Monday, August 31, 2009

American Museum of Natural History

We have taken several trips into New York City on this visit with my daughter and her family but now my granddaughter is six we have to take into consideration what will interest her. So on one of these we set out to the American Museum of Natural History.

The beautiful stone building, which sits on the edge of Central Park, sprawls over several city blocks and is a popular tourist destination as well as a favourite with the locals.
For 125 years, the American Museum of Natural History has been one of the world's preeminent science and research institutions, renowned for its collections and exhibitions that illuminate millions of years of the earth's evolution, from the birth of the planet through the present day.
It is a huge museum, with four floors of 42 permanent exhibits and usually several special exhibits at any one time and one cannot hope to cover it all in one visit. Fortunately we have been several times already and in fact I think we have covered most of it on one occasion or another. As with some other museums in New York City it has a suggested donation entry fee, in this case $19, but since my son-in-law's company is a corporate sponsor he is able to get free entry for up to eight people at a time so we only had to pay the incredibly expensive parking fee for the car. Did you know that some parking garages advertise $22 for the first 30 minutes in NYC?

Whenever I see the skeleton above in the museum it brings to mind that scene in the 1938 movie Bringing up Baby, where Katharine Hepburn climbs up the ladder to talk to Cary Grant, who has so labouriously built the dinosaur skeleton and she brings it all tumbling down.

First T. rex ever put on public display and reassembled in 1992 into a more realistic pose

The area the youngest member of our party chose for us to visit on this occasion was that which covered the invertebrates from dinosaurs to advanced mammals. Naturally we started in the dinosaur section, which is always a favourite with most children. This museum has a fine collection of genuine dinosaur skeletons, including the Tyrannus rex above, and of which only 15 partial specimens have ever been found. They also have the first T. rex skull ever collected. As an aside it seems that all the categories of dinosaurs have been changed since my children were obsessed with these animals. All very confusing.

This is part of a dinosaur trackway from the Paluxy River, in Texas. There are many different types of dinosaur tracks here and since it is fossilized it is not known if they were there at the same time.

Triceratops, a horned dinosaur

A Stegosaurus, with its distinctive plated back and spiked tail

A Mammoth and another early relative of elephants which lived in North America, proboscideans - mammals with enlarged upper teeth called tusks. The only two surviving proboscideans are the Indian and African elephant but there were many more of them in former times, on all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

The other area we visited was the Akeley Hall of African Mammals, best known for its fine dioramas, which is the way animals were displayed in museums in former times. They seem quite old fashioned to our eyes today. This two-levelled area of the museum was conceived and executed by Carl Akeley, a skilled naturalist and taxidermist during the 1920s. This new approach to exhibition showed life sized animals in their carefully reproduced native habitat and with a painted scenic background. It was finally opened in 1936 so these are more than seventy years old.

All the dioramas are behind glass so it is not easy to take a photo without glare of some kind.

These dioramas are studied today as part of the history and evolution of museums. I can imagine how really revolutionary they were in their day and the amount of research and effort which went into their construction is truly remarkable.

This is but a glimpse of a very fascinating museum which I think anyone would find of great interest were they to come to New York, but I think it warrants more than one visit and requires rather a lot of stamina to cover its vast space.


Moggs Tigerpaw said...

I love museums. I have since my father took me as a small child.

Some of my very favourite are in Washington and London.

Janice Thomson said...

Definitely a fascinating place to visit for both adults and children alike.

Carver said...

Great post JMB. I enjoy that museum so much. My sister lives directly across the park from that museum which is nice since it's an easy walk from her apartment.

jams o donnell said...

What a wonderful museum. What is it with kids and dinosaurs... or aduklts and dinosaurs too!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for sharing about this place. I could probably camp there for a week.

Liz said...

Those dinosaur tracks are brilliant. But it does all get a bit much to take in when it's so huge.

jmb said...

Me too Moggs. But I never saw any really great ones until I came to Europe. Now I can find something of interest in even the smallest ones.

Yes indeed Janice. They cater to all ages and there is something for everyone.

How nice Carver. But does she just take it for granted or is she a member?

It's true Jams. We all seem to find dinosaurs fascinating.

I'm sure you would LGS. Just your kind of place. I have been there quite a few times myself over the years but always seem to find something of interest.

Yes Liz, it is a place to take in a chunk at a time. Especially with a young one, although she found all the short movies endlessly fascinating.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting.

CherryPie said...

It looks like a fantastic place to visit.

Nunyaa said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Would love to take my boys to this museum , I know they would love it as much as I would and appreciate it as well, thank you JMB, great story. :)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Those dinosaurs are scary!