In the movie Night At The Museum Ben Stiller is a night security guard when all the exhibits come to life. You may be wondering how it can all go so wrong in such a short amount of time. Well that is because the American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. It comprises 28 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library. The museum collections contain over 33 million specimens and averages about five million visits a year.
It is these real life dioramas that the American Museum of Natural History is known for and other museums have tried to replicate (see yesterday’s POTD with the komodo dragons as an example). As amazing as these dioramas are to us today imagine seeing them 100 years ago. In that age people did not have the time or money to travel like we do today. The American Museum of Natural History was a way for the people of New York to be able to travel the world and see it in all its glory.
The American Museum of Natural History was officially created in 1869 and the current building was started in 1874. The mission statement of the American Museum of Natural History is “To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.” This mission took on a whole new meaning when the Hall of African Mammals was first proposed to the museum by Carl Akeley in 1909. His original concept contained forty dioramas which would present the rapidly vanishing landscapes and animals of Africa. The intent was that a visitor of the hall, “may have the illusion, at worst, of passing a series of pictures of primeval Africa, and at best, may think for a moment that he has stepped five thousand miles across the sea into Africa itself.” Akeley’s skillful taxidermy paired with the backgrounds paintings created an illusion of life in these animals so real that it made the museum’s other exhibits seem dull in comparison (the museum’s original style of exhibition was simply mounting a bird or animal on the wall).
Of course you may be thinking that all the museum has is dioramas of animals and you would be so wrong. The museum has a full collection of human history around the planet, displays on geology, space, dinosaurs, and just about anything else you can think of that has been living at one point or another.
Even though the Night At the Museum has the interior wrong and the exhibits in the wrong locations it is still well worth your time to visit…..just make sure you give yourself enough time to see the unending collection of exhibits. When you are done with your visit you can always hop across the street and enter Central Park, which is where I am headed next. Make sure you come back on Thursday to find out what wonderful surprise I had for Melek in the amazing park.