November 26, 2010

The Field Museum: A Primer

The Field Museum of Natural History. Where can I start?

To fellow natives of Chicago and the surrounding towns, I think you understand this. How can I sum up the greatest Natural History (and more) Museum in the world? Yes, the best. But I'll get to that later.

The "Columbian Museum of Chicago" was founded in 1891 as part of the World's Columbian Exposition (a fascinating event in its own right), but the name was changed to the Field Museum in 1905. It moved to its current location on the lakeshore in 1921, in the new building mostly paid for by the Field family (of Marshall Field fame).

The grandeur of the building itself deserves its own posts, but it is also invaluable in its diverse variety of subjects covered, presentation of information, and the sheer value of everything it owns.

Growing up around Chicago, most elementary kids go to the Field museum at least once every two years, and usually to see different exhibits. Field trips are fun on their own, but I always treasured field trips to the Field the most. Especially as a juvenile dinosaur nut, it was great to see Sue in all of her glory upon walking into the main hall. In fact, I think that the late "Life over Time" directly influenced me to pursue a career in geology.

One of the great traits of the Field Museum is just its immense size. I've been going there for years, and I still suspect that there are exhibits deep in the halls that I've never seen. I walked around those marble halls for hours today and I know that there are still things that I am missing. However, there is more to the Field than that. One great thing about size is that you never feel cramped or crushed. The huge size lets exhibits breathe, and when you really need to take a break, the main hall is the best place to go. Sunlight streams in through the roof, illuminating everything.

But another great part about the Field is the diversity. There are dinosaurs, Native Americans, Egyptian mummies, and world animals that are all presented with insane attention to detail. There are other exhibits about Africa, soil, Maori culture, Tibet, not to mention rotating exhibits of relevant topics, like Climate Change, the history of Gold, and Mythical Creatures.

I also love how they have a Fossil Prep lab with big windows, so kids can see what paleontologists do to remove the bones from the rock. It really gives you an appreciation for what scientists do to discover and preserve artifacts and bones.

I have visited both the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum and the American Museum of Natural History, and I am still proud to say that my hometown museum is the greatest place to spend the day. The taxidermy collections are easily as extensive as the Smithsonian's, and navigating the Field isn't as tricky, creepy or dangerous as the AMNH. All natural history museums have their pros and cons, but I would still choose the Field Museum as a place to explore and learn.