Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Terrance Weik


Since Robert Ripley’s inception of the concept behind Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in 1918, Ripley Entertainment Inc. has continued to capture the attention of the public with their display of purportedly strange and unbelievable people, animals, and artifacts from across the globe. Using theories of categorization, Othering, materiality, the grotesque, the carnivalesque, and the gaze, this ethnographic study examines how persons and things in the company’s odditoriums are constructed as odd through the arrangement and decoration of exhibits and odditorium space and through the language used in advertisements and information panels.

I argue that Ripley’s uses similar techniques as sideshows and cabinets of curiosities in the construction of their exhibits as Other. Sideshows and other similar amusement attractions, such as world’s fairs and ethnographic expositions, were amusement attractions where live human persons were displayed in order to emphasize differences in bodies, cultures, and abilities. Cabinets of curiosities, precursors to the modern museum, were exhibitory spaces where the wealthy kept a variety of human, animal, and natural materials that they collected from around the world. Oftentimes, the contents of cabinets of curiosities were not thoroughly contextualized. At Ripley’s odditoriums, it was common to find an assortment of objects from differing cultures of origin and time periods arranged together with little contextualization.

While there is extensive scholarship on sideshows and cabinets of curiosities, there has not been an intensive study conducted on how comparable techniques of displaying persons and things manifests at Ripley’s. Furthermore, within studies of sideshows and similar attractions, there has not been a detailed examination of the role of materiality and space in the process of Othering. Thus, this study offers a holistic view of Ripley’s exhibits accounting for language, visuality, materiality, immateriality, space, and the play with senses.


© 2016, Sarah Haughenbury

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