NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 1962
STUDENTS TEST RIPLEY’S INCREDIBLE STATEMENTS
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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