#ChicagoLandmarks | The Field Museum

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Sunday, November 6, 2011 - 8:44pm

The Field Museum of Natural History was a direct result of the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.  After initial rumblings of building a grand museum surfaced in 1890, a letter by S.C. Eastman in July 1893, published in the Tribune, pushed a committee of three exposition directors to call a public meeting “to adopt measures to establish in Chicago a great museum that shall be a fitting memorial of the World’s Columbian Exposition and a permanent advantage and honor to the city.”

Two months later on September 16, 1893, application was made for incorporation of “The Columbian Museum of Chicago”. It was quickly granted.  Less than one year later, on June 2, 1894, the "Field Columbian Museum" officially opened at the Palace of Fine Arts Building in Jackson Park - now the Museum of Science and Industry.

By 1906, the museum trustees began looking for a new, permanent home for the museum's collections, and by 1914 construction on the building began.  Designed by famed architect Daniel H. Burnham in the classical revival architectural style, the new building would cost $7 million dollars to construct and would be placed on the Southern end of Grant Park. Today, this area is better known as Museum Campus.  The cornerstone was laid on September 28,1917, and the process of moving all specimens over from the Jackson Park site began in March of 1920.  Finally, on May 2, 1921, the Field Museum of Natural History opened at its current location with the purpose of the "accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, and the preservation and exhibition of artifacts illustrating art, archaeology, science and history."

To date, the Field Museum of Natural History contains nearly 24 million specimens and artifacts (of which only a small fraction is on public display) and employs about 200 scientists who explore, investigate, and study the animals and plant life around the world.  Since it's opening in 1921, the museum's mission has evolved along with Earth's ecological changes.  Debra Mskovits, senior VP of the Museum's Department of Environment, Culture, and Conservation explains:

If, more than 100 years ago, the Museum's founders had known that so many species would be in danger today, conservation would have been a part of our original mission.  Today, we've expanded our mission from exploring only, to exploring, explaining, and sustaining.

While there are thousands of items to see and tons of exhibits to explore, I've listed and detailed a few of my favorites below.

The Field's newest exhibition: The Abbott Hall of Conservation Restoring Earth

Abbott Hall of Conservation Restoring Earth entrance

The newest permanent exhibition at the Filed Museum is the "Abbott Hall of Conservation Restoring Earth". Opened on November 3, 2011 this exhibit promotes the work done by Field Museum scientists as they explore the world in an effort to shed light on the science behind conserving our natural resources.

The coral reefs of Fiji; island environments in Madagascar; the Florida Keys; the Philippines; and Chicago are some of the locations featured in the exhibit's displays.

Anna Huntley, the exhibition's project manager said:

We want to challenge the perception of what a museum can be. Field Museum scientists work to preserve biodiversity all over the world. We want people to know that conservation can be discovery, beauty, adventure, and action.

There are plenty of interactive and educational tools for adults and children alike. Hands-on "experiments" and giant iPad-like touch screens help illustrate the scientists' work, while giant video projections showcase Field scientists dropping from helicopters into dense jungles and canoeing down the Amazon while describing their adventures.

Touch-screens in the Abbott Hall of Conservation Restoring Earth exhibitNot only is the exhibit loaded with information, it's a beautiful eco-friendly space, too. Bold colors and modern design make this hall extremely fresh when compared to Field's older exhibits. Large-scale, high-resolution photographs adorn the walls (some as large as 9' x 14') while sound effects and creative lighting systems make for quite an immersive and comforting space. No harmful substances were used in the hall's construction to keep it in line with the message of conservation. The walls are covered with Kirei Board - an engineered panel product constructed from the stalks of the Sorghum plant - and the floor is made from recycled carpet and wood.  You can read more about the exhibition here.


Specimen FMNH PR2081, A.K.A "Sue"

Sue is the Field's most prized specimen.  Pegged at just over 65.5–67 million years million years Sue the T. Rexold, Sue is; the most complete; the most extensive; and the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered.  This "Tyrant Lizard" measures in at forty feet long from nose to tail, and twelve feet tall at the hips. It was discovered in 1990 by paleontologist, Sue Hendrickson at Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, South Dakota. By the time they had fully-excavated the fossils, it was determined that the skeleton was 80 percent complete - most T. Rex fossils are usually missing over half of their bones.  In October of 1997 the Field Museum purchased the specimen at auction for $8.36 million! Not surprisingly, it was the most ever paid for dinosaur fossil. 

After years of research, cataloging, photographing, casting, and final assembly, the Sue exhibit opened on May 17, 2000 to a crowd of nearly 10,000.  The skull displayed with the rest of the skeleton is actually a casting.  The original skull was crushed and distorted from eons of burial so The Field Museum team altered this cast to remove the distortions and create a model of how the skull may actually have looked.  The actual skull is on display, and other cool Sue "stuff" is up in the North end mezzanine on the second floor.

Check out this really cool time-lapse video of Sue's Assembly. It's the 4th video in the set.


Tsavo Lions: 

Tsavo Maneater

The "Tsavo Maneaters" are two lions on display at the Field Museum who are notorious for killing and eating humans.  The story goes something like this...In 1938 the British started building a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in East Africa. In March of 1938 two lions began killing and eating the workers building this bridge. After a 9-month killing spree, chief project engineer Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson finally shot the first lion on December 9, 1898, and three weeks later brought down the second. It was originally claimed by Col. Patterson that the lions killed more than 130 men, but recent research has put that number closer to 35. The 1996 movie, The Ghost and the Darkness, was based off of the book written by Col. Patterson detailing his accounts. The Lions' names; "The Ghost" and "The Darkness".

The Field Museum purchased the skins directly from Col. Patterson in 1924.  They were sold at a cost of $5,000 and we're in poor condition - they were Patterson's floor rugs for 25 years. Despite the damage, the Field Museum was able to reconstruct and mend the pelts so they could be displayed. The original skulls are included, too.

Inside Ancient Egypt:

Mummification diorama The Egyptian exhibit on display at The Field Museum is great, especially if you're a fan of ancient Egyptian history. The three story tomb re-creation features two authentic rooms, adorned with hieroglyphs, from the 5,000-year-old tomb of pharaoh’s son Unis-Ankh. Mummies, urns, sarcophagus' and other authentic Egyptian artifacts can be found throughout the exhibition.  One of my favorite parts of this exhibit is the miniature dioramas that illustrate the mummification process.  In the photo at right, an ancient Egyptian embalmer is preparing to wrap the body in the first layer of linen while a priest, wearing the headdress of Anubis, presides over the mummification ritual.



Of course, there is a lot more stuff to see at the Field Museum, and trying to write about it all would keep me busy for weeks.  So I'll end the post here and suggest you go see it for yourself - soon! It's open everyday from 9am-5pm, except on Christmas Day. You can find more information on current admission prices, and hours here. An added bonus - Here is a list of upcoming Field Museum Discount Days.  Lastly, if you have the opportunity, go early and during the week.  You can avoid the weekend crowds, and have space to explore at your own pace - though you may have to dodge a human chain or two of students snaking through Stanley Field Hall.



Have a request or idea for a #ChicagoLandmark photo-op or blog post?  Tweet the building/structure/location to me @ChiPhotoGuy and please include #ChicagoLandmarks.  If I don’t have the photos already, it means I need to go out and get them!

Check out my intro post for more information on the #ChicagoLandmarks project

Sources and additional reading:

The Field Museum of Natural History - Wikipedia

Sue the T. Rex - Wikipedia

Tsavo Maneaters - Wikipedia

The Field Museum Webpage

ChiPhotoGuy's picture
Nick Ulivieri
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