It had been years since I last visited Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History–decades actually, long before Sue came to Chicago. As a child I went to the museum every couple of years. I remembered a hall full of dinosaur skeletons, a roomful of mummies and sore feet. Oh, and the huge building that my siblings and I used to wish was our mansion, with its vast rooms, marble floors and sweeping staircases.
Today the neoclassical building, some believe inspired by the Erechtheum, is as gorgeous as ever but is now in a more beautiful setting, on the lushly landscaped lakeside museum campus created when Lake Shore Drive was rerouted. The more surprising change is the museum exhibitions, brought up to date with multi-media presentations and special effects.
Instead of a roomful of mummies on display, you now wind your way through a dimly lit tomb to see the 23 human mummies, animal mummies and numerous other artifacts. Children are as impressed by the exhibition as adults. During my visit one little boy kept talking excitedly about “King Tut’s friends” on display.
The dinosaur exhibition has changed significantly, too. The space in Stanley Field Hall where they once stood is now reserved exclusively for the museum’s main attraction, Sue, the most extensive T.rex ever found, and the “Fighting African Elephants,” a work created by taxidermist Carl Akeley in the early 1900s. The dinosaurs that I remember as a child are now part of the “Evolving Planet” exhibition that takes you through four billion years of life on Earth. Lighting, videos and hands-on interactive displays draw you into the story, and when you get to the time frame in which dinosaurs roamed the planet, you’ll be awed by the number and size of the fossils and representations of dinosaur skeletons in the Genius Hall of Dinosaurs, including a 72-foot-long Apatosaurus.
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Many of the classic exhibits still exist in the museum, like the taxidermied Bushman, the world-famous gorilla, who lived his life at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo after being found as an orphaned infant in Africa. See dazzling gemstones and rich jade, dioramas of animals in their natural habitats, insects, plants and anything else you can think of pertaining to natural science.
Another area added to the museum since I last visited years ago is the Crown Family Play Lab, created especially for children ages 2 to 6. Exhibitions throughout the museum are brought down to a child’s level here, where they can crawl through a log, hear the sounds of forest creatures by pressing a button, dress up like a bat or a turtle or play in a pueblo house.
Classic or new, exhibitions at the Field Museum are much more exciting today than I remember them as a child. One thing hasn’t changed though: I still left the museum with sore feet.
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