Ripley's Believe It or Not -- "Witchcraft"

Saturday, 11 August 2018 15:00 Dave Truesdale

Ripley's Believe It or Not (1930-1948) aired "Witchcraft" on August 4, 1947. One would think that after 18 years of weekly, and at times bi-weekly, broadcasts that more than a miniscule few would have survived, but alas, unless others have been discovered in recent times, only a scant 25 remain, some of the 15 minute variety and others at a full-blown 30 minute length. More's the pity, for tens of millions of fans over nearly 100 years have been fascinated by the oddities Leroy Robert Riley (December 25, 1890-May 27, 1949) brought into their homes, via the original newspaper comic strip (Ripley was foremost a cartoonist), short films, many a book collecting his curiosities, or later the television shows.

Ripley was a sports enthusiast and cartoonist in his early years. Indeed, he played semi-professional baseball and by all accounts was good at it. If not for an injury, he might have played for the New York Giants. When stuck for a column once, and at the last minute and on deadline, he quickly came up for a one-off filler he called "Champs and Chumps." It proved so popular that he was asked to do more of this oddball sort of feature. It evolved rapidly into "Ripley's Believe It or Not!," and we know the rest of the story. William Randolph Hearst paid Ripley $100,000 in 1929 to write for his King Features syndicated newspapers, which at that time was a fortune (and not bad by today's standards either), and no less than Warner Bros. paid him a gargantuan $350,000 at about the same time for a series of short film features. This allowed Ripley to indulge his "hobby" as an amateur anthropologist and travel the world, collecting, drawing, filming, photographing, and writing about all of the things he would bring home to America--the entrepeneur in him brought to full flower. One could write volumes about the jovial Robert Ripley and spend weeks if not months poring over his photos and written exploits from all over the globe, but a few highlights will have to suffice us for now.

Sold his first cartoon to Life magazine in 1908.

December 1922 he takes his first trip around the world, cataloging everything in his journal.

In 1926 he becomes the New York handball champion.

July 1929 sees his first installment of Ripley's Believe It or Not! in William Randolph Hearst's newpapers nationwide. The feature would eventually end up in over 300 newspapers in 33 countries.


April 1930 Ripley's debuts on radio.

In 1930 William Randolph Hearst funds Ripley's world travels, where Ripley "records live radio shows from underwater, the sky, caves, snake pits and foreign countries."

1933 sees the first of what would be many museums devoted to objects Ripley has accumulated from his world travels. They were named "Odditoriums" and they spread like wildfire in many cities across the country, eventually being erected in a number other countries as well, such was their worldwide appeal. The first such Odditorium premiered at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago (photo below).

In 1934 Ripley does the first radio show simulcast around the world and uses numerous translators for different countries receiving the broadcast.

1937: Peanuts creator Charles Schultz (age 15 as Ripley's assistant) sees his first published drawing for Ripley's Believe It or Not!.

In 1946 Ripley purchases a Chinese junk.

1947 saw Rip purchase his third home, this one in West Palm Beach, Florida.

1948 marks the final episode of the long-running radio show and a gala party is held in New York City. Ripley is now interested in television.

May 27, 1949 Ripley dies of a heart attack shortly after, and while on the set of, the 13th telecast of his new TV show.

{Below: A few random examples from Ripley's travels.}

[Left: His one-eyed dog Cyclops. Center: Elephant armor. Right: A pair of human oddities.]



This episode, "Witchcraft," is of the 15-minute variety and relates several stories concerning witches and witchcraft in the New England area during the witch-hunting fervor that overtook the area in the late 17th century. One such story is told at some length and recounts the plight of a woman who was judged guilty of practicing witchcraft and was sentenced to death, but by a strange twist of fate survived and by so doing put an end to all further witch trials.

As all good Dimension X and X Minus One radio fans know, Ernest Kinoy (1925-2014) and George Lefferts (June 18, 1921-    , photo below from 2011) adapted previously published SF stories for these programs and wrote a few of the original tales themselves. What fans of these two SF series may not know is that George Lefferts also wrote Ripley's Believe It or Not! episodes, including the one you are about to hear. Believe it, or not.

Play Time: 14:56


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.