Renowned for a Reason: Experiencing History with Children
Securing a private audience with a vulcanologist is unnecessary, like AFAR writer Chris Colin did when he took his 4-year-old to the Museum of Natural History. Adventure programs, an array of drop-in science events, and the hands-on discovery room will delight families, though it’s the museum’s timeless and oddly affecting old dioramas that really capture the imagination.
This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue.
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Hall of the North West Coast Indians
The dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are usually the highlights for visitors, and they are indeed beautiful and worthy of praise, but the Hall of the North West Coast Indians is a gem that most people miss. The Hall is the oldest display in the museum, and has hardly changed since its creation in 1900. The artifacts were collected by Franz Boas, often referred to as the Father of American Anthropology, and the exhibit features woven baskets, incredible ceremonial masks, every day implements for fishing and cooking, and great (in all sense of the word) carved totem poles. The lighting is terrible, and the Hall is said to be due for some renovation, which is perhaps why people use it as a corridor and don't stop to look.
It's quiet due to its neglect by visitors, and the smell so comforting and nostalgic that you can almost imagine Holden Caulfield passing through the great doors, as he did in the Catcher in the Rye.
Feeding My Inner Child at the American Museum of Natural History
It was difficult to constrain my eight year old inner child, the one who read pop-up books and look books about Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, and Brontosaurus and fancied himself the next great paleontologist destined to find the most complete set of Pterodactyl bones when he wasn’t otherwise catching touchdown passes for the Detroit Lions: All I wanted to do when I saw the fossils at the American Museum of Natural History was yell, “Look at all the dinosaurs!”
I did control myself though, barely. In the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs bright light fell on the bronze frames and I stood in awe at the size of prehistoric beasts and supposed, like I suspect one tends to do, what it might be like to see a dinosaur strolling down Fifth and Broadway. In the Ornithischian Hall, I spent time examining Stegosaurus and its armored plates, which contrary to what I had learned previously, may have been used more for display than for protection.
The theories about the dinosaurs and how they were and how they died is more hypothetical than what I learned thirty years ago as if scientists now are more interested in discussing possibilities than in promoting conclusions. And this approach, one of inquiry, lends itself well to the wonder and curiosity the museum naturally encourages.
The museum even has an app which gives you more details about the dinosaur exhibits, a feature which might have made my eight year old head explode if he had seen the app then.
My three year old nephew recently visited us in New York City for the first time. I always love being able to view a place anew through the eyes of someone else. My nephew was, as expected, wide eyed and amazed with the city. At his age, he is obsessed with dinosaurs. I knew visiting the American Museum of Natural History needed to be on our itinerary. I visited often as a kid with my grandfather and it is really a special experience at any age. We ended up spending one afternoon in the Dinosaur hall. We watched as my nephew ping-ponged from dinosaur to dinosaur with excitement. Tourists, locals, old and young were all there to view these impressive displays. While I always love seeing the dinosaur relics it was even more special to share the experience with my nephew. The American Museum of Natural History is always worth the visit.
While the collection of real, reassembled dinosaur skeletons (including a menacing T. rex, a sky-high Barosaurus and a recently added 37-meter-long [122-foot-long] Titanosaurus) get most of the hype at this museum, there are plenty of other marvels to behold. Like the dozens of dioramas where land and sea creatures are staged in lifelike tableaux, a 29-meter-long (94-foot-long) blue whale model and—at certain times of year—a conservatory filled with thousands of living butterflies.