Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium Atlantic City, New Jersey

Strolling along the boardwalk in Atlantic City is like being in an giant adult funhouse. Flashing bright lights, strange motifs, and kitschy decor is found everywhere. It's very easy to get caught up in the glitz and instant gratification. Casinos designed to make you conjure up images of being in an exotic location. And just as quickly as you become immersed in all this action, you realize its all an illusion.

As my dreams of instant millions flutter by with every pull on the slot handle, every card that passes my hand, or every spin on the red and black wheel. The mirage is unveiling itself. I'm not in the wild west, a Mississippi delta showboat, a palace built by Caesar, and no where near the actual Taj Mahal. It's all a fantasy. I'm being bamboozled, the only ones making millions are those collecting my change from the machines. Dazed and hazed I follow the psychedelic carpet searching for light from a natural source and not a neon bulb. Back out onto the boardwalk I become refreshed with clean air and sunshine. The salty ocean air breathes life back into me, opens my senses, reality begins to come back.

As the wooden 2x4s pass below my toes, I recognize a building with the Earth crashed in on it. Seems fitting in a town where so many peoples own world's came crashing in on them. Loss of homes, jobs, and life savings all for the dream of the big jackpot. But I also see a shark hanging out front, and a Statue of Liberty replica. I need a reality check, I head inside the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium.

Entering the doorway, I see the world's largest tire conveniently placed next to the world's smallest car. There's even a Michael Jordan sculpture, made of Michael Jordans. I even find myself next to a life like statue of the tallest man to ever live. My 6'2" stature pales in comparison to the man who stood over 8 feet tall. Moving along I become greeted by other strange characters. The "crocodile man" flashes a horrific smile, and a man dubbed the "unicorn man" vacantly stares into the ether. Around the corner a bevy of creatures awaits me. Animals with extra limbs are quite prevalent, while other rare oddities are spotted about. The furry fish hangs proudly like a trophy trout, a Fiji mermaid glares at you behind glass, and the Garden States most notorious creature, the Jersey Devil, is even featured. Surprises are hidden around corner of this place. Optical illusions are placed all around, keeping your brain on edge so you realize not all is what it seems.

Along the way I find numerous strange items, such as a vampire killing kit (I totally want one) a shrunken head, as well as  numerous medieval weapons and torture devices. Tribal pieces from rituals and rites of passage are predominantly placed throughout the obscure museum. Displayed proudly about are also several pieces of varied artwork. Clothing made from bottle caps, art designed using jellybeans as a medium, sculptures made of nails, and structures built from matchsticks. There's even wax figures of unfortunate people who survived seemingly impossible mishaps.

Exclusive to the Odditorium in Atlantic City is a masterwork of craftsmanship, dedication, and obsession. New Jersey native George Tamasco dedicated 30 years of his life hand carving a french chateau replica, complete with 21 rooms. Including a cathedral, a parlor room, a kitchen, and even a billiards room. The attention to detail is painstaking. Experts from around the world have been marveled by the meticulous handwork and artwork of this relatively unknown artist. It's truly something that needs to be seen to completely appreciate the complexity of the piece.

What I found to be the strangest thing about the Odditorium, is that in a town like Atlantic City where everything seems to be an illusion. A false dream dangled right before your eyes, I had to come here to find a piece of reality.

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