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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #308

Welcome to the three hundredth and eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, we examine three legends related to the classic comic strip, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, including whether a Ripley’s strip led to the “Star Spangled Banner” becoming the national anthem, how a Ripley’s strip led to a famous urban legend and discovering which classic cartoonist made his debut in a Ripley’s comic strip at the ripe old age of 15!

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and seven

Let’s begin!

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! is a media franchise that began over 90 years ago with the beginning of Robert Ripley’s nationally renowned comic strip, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, which began in December 1918 as a strip about sports accomplishments labeled Champs and Chumps. In October 1919, Ripley expanded the purview of the strip and changed the name to the name its held ever since! The strip is still published today, drawn by John Graziano. Ripley’s has become much more than a strip, though, as it has spawned off a radio series, a TV series and a number of famous museums of oddities.

Here, though, are three legends about the actual comic strip.

COMIC LEGEND: A Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! cartoon led to “The Star Spangled Banner” becoming the national anthem of the United States of America.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

On November 3rd, 1929, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! featured the following strip…

On March 3rd, 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” officially became the national anthem of the United States of America.

Ripley certainly took credit for the song becoming the anthem, and even to this day, Ripley’s (the company) is taking credit, as you can see by this post on their website back in February.

I certainly do not wish to say that Ripley’s cartoon had absolutely zero impact upon the song becoming the national anthem, but I think the impact is over-exaggerated to the point where it is effectively false.

By the time this strip was published, the debate over whether “The Star Spangled Banner” should be the national anthem had been going on for more than a decade. Woodrow Wilson even named the song as the national anthem in 1916, but it was not yet something ratified by Congress.

By the time this strip was published, the Veterans of Foreign Wars had collected over four million signatures on a petition for the song to be adopted as the national anthem.

So when you add in the fact that the strip was pretty clearly not a “call to action,” but in fact, more of a mocking of the song, I find the claim that Ripley was responsible for the anthem being adopted to be pretty weak.

That said, while the movement had been gaining steam for quite some time (I read about 10 years worth of New York Times articles on the subject and there were a LOT of articles about the anthem, including contests to come up with an alternate choice to “The Star-Spangled Banner”), it is true that it was not until early 1930 that it was finally passed by Congress, so I guess you could argue that Ripley’s cartoon put them over the top. However, in all of the articles written about the subject at the time, no mention of the Ripley cartoon was made. I certainly cannot say with a certainty that it did not have some impact in the few months it was out before the bill was ratified by Congress, but I tend to doubt it.

Especially when Ripley’s claims tend to take credit for the petitions, petitions that existed well before his comic strip. And, again, look at the strip – that is no “call to action.” So I am confident in this being false enough for a false.
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Check out the latest Baseball Legends Revealed to learn the strange story of the New York Yankee who couldn’t make his college baseball team as a walk-on! Plus, discover the strange path that Harry Heilmann took on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame!
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COMIC LEGEND: A Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! was one of the first places to establish the myth that the Great Wall of China could be seen by the moon, and it made the claim decades before space travel existed!

STATUS: True

A very notable urban legend is the notion that the Great Wall of China can be seen by the naked eye from the moon. While no NASA lunar astronaut have ever specifically attempted to find it, it is clearly not true.

To wit, the width of the Great Wall from the moon would be akin to seeing a human hair viewed from 2 miles away. It is not happening.

What’s amazing, though, is that the most famous claims of this story happen years BEFORE man ever landed on the moon!

The claim actually was made over 200 years ago, but it was almost certainly made famous by the following 1932 Ripley’s cartoon…

1932!! 37 years before man walked on the moon, and yet the claim was being advanced! Better yet, it was being BELIEVED!

While pretty much everyone will agree that you can’t see the Great Wall from the moon, there is some debate over whether you can see it from outer space, period. A U.S. astronaut, Leroy Chiao, posted a photograph taken from the International Space Station where you can sort of/kind of see the Great Wall, if you know exactly where to look.
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Check out the latest Basketball Legends Revealed to learn the truth behind Anfernee Hardaways’s unusual first name! Plus be amazed by how close Bob Cousy wad to becoming a New York Knick!
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COMIC LEGEND: Charles Schulz’s first published drawing was in a 1937 Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!

STATUS: True

In 1937, the following cartoon appeared in an installment of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!:

(Here’s a spotlight of the cartoon pre-publication. It looks like they whited out one of the words…

)

Yep, that is, indeed, a drawing by a 15-year-old Charles “Sparky” Schulz, drawing the dog that would later inspire a certain other famous dog…

I’ve heard a story about this drawing that I’ve never been able to confirm. Apparently, when Schulz submitted the drawing, he phrased it with “screws” as the last in the list (“a hunting dog that eats pins, tacks, razor blades and screws”), but the cartoon re-edited it so as to not confuse people as to the meaning of the word “screws.”

Can anyone confirm that?

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). If we hit 3,000 likes on Facebook or 3,000 followers on Twitter, you’ll have the option to get a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends the week after we hit 3,000 likes or 3,000 followers! So go like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to get that extra Comic Book Legends Revealed! Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!

Also, be sure to check out my website, Legends Revealed, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at legendsrevealed.com.

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!

38 Comments

Dennis McGlynn

April 8, 2011 at 10:16 am

Regarding the Star Spangled Banner… There was an old mini-series (out on DVD BTW) called the First Olympics. The story has it that the Star Spangled Banner was a last minute addition to the 1896 Olympics, because the Americans didn’t realize they needed one. It may have been the greek band leader who actually picked it out.

http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/2010/02/the-first-olympics.html

I think there is something charming about Ripley’s Believe It Or Not generating myths. I guess these were the “Or Not” strips.

And as AMAZING as that China strip is, I’d love to see the next one to find out the answer to “Can a Chinaman whistle.” I hope it’s as staggeringly racist as this one.

Ha! I missed that in the strip, Adam. That IS pretty darn racist.

I also heard the story about Ripley changing Schulz’s description. It was in Mort Walker’s “Backstage at the Strips.” Don’t know if it’s true…

Incidentally, as a “foreigner” I’ve always liked the poetry and storytelling of the Star Spangled Banner. It stands out among the other anthems that read more like bragging checklists. SSB is both unique but universal, full of powerful imagery, and both proud and humble, and not shying away from America’s inherent relationship with war, for better or worse.

There’s a Mystery In Space story from the 50′s (The Counterfeit Earth!) with a twist that hinges on – spoiler!- an astronaut saving Earth from destruction by being able to see the Great Wall from outer space. Do you dare to tell me he was just bs-ing his way through, and we’d all be dead based on this apocrypha of Ripley’s?

He might have been able to see it! It is inconclusive from outer space period, just clearly not from the moon.

You can see the Great Wall from space if you have a telephoto lens. You cannot see any man-made structure from the moon, not even the glow of city lights. See this Snopes article: http://www.snopes.com/science/greatwall.asp

Shuttle astronaut Jay Apt: “We look for the Great Wall of China. Although we can see things as small as airport runways, the Great Wall seems to be made largely of materials that have the same color as the surrounding soil. Despite persistent stories that it can be seen from the moon, the Great Wall is almost invisible from only 180 miles up!”

Alan Bean, the 4th man to walk on the moon in 1969: “The only thing you can see from the moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white (clouds), some blue (ocean), patches of yellow (deserts), and every once in a while some green vegetation. No man-made object is visible on this scale. In fact, when first leaving earth’s orbit and only a few thousand miles away, no man-made object is visible at that point either.”

Mark J. Hayman

April 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Lovely as always, Brian, thank you.

I like the US anthem very much but always found it sort of ironic that it celebrates a battle in a war that, despite Patton’s later assertion of having never lost (a war), at least ended in a stalemate, which could be interpreted as a “loss” given the whole annexation while the annexing is good mindset in Washington. Which eventually left us with our own anthem that, believe it or not, sounds much, much better in French.

A Chinese astronaut (or Taikongnaut if you prefer) looked as well and said he could not see it. Supposedly they’re taking that one out of Chinese textbooks but I’ve still heard it from guides.

A friend of mine had a dog that would chew on bits of metal, but the dog eventually died from an infection caused by a ruptured colon. I guess Snoopy was made of sterner stuff.

Drusilla lives!

April 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Here’s a page from “Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others” which shows the Ripley’s piece that ran in the papers…

http://img827.imageshack.us/img827/8937/schulzripleyspiece.jpg

… no mention of “screws.”

Interesting, Drusilla, looks like they whited it out.

So, the theory is that they first edited the order and then whited it out? Weird.

That Ripley claim about the national anthem is a textbook example of the post hoc fallacy. Especially since it’s an anti-Star Spangled Banner bit. I like the bit about the USA using it “without authorization.” And just who in Great Britain is supposed to grant permission to use an old traditional drinking song?

Mike- I think they meant congressional authorization. That is, the anthem wasn’t “official”

Travis Pelkie

April 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I see these even numbered CBLR just as placeholders until the next Charles Addams legend…

When did the poem “The Star-Spangled Banner” become associated with/put to the tune of the old drinking song? That’s what I’m wondering.

And 15 years before Wilson declared it and Congress passed it? And we think things move slowly now….

I just read something about the Great Wall today. Obviously if you know where to look, you’re going to have an easier time finding it than if you don’t know where to look…

I’ve seen the Schulz drawing before, but I don’t think it was in the Jubilee that Drusilla above refers to. It’s bugging me as to where I would have seen it, though. One of the Fantagraphics books? Some other Peanuts book? Grr.

To me, it looks like the “screws” part got whited out more for space considerations — that is, when it got pasted up for print, the word “screws” stuck out too much into the other part of the page. Maybe that’s where the “screws” part getting dropped legend comes up — since it got whited out in the published version, someone along the way came up with the notion that it was due to the double entendre meaning of “screws”.

But you never answered the question in the great wall cartoon “can a Chinaman whistle?” guess I’m waiting til next Sunday….

I’ve totally seen Jackie Chan whistle.

Seriously, though, seeing how casual and accepted racism was back in the day makes me really appreciate today’s slightly more tolerant world. That whole strip is just wrong. The more you look at it, the more offensive stuff you find. Hurray for gradual improvement!

“he is one year old at the day of his birth”

Man, those heathen Chinee women must be hearty.

@sean: If people of a certain persuasion were to get their way and get personhood defined as beginning at the moment of conception, every American would be 9 months old (give or take, depending on the actual period of gestation) when born.

@X-Cards: Of course your point of view is certainly your own, but I find the SSB to be morally reprehensible as a national anthem. IF the song had been about some battle during the nation’s actual war for independence, its “poetry and storytelling” might be (slightly) acceptable, but it celebrates an event that took place 31 years after the peace treaty which formalized American independence. (France’s “La Marseillaise” is even more poetic and actually reflects the very spirit of that country’s revolution

There are several songs which are far more poetic and are actually celebratory of the COUNTRY rather than its flag. The most notable is “America the Beautiful” (which also has the advantage of not needing to be drunk as a skunk in order to hit all the notes; well, actually, you can’t hit the notes when drunk but you BELIEVE you did–and all the other drunks think you did).

It’s always amazed me how most people have no idea what a great cartoonist Robert L. Ripley was. He did so many beautiful ink illustrations. Believe it or not!

Well, every dog screws, it’s in their nature.

What?? No Charles Addams’ skier legend? You’re slacking, Cronin….
(kidding)

Yeah, I’d like to learn how the Anthem ended up being sung to the tune of a bawdy pub song too. (But I guess this isn’t the right column for that legend.)

(Speaking of which, while I understand that you want to use the column to promote Baseball Legends Revealed, Cronin, could you put those ads at the bottom? They sort of interrupt the reading flow.)

I’m pretty sure we can see the Great Wall from orbit (not the Moon) today. We have satellites that can spot houses and cars!!

…Charles Schulz fed PINS AND RAZORS to his dog?? No wonder Snoopy was such a jerk to his owner. :D

What?? No Charles Addams’ skier legend? You’re slacking, Cronin….

The Addams legends are on the odd numbers. Will there be one next week? Probably not, but we shall see!!!

I had no idea the moon could see anything at all. That it’s watching us on earth means I’m going to have to start wearing pants more often

Sijo and Others —
Okay, so Mr. Cronin doesn’t always have ALL the answers (or at least doesn’t tell them all to us), thus we are forced to consult that OTHER source of all human knowledge in internet form, Cecil Adams. Here’s the straight dope on the Star Spangled Banner:
http://tinyurl.com/2aus9wt

Don’t moon the moon, Poe. That’s just rude.

ParanoidObsessive

April 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm

It does seem weird that Ripley (and those who came after him) would take credit for helping the Star Spangled Banner ratified as the official anthem when the cartoon itself is pretty clearly critical of it. It might be more accurate to say that it was ratified as the official anthem in SPITE of him, rather than because of him!

Then again, when you consider the fact that the other generally used unofficial anthem for the US at the time was just “God Save the Queen” with altered lyrics, maybe a British drinking song was the preferable choice!

It’s funny how many patriotic songs in the US started out as other things. Like Yankee Doodle basically being a mocking song sung about Americans that was taken and turned into a defiant anthem FOR Americans.

America the Beautiful might be the only major patriotic song that doesn’t have some sort of dark past (though even that was originally based on music from a religious hymn!). Which might help explain why a lot of people think it would make a better anthem than the blatantly war-focused Star Spangled Banner.

Yeah, but can a Chinaman whistle? I want to see the next one.

It does seem weird that Ripley (and those who came after him) would take credit for helping the Star Spangled Banner ratified as the official anthem when the cartoon itself is pretty clearly critical of it. It might be more accurate to say that it was ratified as the official anthem in SPITE of him, rather than because of him!

Well, here’s what I think happened. He wrote the cartoon, then was surprised when the reaction was not “Yeah, that song is lame” but rather, “Wow, it is not the national anthem? What’s up with that?” and he decided to change his stance to fit the popular reaction, so he responded to the mail with “If you want it made the anthem, let the government know!” So after the fact, he was in support of the anthem. And he might very well have had some impact on it becoming the national anthem (just not the impact he later claimed he did).

I took a look at Ganky’s link, and I’m not sure how you can sing all those words to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, really.

Was Ripley a teetotaler, I wonder? Because the way I’m reading it, Ripley’s annoyed that there is no national anthem, and dismissive that a “dry” country is unofficially using a drinking song as an anthem. In the articles you read, Brian, were there people deriding the Star Spangled Banner for being a “drinking song”, and thus beneath the dignity of an anthem?

I’m thinking Ripley was more in a patriotic “we need an anthem” mode, and it appears not particular about WHAT was used as an anthem (or else he would have suggested, say, God Bless America, or something else).

And I disagree with Sijo: I like how the links to the other Legends Revealed pages are now inserted between the different comics legends. I think it breaks up the flow in a good way, making the Legends separate and easier to figure out the end of each. Especially this week, when all of them are Ripley legends.

Hey Brian, thanks for another great edition – what a treat to see an early beagle drawing by Schultz! You really made my day.
I do want to add a comment about the Ripley strip and the line “the heathen chinee is peculiar”. This was the penultimate line in the first verse of a popular poem of the time. Originally published as “Plain Language from Truthful James”, By Bret Harte sometime around 1870, and republished several times in the early 20th Century.
I would like to invite your readers to please remember that back in the days before radio, television and iTunes, it was common for a popular verse or song to stay in the public eye for decades, rather than weeks (as you may remember from countless examples in the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons).
So, the horribly racist phrase is maybe a little less reflective of Mr Ripley’s attitude towards Asians, and a little more reflective of a the overall attitude of the society at the time…
…now go read the poem and decide for yourself if it is racist or if it is actually a critique of the anti-Chinese sentiment (and actions) of many Americans at the time.

Not directly related to the Ripley myth being discussed, but the bit in there about the word for “peace” in Chinese is totally wrong. In addition to being written incredibly poorly, the only word I know that means “peace” that involves the “roof” radical has the character for “woman” under it, not pig. I’ve also heard similar stories about how doubling or tripling the character for “woman” means something amusing, but no native speaker I’ve ever asked about that knows what characters that could possibly mean, and I’ve never seen a Chinese term for either that’s even close. I suspect a prank by a few Chinese guys at some gullible white dude’s expense.

I can also whistle, but I was born in the US so I may have been corrupted by pernicious Western influences from an early age. None of the native Chinese speakers I’ve ever asked about that seems to know what I’m talking about there, either.

Sorry no ideas for a Charles Adams myth but I’ve got a Kirby related one!

Over on Comics Oughta Be Fun Bully just posted the same page from New Gods from the original printing and the 1984 reprint

http://bullyscomics.blogspot.com/2011/04/low-content-week-kirby-day-parademons.html

and the colors are completely different. A red and gold guy becomes blue and purple for example. Since Kirby worked on the 1984 reprints doing a new chapter and new covers I wonder if he didn’t have a say in the new coloring. Would it be possible to find other changes and see how this happened?

I was trying to find that myself about the ’84 reprint, KK–and haven’t come across anything specific yet, but this quote from Kirby expert Mark Evanier is pretty telling:

“Recoloring New Gods #1 sounds like a wonderful idea. Jack Kirby hated the way it was colored in the first place. Obviously, if someone recolored the book and made it worse, that would be bad but I don’t think that’s an argument for not recoloring it at all. To me, insisting it should be just the way it was in 1970 is like saying that if you reprint a novel, you shouldn’t fix the typos. Moreover, if you reprinted New Gods today, you’d almost certainly be printing on whiter paper with brighter inks and a wider palette, and the old color scheme might look even worse than it did originally. So it’s not going to be faithful to the original either way, which is often the case when you transfer work from one medium to another.” — from http://www.povonline.com/notes/Notes081704.htm

So I’m *guessing* it was done with the encouragement of Kirby. What extent he had in the recoloring choices I don’t know–as always, probably a question for Mr. Evanier.

To wit: the Great Wall of China is nowhere near as wide as a typical highway and you can’t see a highway from space- not even the LA Freeway or the Champs d’Elysses in Paris, both of which are over 8 lanes wide!

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