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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 1962

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Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 1962

Charles A. Huguenin

ONE RESEARCH PROJECT undertaken recently by the students of English 406 under my tutelage at Pace College in New York City put to an acid test some of the statements made through the years in the cartoons under Robert L. Ripley’s name. The students were at liberty to select for challenge any allegation in “Believe It or Not” that made a particular appeal, they worked on their own, and they drew their own conclusions in the light of the evidence which they had collected. Only in a few instances did they endorse without reservation the truth of the statement. In most instances they found no validity for what they were finally constrained to regard as unsupported assumptions.


In one “Believe It or Not,” Ripley maintains that a man born without arms or legs served in the British Parliament from 1866 to 1880. He was said to be Arthur MacMurrough Kavanough [sic] of County Carlow, Ireland.

The student who elected to challenge this statement found that on March 25, 1831, a son “that had neither feet nor hands” was born to Thomas Kavanagh and his wife, Lady Harriet. Mrs. Sarah L. Steele, a biographer and also the child’s cousin, maintained that he had “only the rudiments of arms and legs.” As a youth he learned to ride a horse by being strapped to the saddle of a pony. The treatment accorded him by a famous Dublin surgeon, Sir Philip Crampton, was apparently unsuccessful, but a steel hook subsequently attached to his shoulder, an inch of which extended beyond the cuff of his shirt, permitted him to handle reins, to fish, to sail, and to write. Despite only stumps for arms and legs, he became an expert angler, hunter, and yachtsman and could write legibly and draw well.

After serving successively as high sheriff for Kilkenny and lord-lieutenant of Carlow, Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh became in 1866 a conservative member of Parliament for Wexford County. In 1868, he was elected to Parliament for Carlow County and served until 1880, whereupon he was defeated in a bitter election and lost his seat.

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