By J.L. Soto
Located on Central Park West at 79th Street in New York is one of the premier museums in the world, the American Museum of Natural History. How impressive is it? To start it is so full of diverse displays and exhibits that it takes more than a one-day visit to properly view everything. If time is short and the children are in tow then make a beeline for the prehistoric exhibits.
Its exhaustive prehistoric fossil collections displayed in a continuous loop on the fourth floor are its most popular exhibits. Its dramatic displays of over 600 dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures like mammoths, giant megalodon shark jaws and dimetrodons will surely leave an impression with any first-time visitor, young or old. I know because I’ve seen the wowed reaction in people many times, even with those who aren’t interested in dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are separated into two wings solely devoted to their groupings, the saurichian or lizard-hipped dinosaurs (represented by the long-necked sauropods) and the ornithischian or the bird-hipped dinosaurs (these include the infamous tyrannosaurus rex). Intermixed with the dinosaurs are fossils of other prehistoric reptiles like the flying reptiles and marine reptiles. After going through the dinosaurs, visitors will walk through the ancient mammals section, which is where the mammoth skeletons and others are found. These are also popular with visitors though they’re not as famous.
Surely the highlight of any visit is seeing the actual remains of these long-gone giants, but there is more. Entire wings on other floors are devoted to current animal species, environments and cultures from several continents. Let’s work our way down to the third floor which is devoted to current reptiles, primates, New York birds and animals, North American birds, and contains the upper level of the African mammals exhibit hall. Additionally, visitors will find exhibits based on Eastern Woodlands and Plains Indians as well as the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.
The highlights of the second floor are the first level of the Akeley Hall of African mammals. The statues of the elephant herd in the middle of the hall provides a good rest spot for the weary and gives a good vantage point of the other taxidermy displays. Nearby the hall is a wing of Asian mammals, though not as large the Akeley Hall the animal displays are just as magnificent. The rest of the floor features exhibit halls on African, Asian and Central and South American people.
The ground floor of the museum has the next most impressive exhibits (after the fourth floor). Inside the main entrance, visitors get their first look at the museum’s lauded dinosaur displays. In the center of the large room as visitors pay their entrance fees, they are greeted by the sight of a skeletal long-necked sauropod rearing up on her hind legs in defense of her child against a nearby carnivorous theropod. The exhibits open to the public on this floor are incredibly diverse and range from animals to minerals. Visitors come face to face with a majestic life-size blue whale displayed at The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life where other marine life is shown. Other exhibits found on the ground floor feature North American mammals and forests, human biology and Northwest Coast Indians. Another popular area is the Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems where nearly every kind of rock and precious stone can be found in a kaleidoscope of colors and all kinds of sizes. The nearby Ross Hall of Meteorites is also popular especially with kids and space buffs.
Speaking of space, adjoining the museum is the Rose Center For Earth and Space and home to the world-famous Hayden Planetarium. This architectural wonder features a clear-glass cube building and inside is an immense sphere adorned with planets from our solar system. A spiraling walkway with handrails detailing the universe’s history, leads visitors into the sphere, which is actually the remodeled Hayden Planetarium with spectacular cosmos-themed shows.
Admission to the museum and the Rose Center is by donation. Anyone wanting to visit the planetarium or the museum’s IMAX films and special temporary exhibits has to pay a fee. It is possible to just pay the suggested donation of a few dollars and skip the extras though the cashiers have to be told at the beginning that all that is wanted is general access to the museum, otherwise visitors will probably wind up paying for the IMAX films and have even less time to devote to the museum. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and it can be reached by the city’s subway and bus systems. For more information call 212-769-5100.