All photos by Max Cook.
Max and I were invited to attend the unveiling of the fully restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Jill and Lewis Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History last Thursday, and, both being huge Teddy Roosevelt AND natural history fans, we jumped at the opportunity. I have never been to the American Museum of Natural History before (insert gasps of shock and horror here), so I was especially excited to see what was in store for us. And while I initially had the idea that I would dress up as Teddy Roosevelt and carry around a big stick, speaking softly, as a grand homage to my favorite dead president, I was nervous that this might be against the rules. So, not wanting to get kicked out on my first adventure to the AMNH, I decided to just go as my regular non-Roosevelt-ified self.
When we arrived, we checked in underneath a giant viking ship, so it was immediately apparent that things were going to be pretty awesome. We were told to head upstairs for coffee and light refreshments (my favorite words in the English language) so we did. And we immediately got lost. I suggested we stay lost and pull a From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, only minus the Metropolitan Museum of Art and plus dinosaurs, but before we could get the ball rolling on that, two employees appeared and herded us to safety, aka bagels and muffins in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda. Max did a sweep for photos while I drank water out of a fancy glass and stared at some weird dinosaur feet.
Shortly thereafter, we were directed to migrate toward the area where they’d unveil the Roosevelt sculpture. Before they could get to the exciting part, though, there were a plethora of speakers including Patti Harris (First Deputy Mayor of NYC), Ellen V. Futter (President of the AMNH), and Kenneth Adams (President and CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation), who all touched on things like, “We are happy!” and “Thank you!” and “This cost a lot of money and took a lot of hard work!” (I would give you a more detailed report of the things they said, but I kept getting distracted by the deer in the giant diorama to my left.) After the speeches were finished, we all clapped for a really long time, because we, too, were very happy and thankful and appreciative of the money and of hard work and of Teddy Roosevelt.
We then circled around the statue, which was covered with a large, red sheet. The speakers AND Theodore Roosevelt IV stood behind the statue and all prepared to join forces in the unveiling. And THEN, we all got a look at the statue, which, despite being made of copper, looks just like wood. It was impressive, and I resisted the urge to go hug it. For those of you who couldn’t be there to experience it firsthand, here is a GIF Max made to help you relive the moment:
Next, we split off into guided tours according to the colors of our badges, and, being lucky yellow, Max and I joined ranks with the rest of our color-coordinated group.
On the tour, we were told not to ask any questions to the various speakers, which was not a problem for me as I was yet again distracted by all the museum specimens; there was a lot of talk about conservation on our first stop, but I mostly could only focus on this one giant lobster that was mounted on the wall. (I wondered what it would look like if it were still alive, or better yet, what it would taste like if we had made it into a large lobster roll.)
Then I stared for a long time at this tiger in a glass case, and wondered if I could fit my whole head in its mouth.
We also passed a giant clam on display, which had a sign behind it that read, “PLEASE DO NOT SIT IN THE CLAM SHELL,” meaning someone had clearly tried this before. I told Max to definitely take a picture of that.
We spoke with three more people, who told us more about the statue, the murals in the TR Rotunda, and also about the structure and design of the museum, which displays both North American and African animals along the outside walls. It was interesting, don’t get me wrong, but I (like everyone else) was most excited to go see the Bernard Hall of North American Mammals and all its dioramas, which was our final stop on the guided tour. I couldn’t stop laughing once we were in that part; all the animals seemed SO ALIVE, and, with the realistic landscapes behind them, you seriously feel like you could walk through and be someplace else, hanging with of one of the forty or more mammals on display. I wished I could live inside one of these (preferably the one with the mountain goats or jaguars) but people would probably catch onto that scheme pretty quickly.
I’d also like to add that there was a twelve-year-old journalist in our group who I felt like interviewing, but instead I just let him continue being accosted by the borderline-elderly people on the tour; they told him he needed an angle for his write-up, which they hoped would revolve around Lewis and Clark. I silently agreed with them, because everyone knows that nothing makes you a bigger social pariah in middle school than writing a weak newspaper story, especially one that excludes Lewis and Clark.
Upon the completion of the tour, we were released back into the museum wilderness to go and enjoy sandwiches, which Max and I could not find. SO, we decided to take advantage of our museum passes and explore. Max headed off to find the giant whale that everyone was apparently really into, and I, meanwhile, accidentally stumbled upon the elusive sandwich table. I had half a veggie wrap (although I was also eying the mozzarella sandwiches that looked AMAZING) which I ate over where we’d listened to the speeches. As I was eating, I overheard the conversation of two more borderline-elderly ladies in front of me. It went as follows, and was, perhaps, the highlight of my day:
Old Lady #1: I heard people sometimes see rats on the subway system. Is that true?
Old Lady #2: Yes, they live in the tracks. I see them all the time.
Old Lady #1: And they don’t repulse you? They bear disease! Would you pick one up?
Old Lady #2: I don’t DESIRE to do that, but I’ve had guinea pigs and hamsters, so…
Old Lady #1: I have this friend who’s an “animal activist,” and she’s always saying, “We’re all god’s creatures!” and I say, SLOW DOWN, THERE. If it’s not a Disney animal, we don’t like it.
They also hated on cats and dogs pretty hard:
Old Lady #2: The cats will take the eyes out. And they will lie across babies’ faces and smother them.
Old Lady #1: Yes, I’ve heard that, too. Well, dogs, too. Dogs bite children every day of the week.
Old Lady #2: I like dogs, but I never get down near their faces unless I know the dog.
Then, somewhere in the distance, a five year old shouted, “WE LOVE SKELETONS!”
After all this animal and skeleton talk, I decided to descend upon the millions of AMNH exhibits at my own pace. I asked about the giant whale and was shown how to get there. IT WAS AWESOME. The entire exhibit was pretty incredible, and very, very tranquil. I would’ve stayed there all day, but seeing as I had about six thousand more areas to go cruise before heading home, I got a move on.
I think I did pretty well all things considered; I covered the Hall of South American Peoples, Asian Peoples, AND North American Birds, so that was pretty great. PLUS I spent an extensive period of time gawking at the dinosaur skulls, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I looked at the clock eventually and realized I should’ve left like two hours earlier than I did, so I reluctantly got going. HOWEVER, I will most definitely be asking for a membership for any/all holidays from this day forward. I will also be working on a detailed plan of how to move into the AMNH without anyone noticing. For now, please enjoy the rest of Max’s top-notch photographs: