At the gift shop for the newly opened “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” exhibit at Arizona Boardwalk, a pyramid of dominoes, checkers, and chess pieces is balanced on a single vertical domino.
This impressive feat was created more than 50 years ago by Scottsdale resident and retired Laguna Elementary School teacher Gary Wojton.
“Fifty-three years ago, I was a freshman in college, and while waiting for my turn to play chess, I started building structures with the available dominoes, checkers and chess pieces,” recalled Wojton, who, at the time, was 17 and living in Chicago.
One of Wojton’s friends was so impressed with the pyramid that he snapped a photo of it and sent it to the Ripley Entertainment headquarter offices in Orlando, Florida.
And they responded to Wojton – believe it or not.
“I was later contacted by them and they needed to have an affidavit signed by my friend that no adhesive was used,” Wojton said.
Once authenticated, Wojton’s creation was published in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” book published on Aug. 1, 1968.
But there was one problem: His submission was published without his name, as Wojton discovered 34 years later.
“I was thrilled with this but forgot about it until 2002, when I was sharing the story and the pocketbook with students I was teaching,” Wojton said. “But the pocketbook did not contain my name, just ‘a man from Chicago,’ so it was hard to prove that was me.”
Wojton reached out to Ripley’s to prove he created the pyramid.
“They were kind enough to send me a copy of the newspaper page, which did contain my name,” Wojton said.
Ripley’s also sent him a certificate of recognition for the contribution of “Stacked Game Pieces Pyramid.”
Now, both items, as well as the book and the pyramid, are now hanging on the wall at the Ripley’s exhibit near Scottsdale.
“Having a local resident that has a real connection to our new exhibition is simply amazing,” said Ran Knishinsky, chief marketing officer and managing partner at Arizona Boardwalk. “It gives credibility to the objects within the exhibit because it shows that these oddities and rare items, whether discovered by Robert Ripley himself, or others associated with Ripley’s, could be created, or found by everyday people – possibly from around the corner or right in your own neighborhood.”
Wojton calls it an “honor” to have his structure on display.
“It is really an honor to have the pyramid I created 53 years ago hanging on the wall of the Ripley’s gift shop,” Wojton said. “I honestly never expected it to be accepted.”
Wojton used to work at Butterfly Wonderland at Arizona Boardwalk at the indoor, interactive rainforest habitat after retiring as a teacher.
After working at Chicago Public Schools for 34 years, he moved to Scottsdale in 2008 and became an instructional assistant at Laguna Elementary School.
“Here I stayed until the pandemic hit and have been on furlough since last March, but hoping to be back around summertime,” Wojton said.
But before Wojton would be furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he attended a meeting at Butterfly Wonderland, where employees were informed that “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” would be replaced by the Ripley’s exhibit.
That meeting prompted Wojton to send his supervisor a photo of the pyramid he created decades prior, as well as the certificate from Ripley’s.
“[I] mentioned it was an interesting coincidence,” Wojton said. “My supervisor, in turn, forwarded my email to the Ripley’s site and it was mentioned that they would be interested in having it on display. I felt honored, felt a sense of pride, to know something that was created so long ago would be on exhibit.”
“The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” opened at Arizona Boardwalk Feb. 9 and has drawn thousands of people and rave reviews, Knishinsky said.
“The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! has been a wonderful addition to Arizona Boardwalk and feedback has been extremely positive,” he added.
The interactive exhibition boasts a collection of intriguing objects and oddities that allow visitors to explore the real science behind Robert Ripley’s collection of oddities and fantastic feats.
Jim Pattison Jr., president of Ripley Entertainment, said the exhibit is a great introduction of the Ripley brand to a new audience.
“It’s colorful, exciting, bursting with family fun and very hands-on,” Pattison Jr. said. “Robert Ripley was always fascinated by the scientific side of his finds as he traveled the world. The exhibition proves that Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is, indeed, the global leader of the weird, strange and unusual.”
Attendees of the exhibit can measure up against Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man who grew to 8 feet 11 inches tall.
Kids can crawl through a life-size model of the prehistoric snake, Titanoboa.
Guests should also keep their eyes peeled for the calf with two faces, a megalodon shark jaw, a Rolls Royce made of matchsticks and a portrait of Einstein made of toast, among other items.
“I will never get tired of seeing such a variety of such interesting displays,” Wojton said. “I highly recommend that families place a visit to Ripley’s on their to-do list.”
The exhibit runs through Summer 2022.