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Janet Urquhart: What we need, believe it or not

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Jackson Hole, ask stupid questions like, “So, where is this hole?” That way, everyone will know you’re a tourist.

But in case there’s any doubt, when in Jackson, do as the tourists do – visit Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum.

Jackson Hole and Aspen are both ski resorts. The similarities pretty much end there. As a first-time visitor to Jackson last week, I explored the town with a critical eye, intent on sizing up the competition.

Ironically, elected officials from Jackson were in Aspen last week, sizing up the competition.

In all honesty, it’s no contest. We have Gucci, they have Ripley’s.

We have handbags on display, they have the reputed skull of a geep – a four-horned cross between a goat and a sheep. Hmmm, Prada’s fall line or the world’s largest cigar. Which is more likely to intrigue a vacationer?

Ripley’s had a mounted albino trout, a clump of woolly mammoth hair and a prehistoric insect trapped in resin, though when I peered through the magnifying glass, I was disappointed to see what looked like a piece of lint encased in amber.

Speaking of lint, Californian Slater Barron created a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I made entirely of dryer lint.

Slater should get together over beer with Mexican artist Enrique Ramos, whose work was well represented in the museum.

His “Bugged Out Abe” is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln constructed from butterfly wings, beetles and bird feathers.

Ramos also liked to paint portraits on the backs of vampire bats and moth wings, but it was his reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painted on a tent caterpillar web that really caught my eye.

Much of the museum was devoted to the labors of individuals with too much time on their hands; the rest focused on folly and misfortune in the animal kingdom. Ripley’s collection included a two-headed duck, a six-legged buffalo calf and the skull of the “Cyclops goat,” born in Texas with one eye in the center of its forehead.

Then there’s the mounted deer that was apparently stung to death by wasps from the nest still stuck in its antlers and the head of a bear with 514 porcupine quills piercing its snout. Youch.

And speaking of porcupines, what about, believe it or not, the amazing albino porcupine, delivered via Caesarean section by a veterinary surgeon in Montana. Wait a minute, how is it that a pregnant porcupine getting a C-section is not what’s amazing about this?

[Janet Urquhart’s favorite exhibit was the buffalo scrotum bag made by a Great Plains Indian. Her column appears on Fridays]


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