The mail coming to Ripley Entertainment these days is just as weird as the company's believe-it-or-not exhibits.
A raccoon skull, an unusual set of antlers, a pink hula hoop, a roll of dental floss, a bowl of cereal and a 5-foot-tall inflatable palm tree have recently arrived at Ripley's headquarters in south Orlando — all without benefit of packaging.
Through Sept. 5, Ripley's is running its second annual competition that asks the public to mail in unusual items in an unusual way: without envelopes, wrapping, boxes or bags.
"The stamp and the address have to be applied directly to the object," said Edward Meyer, Ripley's vice president of exhibits and archives.
Ripley's Strange Mail Contest is a subjective competition judged by Meyer, who picks a weekly winner and will select an overall champion at the end of the 12-week event.
"I want it to make me smile. I don't want to be grossed out. I have a diaper over here. That doesn't do it for me," Meyer said.
He also considers the distance the item has traveled and the postage required, which he says indicate commitment to the contest.
A single dollar bill was mailed from Santa Rosa, Calif., hometown of company founder Robert Ripley.
"I don't know if the sender knew that … but it was a great little extra," Meyer said.
Every entrant receives a copy of the book "Dear Mr. Ripley." Weekly winners earn a copy of "Reality Shock," a Ripley annual published in September. The overall champion will get 11 of Ripley's annual publications, which highlight odd occurrences. Some of the entries will be placed in Ripley museums around the world.
The entry that traveled the farthest so far this year is an orange noisemaker — shaped like a pair of hands — from the Netherlands.
The Postal Service does not have regulations preventing the shipping of packaging-free parcels.
Barry Wood of Vero Beach spent $19.50 to send the palm tree, its air nozzle carefully sealed so it would arrive inflated. He also entered the deer antlers, one side of which appeared to be deformed, among other items.
He heard about the contest while at the post office, he said, but he started package-free mailing a year ago with a coconut. The habit grew from there with mass mailings, he said.
Overall, the Postal Service has been cooperative, Wood said.
"If I were mailing bowling balls, that might upset them," he said. "But my general reaction from the post office has been very enthusiastic."
Wood even coined a term for the nonpackaged-mail items: POOP. It's his acronym for "permissible objects of post-ability."
He has themed the objects he's sending to Ripley.
"A good piece of POOP is indicative of where it's coming from … so I'm trying to send them Florida-esque things," Wood said.
Terrylynn Battson, a former Orlando resident who now lives in Gatlinburg, Tenn., used glue — masquerading as milk — to affix breakfast cereal to a bowl. The bowl made it in one piece to the Ripley office.
Last year's winner "took a Big Mac and fries, put it on a plate and sent it. … I'm like, 'I can do better than that,'" she said. Among her 15 or so entries: a trophy from Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, a Band-Aid and toilet paper.
Last year's contest received about 90 pieces. Meyer said this year's event is on pace to match or exceed that total, having topped 60 last week. Among the entries already received: a baby-doll head painted green with an umbrella inserted at its top.
"That is the one that is the most disturbing. That is just plain darn weird," Meyer said.
But he was laughing.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5477
How to enter
•Items must be sent with no packaging, boxes or envelopes. They must be sent and received with postage applied directly to the object.
•Objects must be sent via the U.S. Postal Service, not other carriers.
•Send to Ripley Entertainment, c/o Edward Meyer, 7576 Kingspointe Parkway, Suite 188, Orlando, FL 32819.
•Go to Ripleys.com/mail to register. This lets the company know what to watch for and where to send prizes. (Complete rules are found on the website, too.)