One of my favorite parts of running this blog is hearing from folks with memories and, even better, photographs of the subjects I cover. I like the sites that pore over city records and architectural plans, but some forget that people make up a city too. In a strange parallel, I’m currently reading ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I won’t run the exact paragraph, but King makes the nice observation (in this case, for a tiny New Engand town overrun by vampires), that a city is made of three parts: the buildings, the people, and the land. Personally, I view the people as the best source of info, the buildings and the land being poor conversationalists.
Recently, I was contacted by two individuals, Page Townsley and John Mohr, who shared their memories of the museum. It’s heartening to know that bits of the original place still survive. As my original article indicated, many of the props were damaged and/or scattered hither and yon.
My name is Page Townsley and I lived at 1511 N. Wells Street in Chicago from 1969 (when I was born) until 1979. I was Googling for 70’s era photos of Old Town and stumbled across your 2013 article about the old Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum. That place was directly across the street from the building I lived in (believe that or not!) and I went in there fairly often (once all by myself!) and had many of the same surreal experiences that you did. I remember being particularly creeped out by the pair of Chinese shoes that forced women’s toes into grow into a conical point!
It was great hearing the names of all the places that were there on Wells when I lived there. I remember well Piper’s Alley, the wax museum, the Fudge Pot, Crystal Pistol, Bizarre Bazaar, Granny Goodfox and many of the other places that were in Old Town. Sadly none of those things are there anymore (except the Fudge Pot). Our old building was torn down sometime between 1994 and 2003. Condos are there now.
Anyway. thanks you for the article and the memories!
Page might be able to provide another photo of the famous faucet illusion in the museum’s foyer. Stay tuned.
John Mohr sent two e-mails, which I’ve reproduced below:
I recently ran across your article on the Chicago Ripleys Believe it or Not museum. I just wanted to let you know that Chang Tung is alive and well on the northwest side. I was lucky enough to get him when they closed down and still have the Tribune article which pictures him at the sale. He was only 100 bucks, and I have had him ever since.
Thank you for writing a great piece on the museum, it was my favorite place to go when I was young.
I included a few more pics. The one shows the newspaper article, which shows Chang at the sale. Notice the price tag hanging from the candle. The other one shows the booklets you could buy at Ripley’s. That’s Chang above the shrunken head. And maybe a better pic of Chang plugged in, you can see the flickering light from the candle. Actually, it’s the same bulb.
The lettering on the marker is all hand done. I was at work in Elk Grove Village that day, and over the radio, I forget what station, they announced they were selling off the displays at Ripley’s. I grabbed my buddy and high tailed it down to Wells street. In my mind I was hoping to get the shrunken heads and the miniatures. Unfortunately those were headed to another museum. So I grabbed Chang Tung, the spider webs still attached, and now had to figure out how to get him to my car which was three blocks away. We carried him flat, straight down Wells and the media people were filming us. I asked them not to show photos of us as we had ditched work to pull this off. They agreed and used that inside photo in their story. That’s not me looking at the price tag in the newspaper photo, I snatched him up the second that guy walked away.
You certainly can use the photos or whatever as you wish. I just wanted a piece of Chicago history and Chang Tung was a no brainer. We went there as kids with the scouts and as we got older we took our girlfriends there on dates. Always will be my favorite Chicago museum. Let me know if you do do a follow up story.