Thursday, June 18, 2009

The American Museum of Natural History

New York is very Platonic. In many ways it is the 'Form' of the city, and really typifies urban living in all its highs and lows. Within the larger city you have other institutions that are very iconic, like the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (more on that later) and the American Museum of Natural History.

Being a fairly scientific sort, as well as a history minded sort, The American Museum was very high on my list of things to see. Right before coming I had re-read the book Dinosaurs in the Attic by Douglas Preston, a short jaunt through the history of the Museum itself and its vast collections. This left me armed with a bit more information than the average museum attendee, but was a bit of a liability because it made me want to see everything.

I started in a large hall devoted to Geology, which is a subject I am quite fond of. I noticed that the displays were perfectly balanced to all levels, with something for the total beginner but also with a lot of displays with the well educated layman in mind.

From there it was off to the Hall of North American Mammals, with it's impressive habitat displays from all over the country. Of course I had to take a picture of the elk, collected it Colorado.

From there I moved on to the Carl Akeley Hall of African Mammals. The museum has long been on the forefront of both science and display, and one of their breakthroughs was the 'habitat group', a diorama of an animal in its natural habitat. One of the champions of the habitat group was Carl Akely, a taxidermist and collector who also did work for the Field Museum in Chicago. His passion was Africa, and he wanted to create a hall dedicated to the great animals that roamed the vast wilderness's that still covered most of the continent. While on an expedition to the Belgian Congo to prepare the gorilla group, he caught a fever and died in the rain forest on the slopes of a volcano. He was buried right at the spot reproduced in the diorama, a small clearing on the slopes of Mt. Mikeno.

Of course, no museum of natural history is complete without a large cache of dinosaur bones. They had a huge display of fossils, displayed by family and geologic time period, but of course the real show stopper is the T-Rex. Though the museum's Apatosaurus (Brontosaurs to the non-paleontologists in the room) is also a most worthy specimen.

As visitors leave the dinosaurs behind there are more modern fossils, like this epic elk from Ireland.

Soon after I exited through the main entrance, foot sore and mentally stuffed after seeing far more exhibits that I could recount. My travels had taken me all over the museum, seeing the Halls of Meteors, Asian Peoples, African Peoples, Great Apes and more. It really was an amazing place, and like all great museums, there remains plenty more to see when I go back...