valued at $1 million dollars, to a two-trunked elephant, to Marilyn Monroe’s lingerie, to Lee Harvey Oswald’s mortuary toe tag, to a meteorite from Mars. The list is endless. Editor of the famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not! newspaper syndicated cartoon, producer of countless Ripley museum films, and a researcher for over 200 hundred Ripley television shows, Meyer has appeared on radio and television programs around the world as the Ripley historian and raconteur, the man with the world’s best job!
Faktorovich: You mentioned in an email exchange we had earlier that you’ve had some success with publishing Ripley’s Believe It or Not! books in the last decade or so in-house as opposed to using an outside publisher, can you explain what changed since the turn of the millennium that might have made it easier for a publisher to sell, publicize or produce books in-house?
Meyer: This would be a better question for Norm Deska, our VP of Intellectual property, as whatever success we have had has come under his direction. Prior to Norm in 2000, I personally didn’t have much success. Both from Norm’s success and my failure, the direct short answer to your question is “distribution”– I failed to get it; Norm succeeded. The other big difference is having our own in-house design team, made possible by technological changes in office equipment and programs. Having not just one designer, but a team, has allowed us to experiment with different “lines” of product, allowing us to find our niche and explore what we do well and not being buried by what doesn’t work as well… The department is a lot bigger than it was in the eighties and nineties when I was trying, so staffing and other resources having been thrown at the department has a direct tie to our successes in this millennium.
Faktorovich: You started at Ripley’s around thirty years after the death of its founder Robert Ripley in 1949. For readers who aren’t familiar with Ripley’s history: Robert Ripley’s brother Douglas Ripley held control of the company for a short while, before John Arthur (who bought the bulk of Robert’s artifacts at the estate sale, and was a wealthy New York businessmen) and his manager, Doug Storer, took over the company, and this led to various book, museum and other successful projects for this reborn Ripley’s. The business was then transferred to T. Alec Rigby’s control in 1969, who helped bring in new visitors to a growing number of museums with a new television series that started in 1982. You joined in 1978, shortly before the series started and took off, when the company was still comparatively small. You said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel: “After a couple of years, very significantly, during the big gas crisis/economic crisis of the early ’80s, the company downsized. Two or three people lost their jobs, and the two or three people who were left got new responsibilities.” Then, the company was purchased by the Jim Pattison Group in 1985, and “franchise” museums (that have a right to borrow items from your warehouse) started opening and the culture became more corporatized, so that you were building a $140 million complex near Niagara Falls in 2004. So, the question is: Ripley personally led the radio, TV, and print ventures of the company and his personality dominated the brand…
Meyer: Not 100% true—he was not what I would call as visionary—he always had a business manager, and accountants, and lawyers etc.—if asked he would have said he was just a cartoonist.
Faktorovich: You mentioned in our email exchange that sometimes there is a thin line between your own persona and the memory of Ripley’s legacy or the identity that he imprinted on the company…
Meyer: In the eye of the beholder, but then again some people think Mr. Ripley is still alive!
Faktorovich: You’ve edited Ripley’s newspapers, produced films and have otherwise taken over a lot of the functions that Ripley was responsible for when he was still alive. Do you think a corporation has a better chance of surviving across centuries beyond the life of the founder when there is a strong leader like yourself taking control and coming up with new ideas instead of simply continuing previous projects? Where do you hope to take Ripley’s in the coming decades? Did you have a hand in the fiscal triumphs Ripley’s has had since you started, or would you have preferred if the company had remained a privately held business that focused on only the projects that Robert Ripley started?
Meyer: I believe a company of any sort has to have strong leadership, and a “public face”, someone who speaks for, and is associated by the public, with the brand. As a historian I love Robert Ripley and hope he will always be a big part of our brand, but growth is critical to survival and existence. There has to be new ideas, directions and flexibility to adapt to external changes in order to survive. I have had a hand in most of the projects we have done since I joined the company, but I don’t think I can take any credit for getting us into them. Most of the non-Believe It or Not! brands (or attractions) we have today are the direct result of the visions of our presidents, past and current, and our owner. For example, on a day to basis I was very involved in all three of our TV series during my career, but I had nothing to do with getting us into these series in the first place.
Faktorovich: Do you ever feel intimidated when you jump into a completely new role, such as when you started producing museum films?
Meyer: Not really. I have great faith in my skills, and know when I need help. I have never been given a task I wasn’t willing to try, nor one I wasn’t willing to give to someone more qualified to do.
Faktorovich: Did you read books about producing?
Meyer: Nothing specific.
Faktorovich: Did you hire a co-producer to explain what the job entails?
Meyer: Not specifically, but called in experts at different levels as needed.
Faktorovich: Your background, I believe, was in librarian sciences before you started at Ripley’s. Did you think you would be producing, editing, and doing all of these other fun projects you’ve gotten to do at Ripley’s when you started there?
Meyer: Definitely not; I wanted to be a writer, and still do…
Faktorovich: What was the job title and job description that you signed up for at the beginning?
Meyer: Summer student—gopher to licensing department, which was 12-16 weeks of cataloging cartoons.
Faktorovich: So you started in “cataloging cartoons,” and I think later you were a “cartoon editor.” Was there even a week when cataloging was all you were doing?
Meyer: Definitely, at least a few; I did get a couple plum assignments in my first year, but I was still predominantly dealing with cartoon cataloguing for my first 4 years, then editing for 2-3 more before I got involved in exhibit acquisitions. I was quite involved in our first big TV series—Jack Palance on ABC (1980-86), but only as researcher, using my knowledge of the cartoon to source subjects for the show.
Faktorovich: What did you think your career at Ripley’s would look like?
Meyer: Probably safe to say I was not thinking of a career at all at first, then, in ’82, I had visions of being an editor and a writer when we first started self-publishing. In the mid-80s when the company’s focus became more on museums, is when I first saw a real opportunity for a career.
Faktorovich: When and why did your roles expand into what they are today?
Meyer: At least three key factors: What started as a little project with a TV pilot, became a major part of my life when we got a weekly syndicated TV series. By this time (1982) the foundation of the cataloguing of the cartoons was done, and this was the first chance to show off what I had done that could lead the company into other successful third party licensing projects (utilization of the company’s then biggest asset—50 years of cartoons and stories–photos would come later…). Second, American economics (gas-shortage Depression era) at about the same time caused downsizing in the company, which led through attrition to me becoming involved in the exhibit/attraction part of our business… Then, the biggest change, came in 1985, 7 years into my career, when the new owner of Ripley’s—Jim Pattison Sr.—gave our company the direction to grow, expand and franchise our then two brands. This in turn led the then president of the company, John Withers, to ask me to become the guy to purchase more new exhibits in the vein of Robert Ripley, in order for the company to fulfill the owner’s wish to build more company-owned odditoriums as well as expand into franchising. A bit long winded, but still just a synopsis—hopefully this answers the question.
Faktorovich: It does, thank you. What is your research like when you’re trying to decide on a new artifact to buy for one of your museums or to add to one of your books or other projects?
Meyer: Obviously, it depends on what the object is. Some items need a lot of research, many don’t. It depends on whether the object is in my realm of knowledge already.
Faktorovich: How do you decide what, out of all the weird things in the world, is particularly unbelievable?
Meyer: Research and guess work—gut feel based on experience is the starting point.
Faktorovich: How do you find out what is most unbelievable?
Meyer: Research—today… mainly on the internet, but interviews are always helpful. First hand sources are always good to have.
Faktorovich: You mentioned, in the AtlasObscura interview, that most people contact you, as in when a two-headed cow is born. Do you also search for oddities on YouTube?
Faktorovich: Do you follow international news?
Meyer: Yes—we look everywhere.
Faktorovich: Do you find this information in obscure books?
Meyer: Yes—this was crucial in Ripley’s lifetime under the auspices of Norbert Pearlroth, reader and researcher supreme, but the internet today fulfills this role.
Faktorovich: Do you query doctors, hospitals, zoos, or some other type of sources?
Meyer: All of the above when necessary—if we need a subject-expert (specialist), we find one to comment. People frequently are amazed that I have a “person for that”—somenone I can call on for just about any subject.
Faktorovich: If you mostly let oddities find you, what if you’re missing out on the type of really new oddities that Ripley found on his travels?
Meyer: Obviously a dilemma, but trust me, Ripley found a lot more things in the library than on his travels—his travels were well organized trips to prove what he had already been alerted to in the majority of cases… Also, I do actually do a fair bit of travel, certainly more than the average person… so we still physically go looking too.
Faktorovich: Somebody had to go out there to find the first shrunken head?
Meyer: Again, true, but in this case, Ripley learned about shrunken heads from a 1923 National Geographic Magazine article—he simply went to Peru in 1925 to buy one… We are a much bigger company now than during Ripley’s day—a lot more eyes looking and a lot more people travelling… and of course, travel is a lot easier today than in the 1930s… what may have taken him a week, now takes just hours, what took six months might be done in a week now.
Faktorovich: Do you run a costs-and-benefits analysis when you’re considering buying a pin for $1 million or “John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce for $2 million”? I mean, wouldn’t you have to know that the pin is of such widespread interest around the world that it would bring in over $1 million in revenue if you added it to one of your collections?
Meyer: Well first, we have a pin worth a million dollars, but that doesn’t mean we paid that much for it. Negotiation is a huge part of my job. We probably aren’t as scientific as casinos are in measuring everything by the square foot of real-estate, but we wouldn’t buy anything if we didn’t think people were going to pay to see it. We definitely have to have a return on our capital investments, and we definitely look at experience, and do weigh cost-benefits.
Faktorovich: Do you have discretion over what you purchase, so that you don’t have to prove that any given object will bring in more than what you’re paying for it?
Meyer: No—we make important decisions by committee.
Faktorovich: I believe you mentioned that you do some surveys to find out if visitors in your museums are still interested in Marilyn Monroe or other personalities you’re thinking of buying artifacts of?
Meyer: Yes, formal and informal.
Faktorovich: But, probably, few people want to fill out a survey…
Meyer: You might be surprised! People love to voice their opinions.
Faktorovich: Have you considered a more innovative approach to gathering statistics on changing tastes?
Meyer: Yes, we have and we do—charettes and focus groups are used in most major decisions, and website interaction plays an enormous role.
Faktorovich: Have you ever made a really terrible purchase that you regretted afterwards or that had some bad repercussions for you or Ripley’s?
Meyer: No one is perfect, but Nothing terrible.
Faktorovich: For example, have you ever bought a fake?
Faktorovich: Did you get a refund?
Faktorovich: Please describe this experience.
Meyer: I made a mistake… but we made lemonade from the lemon… we came up with a “Spot the Not” exhibit—let the patrons find the fake within the real…
Faktorovich: How did you acquire the “taxidermied head of an elephant with two trunks”? Did you find a live elephant that was about to die and then taxidermied it?
Meyer: It was legally culled for its ivory. We bought the carcass and had it taxidermied. We also had it DNA tested to confirm authenticity since we only saw photos of the elephant, not the live version.
Faktorovich: Where did you find it?
Meyer: Through a licensed hunter and taxidermist.
Faktorovich: How uncommon is it for an elephant to have two trunks?
Meyer: One of a kind!
Faktorovich: Why were you (and NPR, which reported on this find, as well as other news sources) more interested in an elephant with two trunks versus let’s say one with three ears?
Meyer: I would be very interested in an elephant with three ears… or virtually any other abnormality.
Faktorovich: Why is it only the head?
Meyer: LOL—the price of taxidermy! Didn’t need the rest of the elephant to tell the story—probably saved $50,000 dollars both in transportation and taxidermy costs…
Faktorovich: Where’s the rest of that elephant?
Meyer: Long gone—somewhere in Africa…
Faktorovich: I’m just trying to visualize what the trip and the process of acquiring and displaying the two trunked head was like. I hope you can describe it.
Meyer: Over a year from start to finish—started with a middle of the night phone call from a complete stranger in Africa… head was preserved in Texas, DNA tested in Pennsylvania… first displayed in San Antonio, then Baltimore, now NYC. I did not personally go to Africa. I sent the taxidermist to determine if it was possible to use/preserve the carcass before we spent money on the carcass.
Faktorovich: I also saw in the NPR story about the head that you have an enormous warehouse (10,000+ items) in Orlando that houses priceless artifacts before you place them in one of your museums. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for you to place all of your acquisitions immediately?
Meyer: Perfect world scenario, yes—but physically impossible.
Faktorovich: Why would you have such a massive backlog of items that you haven’t placed yet?
Meyer: So when we build a brand new museum we have enough to fill it. This is critical to franchising. No one would buy a franchise without knowing at least the key pieces that will go into it… also, older items go out of fashion and are no longer deemed “unbelievable” so they are warehoused.
Faktorovich: Are there more artifacts than museums to put them in, or do you collect items and then let individual museum directors pick which items they want in their displays?
Meyer: Considerably more artifacts than museums. “Directors” (“managers” in our vernacular) run the odditoriums. Virtually all decisions on what to display and where, are made by myself, the president, and our VP of Design and Development. The manager might ask for general topics, but very seldom “specific” pieces…
Faktorovich: Are there other Ripley’s employees purchasing items or are you the only current active buyer?
Meyer: Only one other full-time person, my associate, Angela Johnson, but virtually everyone in our company has made a purchase at some time. Everyone is encouraged to be on the lookout, then, through me, they are given the okay to buy or not.
Faktorovich: What are the difficulties of storing such sensitive items as an elephant head? Is there a risk of decomposition, infestation, theft or other disasters?
Meyer: All of the above… but in the case of the elephant head, it is far too significant an item to stay in storage long…
Faktorovich: Have you had any negative experiences that you can describe?
Meyer: Bugs are our biggest threat.
Faktorovich: I’m thinking about this because I was just reading about the dozen fires the Harper brothers had in their printing establishments due to the flammable printing materials they were using, and I’m curious how you keep such a large warehouse sterile and orderly.
Meyer: We had a significant warehouse fire in 1979—before I was involved, and we also had a significant fire in a museum in 1991. We limit who goes in our warehouse and who can touch exhibits. We have regular bug inspections and sprayings, and we do our best to handle with care… I wouldn’t say we are “sterile,” but order is kept by establishing rules and sticking to them. Everything is computer catalogued. People can do most of what they need to by looking at a computer screen rather than handling the actual artifacts.
Faktorovich: You mentioned that Robert Ripley left behind five diaries, considering that he published so many stories about his travels, why didn’t he publish a memoir or the contents of these diaries while he was still alive?
Meyer: Probably because they were used as sources for individual stories, so that he didn’t think they needed to be published as-written—hard to say as I don’t think anyone ever asked him directly—maybe considered them too personal?
Faktorovich: Why haven’t they been released yet?
Meyer: Good question… maybe someday…
Faktorovich: …Considering that the postmortem copyrights term probably passed or will pass shortly?
Meyer: You might know something I don’t, but if and when they are published they would be copyrighted from the date of publication, not from when written.
Faktorovich: …It seems like it would be an interesting book for fans of Ripley’s.
Meyer: I believe so… our 100th anniversary is coming up soon… the time might then be right… In general, it is probably safe to say there is more money in other mediums than books… these diaries are crucial to other plans the company has… you might say, I am saving them for a rainy day. (FYI: I almost published them in 1998-9, and still hope to be around when the right time comes…)
Faktorovich: Do you do any drawings or have you attempted to describe the adventures you’ve had on your oddity-hunting trips in newspaper articles or the like?
Meyer: I have been interviewed many times, in several countries, both formal and informal. You have clearly researched several articles about, or, with me already, so you know there are stories out there… I am a diarist and have documented many of my experiences. I even recently did a couple blogs. I hope to someday publish some of my stories, but still might want someone else to do the dirty work. (I like to talk, so dictating might be the way I go). I have no drawings, but I do have photos.
Faktorovich: Why not?
Meyer: Too busy, and too lazy at the same time—still hunting and creating more stories, and too lazy to write when I am at home—projects for retirement…
Faktorovich: Has there been one trip into a unique part of the world that you can share that was particularly dangerous, adventurous or odd?
Meyer: China was my favorite… But, other than eating things I shouldn’t, I don’t deliberately do danger… I collapsed in India from heat stroke on my second day in the country giving a tour to about 50 people and spent several hours in a hospital followed by several more in bed—by far the most scary thing that has happened (not just the illness, but the Indian hospital too!)… An experience in a Mexican hospital where my associate, not I, was the patient, was also particularly harrowing… but sorry, no stories of snake bites, malaria, chased by warriors, imprisoned by militants in my travels etc… In China, I took a 10-hour bus trip alone with no idea what I was doing and not speaking the language, but aside from someone barbecuing a duck on a small burner in the bus, nothing really memorable happened… Bathrooms are probably the scariest things I have had to face…
Faktorovich: Did you take any voice training or acting lessons to start appearing in Ripley’s radio and television programs?
Meyer: No—but in another life, I wanted to be a DJ. I like to talk and from an early age always volunteered to do speaking parts…
Faktorovich: Why did you get this part of the job instead of a celebrity of some sort?
Meyer: Really interesting and original question… Not sure there is a real answer: A) I like doing it, B) I think I am good at it… but maybe C) when the ABC Jack Palance show was on (1980-6) a lot of people thought Jack was Ripley, and that he spoke for our company. But in fact, he was only ever in two of our odditoriums and never in our office… He was a big name actor—a hired gun who knew nothing about our odditoriums or our books. We were a little worried that he would become bigger than us and would be asked about things he had no idea of. The more his name was in the news, the more we felt we had to have another spokesperson to deal with the other branches of our company beyond TV.
Faktorovich: I mean, few other corporations feature their Vice President in so many media appearances (of course Ripley started this tradition by acting in his own shows).
Meyer: Not sure that Ripley’s personal history was a consideration, but maybe subliminally…
Faktorovich: Was an acting talent on your list of job qualifications when you stepped into your current role?
Meyer: No, but I was given specific instructions to keep the company’s name in the media when I first became a VP in 1984, and I have worked hard at doing so ever since. It helps that I am not shy, and that I love what I do…
Faktorovich: Do you think all Vice Presidents have to love the limelight and should have the capacity to step in front of the camera?
Meyer: Not at all—people should do what they are good at. The best managers (VP’s) should know who to throw into the “limelight” as the need arises. Most companies probably have a PR person rather than a VP to speak—but I guess you can call me lucky… I enjoy doing it, so I get called on a lot…
Faktorovich: What do you like the most about living and/or working in Orlando?
Meyer: The weather in the winter.
Faktorovich: And the least?
Meyer: The weather in the summer.
Faktorovich: Has Ripley’s ever considered moving again, this time to some even more exotic location?
Meyer: Not that I am aware of.
Faktorovich: Why did Ripley’s choose Orlando when it moved there, and is that reason as intact today as it was at the time?
Meyer: Well it wasn’t the first choice, but the fact that other major attractions were already here, was the main reason we came here. This made it a very good, logical choice. It definitely worked out. Orlando used to fight with a few other places, but in the time we have been here, it has definitely become the attractions capital of the world.
Faktorovich: If you could (or have) work anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Meyer: On a dock on a little lake with good fishing… maybe a mountain in the background… in the summer. And on a dock on an island with an ocean and a sunset in the winter… People for the most part live where they can find work. There is not too many hardships about working in Orlando, but 23 years ago it was my wife who convinced me to move—I wasn’t sure, and it took about three years before I was comfortable with the decision… I still go “home” at least once a year… But unfortunately, Kerourac was right…
Faktorovich: I saw on your website that you’re buying hand-painted cockroaches.
Meyer: Haven’t bought one for a few years.
Faktorovich: …I just killed a cockroach in my house earlier today. If I preserve the next one I see and paint on it, how much do you think you could give me for it?
Meyer: Don’t give up you day job, you won’t get rich, or famous from painting/selling bugs. FYI: I have also bought painted beetles, painted dragonflies and even painted ants—the price varies according to size (the smaller the more expensive) and also of course—quality—we have a phenomenal Mona Lisa on a cockroach… Show me and I will gladly give an appraisal.
Faktorovich: How would you appraise the value of my art?
Meyer: Compare it to what I already have—of course!
Faktorovich: You also mentioned you might be interested in buying a travelogue that Ripley supposedly published in the early twenties, but that you’ve never seen any proof of. How much would that go for?
Meyer: Ripley books are sought after by fans and collectors but don’t typically demand high prices unless autographed. His first two books sold very well in multiple editions so they are by no stretch of the imagination rare, despite their age (87 and 85 years old respectively), but since I have all of them except possibly one, the one you allude to—I am not the first person you should typically try to sell a Ripley book to. If this mystery book does in deed exist, the price would still most likely be in the hundreds, not thousands—at least to me, as I have the manuscript…
Faktorovich: What do you base your appraisals on in these types of unique circumstances?
Meyer: Supply and demand—and uniqueness—and of course WOW factor—just how unbelievable is it? I am of course talking about exhibits here, not books that would be an archive, and not an odditorium purchase. For books, I usually horse trade rather than purchase…
Faktorovich: In a video for PBS’s American Experience, you showed yourself playing around inside the world’s smallest jet, parked in your warehouse. Have you or anybody else ever attempted flying this tiny jet?
Meyer: No—we bought it without its engine.
Faktorovich: Was it safe, and if so, why didn’t somebody try to make a similar tiny jet for a wider audience? I mean, it would be a lot cheaper and more convenient for average Americans to buy a jet if it came in mini-size, like small cheap cars.
Meyer: A limited number have been made, and been flown. Yes, it is safe. The significance of ours is not just the size but the James Bond film provenance.
Faktorovich: Why wouldn’t you display something like this to the public?
Meyer: We do—it now hangs from the ceiling in our NYC odditorium. I don’t think it was in our warehouse more than a couple weeks. PBS just happened to visit when it was here. Things go in and out of our warehouse very frequently—our goal is to display them, not to store them…
Faktorovich: Yes, as I thought, the big museums in DC would’ve put something like this on public display.
Meyer: There is one in the Air & Space Museum in San Diego—probably one in the Smithsonian too… but you can still buy one yourself if you wish—just not a James Bond film used one…
Faktorovich: In the PBS interview you mentioned that John Arthur bought as much of Ripley’s artifacts as he could when Ripley died and this was what started Ripley’s as the company it is today. John Arthur “opened the first permanent Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium in St. Augustine, FL” in 1950. In contrast, previously, these were primarily temporary exhibits at world fairs where they garnered the maximum audiences.
Meyer: Correct—there were temporary shows in Chicago, San Diego, Dallas, Cleveland, San Francisco and New York—as well as travelling trailer shows during Ripley’s lifetime. In the fifties, there was St Augustine, followed by NYC—and temporary shows on the Jersey coast, Miami, and Las Vegas. The second permanent show was in NYC, followed a few years later by Niagara Falls—this was how we became a Canadian company.
Faktorovich: I watched a documentary about the shrunken heads where the curators were discussing the ethics of buying a human head, which might have been chopped off an unwilling victim, or might just be somebody’s remains. I think you also mentioned a tray made out of a human skull in the PBS clip. Are you at all concerned about the moral, ethical, religious, or other matters connected with displaying human remains?
Meyer: Yes very much so.
Faktorovich: Have you had any protests against your exhibits similar to animal rights demonstrators?
Meyer: One—a NA Indian scalp which was removed from display.
Faktorovich: How do you defend the choice to include human remains in Ripley’s collections?
Meyer: Educational, scientific and historical cultural significance—but this is not typically something we get questioned about—only thrice in my 38 years…
Faktorovich: What goes into your decision to buy this sort of an artifact?
Meyer: Is it unbelievable, will people be interested in seeing it, is it something a museum should preserve for future generations…
Faktorovich: In a story in AtlasObscura there’s a mention of Robert Ripley including “human oddities like ‘the owl man’ Martin Laurello, who could turn his head 180 degrees” in his earliest shows, but it mentioned that today Ripley’s uses very few living human displays. How do you feel about sword swallowers?
Meyer: Personally? I have seen too many to get excited, but most people haven’t so we will continue to feature them each year on National Sword Swallowers day in February, as long as people keep coming to see them.
Faktorovich: Why would it be more questionable to display a living “owl man” versus a dead shrunken head?
Meyer: It wouldn’t be in my mind. Probably a bad example by you—Laurello is a stunt versus a deformity. The public loves stunts—things that amaze them, that they can’t imagine anybody doing; deformities are not the same thing (you are not comparing apples to apples) in anybody’s view.
Faktorovich: Is there a demand for shrunken heads or other items of human origin?
Meyer: Absolutely. Shrunken heads and mummies are two of the most popular things in our odditoriums and in other museums as well. Mummies are probably the number one (maybe number two, tied with dinosaurs) things that got me interested in museums in the first place.
Faktorovich: Do you have to reject requests for living human displays?
Meyer: Not sure what the question is? But I will not buy German concentration camp items, and there certainly has been other human body part items offered to me that I have declined.
Faktorovich: You mentioned in AtlasObscura that among the people you hate are customs agents.
Meyer: That was said totally tongue in cheek. Note, I said I don’t like accountants and lawyers either; your bringing it up makes me wince.
Faktorovich: Is it illegal to bring in some food or previously living objects across country borders, and wouldn’t human or animal remains and other oddities potentially fall into this category.
Meyer: We play by all the rules. We do not transport anything illegal.
Faktorovich: Can you describe the biggest problem you’ve had with customs agents?
Meyer: Finding out something we had for years can no longer be moved or displayed. We have inventory from Ripley’s original collection that now has to sit in a warehouse.
Faktorovich: Did they simply levy extreme high fees on the item in question, or was there a case where they outright did not allow something to come into the United States or a different country that one of your items was traveling to?
Faktorovich: In the same article, you discuss how some compromising photos of Ripley in an iron maiden torture device went missing from an archive. Is one of the reasons you said you’d rather give me digitized versions of items in the archives versus granting me access to visit the archives because there’s a risk I might steal artifacts or intellectual property?
Meyer: Yes, possible theft is always an issue (damage is a bigger one)—we restrict our own employees, never mind the media—but more, because I still don’t understand the nature of your request! I give escorted tours of our warehouse all the time, and a quick looks at our archives too, but we only allow paying customers to peruse the archives at their leisure—PBS for example.
Faktorovich: I don’t mind if this is the case; I’m just curious if this is one of your concerns when the media asks you for access to the archive.
Meyer: The archives and the warehouse are two very distinctly different things… I don’t think the media has ever asked to see the archives—only researchers and writers who are paying us for the use of our intellectual property. We invite the media to look at, and hopefully write about specific exhibits in our warehouse all the time. If you were to enter a legal contract with us to write a book about Ripley’s travel dairies for example we would of course grant you access to them—I might even let you work in my office!
Faktorovich: Wow, thank you for the offer, I don’t have the funds to match PBS in paying you for access though, but maybe we can split profits. Do you have any advice for the new generation of newly graduated hopeful librarians?
Meyer: Learn to speak a second language—preferably Spanish.
Faktorovich: Should they look into archiving cartoons as their first job?
Meyer: LOL, probably not too many opportunities. But, by all means, take a job cataloguing any kind of collection, big or small. My first job was cataloguing blue prints for an oil refinery; my second was working in a medical library—neither were things I had a passion for, but they both taught me usable skills for later in life. The best advice I can give is to find something they are passionate about and go at it with full force—more than 100%.
Faktorovich: What advice would you give the young you if you met yourself when you were fresh out of college?
Meyer: Patience—good things come to good people and to people who work hard.
Faktorovich: Thank you for participating in this interview.
Meyer: You’re welcome.