Exploring the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

Exploring the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

with 15 Comments

 

Founded in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City sports a typical late 19th century Neo-Gothic architecture. At the main entrance on Central Park West, we look up at the equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt.

 

A display of white supremacy?

 

Roosevelt sits snugly in a saddle in full hunting attire (as an advocator for wildlife conservation, go figure!). He grasps the reins of his horse and reaches back with his right hand as if to grab his gun, which he wears in a holster around his waist. He is flanked by a “Native American” and an African, both standing next to his horse. Symbolically, the autochthons clearly occupy an inferior position here!

 

What makes us even more uncomfortable is that this bronze sculpture was not erected in the 19th century, but was actually a later addition created around 1939-40 to be precise. Truth be told, we’re not sure what to think of this display of white supremacy in front of a temple of knowledge…

 

 

Along with the crowd, we follow the monumental steps, which lead us into a vast Roman basilica. There we stumble upon a cast of a skeleton of a rearing Barosaurus… and the tickets admission. We soon learn that tourists and locals alike make the mistake of believing that the posted entrance fee is mandatory. But if you read in detail, you’ll notice that in most cases these fees are actually “suggested” and not required. Of course we encourage you to donate to the museum as much as your income will allow you, but it can’t hurt to know that you do have a choice. 😉

 

Too big to fit in a room!

 

After wandering through the fossil halls, past Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons and multiple Ornithischian Dinosaurs, all relics of an antediluvian world, we come face to face with a gigantic skeleton which nearly knocks our socks off: the Titanosaur… It is so big that it doesn’t even fit in the room. And his head and neck peek out of the room’s entrance as if he was put there to scare the visitors. Although we like to think that he’s there to greet us. Because after all, this giant creature was an herbivore and survived on plants alone, even if it measures over 122 feet long and weighs about 70 tons.

 

 

We continue to the mammal halls, where most specimens were acquired during expeditions in the 1920’s and end up in the environmental halls, where we admire stuffed animals that are preserved in a slightly dramatized setting. Here, the animals are displayed in a specific environmental context, and not exposed on a glass shelf with a neat label. Hence, we find this method of exhibition much better than the one at the Natural History Museum in Paris, where we have spent many happy hours though.

 

“Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you for your children”

 

This Kenyan proverb sets the tone for the majestic Hall of the North American Forests, where a cut slice of a giant sequoia trunk offers a glance at more than 1,400 years of history. Having visited Sequoia National Park in California a few years ago, we still stand aghast in front of this majestic tree ring! Until it was felled by lumberjacks in 1891, the ancient sequoia – also called “Mark Twain Tree” – was more than 300 feet tall. Impressive, isn’t it?!

 

Right behing us, a screaming kid is thrashing about on the floor, punching at everything that he can reach. His mum is hovering over him. But her soothing words are drowned by his shrieks. Soon, a circle has formed around the kid. Somehow, we regret that the kid’s show is getting more attention than the sequoia. It’s been growing for over 1000 years and admired for over 100 years. How many tantrums has it witnessed? Probably too many to tell. And yet here we are gazing at an outburst which will be over in a blink of the eye.

 

Mei could have sworn that she spotted someone taking out his IPhone to document the scene. Probably the next big hit on Youtube? Which will again last a blink of the eye… Slightly irked, we decide to leave the room still filled with screeches and protest, and make our way to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, which focuses on marine biology, botany and conservation.

 

A blue whale model is hanging from the ceiling inside the fully immersive marine environment. Eight ocean ecosystem displays make us travel underwater from the rainbow-colored Indo-Pacific coral reefs to the flickering luminescence of tiny fishes in the eerie darkness of the deep sea. A fascinating trip to the unknown!

 

 

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

 

By the time we enter the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Gems and Minerals, our feet are sore. But the enigmatic lure of the mood-lit room and its sparkling gems wins us over. It’s actually unbelievable that there are 100.000 pieces of gems exhibited in this hall! We gape at the radiant luster here, the fluorescence there, at sword and bubble shapes, and learn about the polishing, cutting and carving of stones.

 

Amongst the most celebrated pieces is the Patricia Emerald, a 632-carat, 12-sided stone, discovered in the 1920’s in a mine in the Colombian Andes. Also, there’s the 563-carat Star of India, discovered in Sri Lanka over 300 years ago, and believed to be the largest sapphire in the world.

 

As we finally leave the Natural History Museum, we see that New York City has been severely hit by a thunderstorm. The sky is clearing up, but ripped branches and leaves form a thick carpet on the floor, with multiple mud puddles. Mei nudges me with her elbow: “How about that? We were saved by the museum!”

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Exploring the American Museum of Natural History in New York © Travelwithmk

Exploring the American Museum of Natural History in New York © Travelwithmk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow Kerstin:

Traveler - Storyteller

Kerstin is a 30-something French teacher, born and raised in a tiny Luxembourgish village, but who used to live in Bordeaux, Paris, Athens and San Francisco with her wife Mei. Fluent in 5 languages, she's above all a huge book enthusiast, a fervent writer and storyteller, and could never refuse a good old single malt whiskey. Oh, and she also loves coffee and chocolate (not sure in which order though).

15 Responses

  1. Cristina Luisa
    | Reply

    Love this post and your questioning of the display of white supremacy in Roosevelt’s statue. It is so institutionalized that so many people just accept it as “reality.” New York has so many wonderful museums, and this is one I haven’t yet seen. The blue whale and dinosaur look quite impressive. Good to know that the entrance fee is a suggested price!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thank you Cristina Luisa! We’re glad you love our post, and hope that you’ll get to visit the AMNH nex ttime you’re in NY. 🙂 About our questioning of Roosevelt’s statue: do you know what’s crazy? We saw so many people taking selfies in front of this statue, and wondered if they knew the meaning of it and questioned about it at all. Because not just the objects or artworks inside a museum, but also those displayed in front of it, are supposed to enhance the interest and curiosity of visitors, and make them (or us) think about its meaning. So that’s why we thought it’s important to share our opinion about it here.

  2. Renata
    | Reply

    Oh sister, oh sister, I’m enjoying your critical approach so much! I always feel like a major grouch criticizing about 50 per cent of what I see and do when writing about my travels. Yes, the statue is disturbing! And yes, it’s unnerving when kids get a fit. Thanks for not using awesome, cool etc.
    Regarding the entrance fee: At the MET it’s the same. I didn’t notice this by myself, it was a friend from NY who informed me thusly and I was amazed. At the Frick collection it’s like that on Sundays – and Guggenheim is free or suggested on Friday, the Whitney, too, as far as I remember, and the MoMA I forgot. That I know all this stuff only shows how cheap I am, I guess.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha, thanks for your comment Renata! Glad you enjoy our approach. 🙂 And yes, we’ve heard that many other museums in NY also just “suggest” an entrance fee. If the exhibits are well done, we can imagine that people would donate some more after their visit, don’t you think?

  3. Jas
    | Reply

    Love the Kenyan proverb! And the blue whale model is absolutely magical. Will definitely have to add this to my list of things to see for when I revisit New York next!

  4. Martina
    | Reply

    This museum must be so fascinating – really really impressing. Hopefully I can manage to go to New York one day – definately worth a visit>!

  5. Emma Brewer
    | Reply

    Would love to visit one day, and great tip about the entrance fee!

  6. wewhoroamns
    | Reply

    I have always wanted to come here! It always looks so incredible in the movies. Great photo of the Titanosaur bones! Love how large it is and how it can’t even fit into one room! Next time we are in New York we must visit here.

  7. Candy
    | Reply

    I’ve always been fascinated by dinosaurs and would love to see the Titanosaur skeleton. The head in that photo is huuuge. I bet it’s even more fascinating to see that huge skeloton head in person 🙂

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes Candy, that titanosaur skeleton was really impressive! And standing next to it really made us wonder if we would want to travel back to the time of dinosaurs, even if we could! hehe..

  8. Danila Caputo
    | Reply

    We absolutely loved the American Museum of Natural History in NYC! It’s probably one of our favorite museums in the Big Apple! Hubby especially loved to explore the dinosaurs area!

  9. We really enjoyed our trip to the MNH. Reading this post, reminded us of a melt down that happened in front of us on our visit too. We almost wish we could have experienced it without all the crazy families and children. Sure, that is selfish, it is after-all, about educating children about the world and nature. But our lack of paternal instinct kicks in when screaming kids start.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes you’re right Anthony, museums also have an educational role and are there to enhance the curiosity of visitors (may it be adults or children) on the history and objets that are displayed. So even if whining or screaming kids disturb us, we usually end up saying that at least they’re here in a museum and not in front of a TV or playing video games at home. 🙂

  10. Melanie
    | Reply

    I have yet to visit this museum in NYC. The room with the whale looks majestic! There a plenty of art showing white supremacy through history and across the world, it is important to have this discussion!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yep, the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life with the huge whale hanging from its ceiling is truly impressive. And regarding artworks that show white supremacy, we’re actually glad that they are not hidden somewhere but displayed in their context, because they’re after all parts of history. And it’s important that people don’t forget about the past, may it be good or bad, and make the “bad” decisions of the past an ongoing subject of discussion.

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