Better Than Nature: The American Museum of Natural History

January 17, 2013 — I don’t have to introduce our pics from the American Museum of Natural History, do I? It’s only one of the best and most famous museums on the entire planet that it microcosms. Heck, it’s almost better than nature and history itself.

In reading about this place, you’ll mostly encounter astounding facts about its size, that it maintains a staggering 48 exhibition halls across some 25 buildings, most of which are research and archival centers. That the collection numbers some 32 million specimens, way too many to display, and that it attracts about 5 million visits a year. And all that is extremely impressive and extremely daunting.

But beyond that, just as a public museum, what really stuck out to me about this place over, say, Chicago’s Field Museum or my beloved Smithsonian in DC (which dwarfs those above numbers), are that it features some of the best designed, most elegant displays that I’ve ever seen in a natural history museum.

The taxidermy was grouped into elaborate dioramas that seemed to glow in the dim library-like rooms like rows of portals into other worlds. These displays were always multi-creature, and often multi-species, frozen in interaction for as long as New York City avoids becoming a Snake Plissken movie. The artifacts of indigenous people were arranged majestically, exactly how I’d want a future civilization to view my own. The Hall of Ocean Life made me feel like I was at the bottom of the ocean. The dinosaur skeletons were set in clean, bright rooms, liberated and far removed from the dusty rocks that so long imprisoned them. It’s hard for me to describe. Hard for me to depict in pictures. Easy for me to make excuses for my failings.

Tuesday was my first ever visit to this 144-year-old institution, and it’s not really the type of place that you can adequately experience in the few hours that we dedicated to it. For instance, we missed out on the special exhibits (which, honestly, weren’t too compelling at the time we were there…some butterflies, some photos, some movies), the space stuff, and the rocks, which will kill me for years since I missed out on seeing the largest meteorite on display in the world (34 tons) and the famous Star of India sapphire. Who knows what else I missed.

Still, I have enough highlights to console me during the moments when I wake up sweat-drenched from those nightmares where I don’t end up seeing everything on the planet before I die. Stuff like Jivaroan shrunken heads, a mummy dinosaur, and the fantastic lighted wall of mixed specimens that was the entrance to the Hall of Ocean Life.

The museum’s located right on Central Park on the upper west side of Manhattan, which, like everything else in the borough, means that the only real downside is the cost. There’s a general admission fee, extra fees for special exhibits, parking’s expensive. Of course, the admission is technically only suggested, so I guess you could save on that.

But whatever it takes, make sure you see these giant rooms of dead and antiquated things before you eventually become one.

Actually, that’s a great idea. Wife, bury me in a natural history museum exhibit. Your choice.

A Mundurucu head, kind of like a shrunken head...
except not shrunken.

I can't come up with a natural segue to the other shrunken
head collection in NYC, so here.

A colossal Olmec head carving...sucker
was like six or seven feet tall.

"Mummy" used loosely to mean that more than just
bone structure was preserved on this dinosaur.

Decorating ideas.

The skull and outline of a prehistoric rhino, which was
taller than a house.

More decorating ideas.