Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Special Day Remembered

I must have been around 10 years old when my Mom took me to the American Museum of Natural History. I don't recall if my sister was with us, and my younger brother had not yet made his appearance in the world. We didn't often get to go to places like this. My folks never owned a car so transportation was limited to subways and buses. I remember being impressed by the exterior of the Museum; I still am to this day. Shortly after its founding in 1869 by Albert Smith Bickmore, the Museum quickly outgrew its original location in the Central Park Arsenal and secured Manhattan Square, a block of land across the street from Central Park, between West 77th and 81st Streets. On June 2, 1874 the cornerstone for the Museum’s first building at 77th Street was laid by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. On December 22, 1877 the first building opened with U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes presiding at a public ceremony.

Not to be outdone by its beautiful exterior, the exhibits and collections housed inside the Museum deliver everything a 10-year old boy could wish for. At the time, visitors were blown away as soon as they entered the lobby by a giant skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the largest dinosaurs that ever walked the earth. Most of the bones were real... fossilized Tyrannosaurus bones from two specimens discovered in Montana by Museum paleontologist Barnum Brown in 1902 and 1908. (I think it still stands there today, but posed differently now that we know more about how these creatures stood upright.) If I saw nothing else that day, the T-Rex alone would have justified the hour spent on the A train. My imagination was on fire five minutes into our visit.

I also vividly recall the dioramas set up in the Museum to entertain and enlighten as you walked the corridors on the 8 floors of the building. The Hall of Mammals with wild animals from all over the world in realistic poses and habitats; early man around the campfire; scenes of everyday life of Native Americans, Eskimos, Africans, Asians; the Hall of Ocean Life that brought the sea and all its creatures indoors; the Hall of North American Forests featuring a cross section of a giant sequoia tree over 1300 years old, showing historic events that were taking place as each ring on the tree was forming; it was really too much for a 10-year old to absorb. My poor mother was probably exhausted as I dragged her from exhibit to exhibit, yelling excitedly as we rounded each corner.

And then there was the Hayden Planetarium that opened in 1935. We walked into the dark theater and took our seats, not really knowing what to expect. As the lights went completely down and the show started, I became mesmerized. Remember, this was 1952, before the advent of space exploration and travel. The planets were flat images in a text book to most people, but the Planetarium show about the origins of the galaxy and planet earth changed all that. It was almost magical to me seeing the images of Mars, Saturn and shooting stars projected overhead in the night sky. I'd be willing to bet that the experience of seeing that show inspired more than one kid to pursue a career in science. I didn't want the show or the day to end, but it did. Mom took me to the snack bar for something to eat before we got back on the subway for the long trip back to Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn.

I'm not sure what prompted Mom to make that trip with me in 1952. We didn't do many trips like that... maybe she thought I needed to have a little culture drummed into my barbarian head. I like to think she enjoyed herself, and that some of the things that fascinated me were of interest to her too. As kids, when we are doing things with our parents, like our family pilgrimage to Radio City Music Hall (
View Radio City Music Hall), or my father taking me to Yankee Stadium (View Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio), we tend to take them for granted. It's only when our parents are gone and we think back on those special moments we shared, that we appreciate what they did for us. Thanks, Tony and Fran, for making time for me.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

1 comment:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

It's interesting how you so accurately pointed out the fact that we as children rarely went to any places that required Mom and Dad taking us. Today's car was yesterday's dream! That should be a blog!
Nice memories.