The Nature of a Museum

So the Cheetah and the False Saber-Toothed Tiger are having a conversation.  What are they saying?

Why, they’re Lion, of course.

Okay, now that you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, let me assure you that everyone is inspired differently at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

For me, it may be dopey jokes (well, actually, almost everything inspires me in that way).  For you and your children there are countless ways to be moved.

Here’s how it worked on a recent Saturday.  Through the auspices of my friend and Museum Trustee Gregg Martin, and under the watchful eye of our most companionable hostess, Desiree, I was once again afforded the opportunity to see the Museum in a very fortunate way.  And this time, it was with my kids.

The highlights?  How about our guide Jesse’s excitement over the ongoing deductive reasoning to figure out what one can only suppose from the fossilized evidence, a process which would make Sherlock Holmes proud.

Take the female saber-toothed tiger (a true one) with the seriously beaten pelvic bone.  What do you think these scientist/detectives came up with from that?  Here’s a clue.  The bone had been broken, undoubtedly deeply affecting its owner.  However… it had healed.  What did that mean?

I’ll tell you.  That other saber-tooths had protected her until she could get better.  That the saber-toothed tiger, previously thought to have been a loner, was, instead, quite social.  Cool, huh?

Or when our second guide, Doyle, took us to the “staging area” for the dinosaur fossils, where we actually touched the serrated edges of a T-Rex’s teeth – teeth that, by the way, would grow anew over and over during that big carnivore’s life.  Like getting a new set of steak knives every month.  For free.

Then Doyle showed us something I never knew existed – the extraordinary and rare fossilized imprint of a dinosaur’s skin.  Can you imagine suddenly knowing what these creatures had covering them?  Instead of merely supposing?

But, for all of its wonders, this Museum wisely knows that everything starts with the young ones.  If you can reach them, you get to the kid in each of us.  And when you watch how your own kids react, it’s the biggest eye-opener of all.

My seven year-old daughter loved the modern-day animal exhibits, from the stuffed white-tailed deer to the red fox (funny, he didn’t look at all like the Fred Sanford I remembered) to the walrus to the raccoons.  Both she and my four year-old son marveled audibly at the huge relaxing polar bear (actually assembled from a donated rug).  They both loved the state-of-the-art touch-screen learning (and playing) displays, and especially the one on which you find and “dig up” dinosaur fossils.

But the biggest “Ooohhh?”  Well, for my daughter, it wasn’t the incredible dinosaur fossils or the taxidermied animals.  Rather, it was the soaring, majestic glass ceiling of the Rotunda, which has been restored to every bit of the beauty it must have had almost a hundred years ago.

And, for my little boy?  Like his sister, he loved the… get this… elevators.  The stunning beaux-artish ones which, until they open, look just like part of the wall.

Which goes to prove one thing.  When you take your family to the Natural History Museum, you’ll see a lot of the kinds of fantastic bones, creatures, and science you expect.  But there’s one beautifully preserved “fossil” you don’t want to miss.

The extraordinary Museum, itself.

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