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Above: For more than 40 years, this giant mural of T. rex intimidated and inspired Dinosaur Hall visitors. But it came down in the ’90s because of its inaccuracies.






Its creation more than a century ago was called a “colossal undertaking,” and its residents were the most colossal creatures ever to have roamed the earth. Dinosaur Hall: a history.

In 1898, three years after opening Carnegie Museums, Andrew Carnegie asked museum Director William Holland to purchase a dinosaur for display. Holland accepted the challenge while warning his boss that buying, transporting, and mounting such a specimen would be “the most colossal undertaking of its kind in the history of
the world.”

Now, more than a century later, Carnegie Museum of Natural History is about to embark on another colossal project: updating and expanding its venerable and beloved Dinosaur Hall. The project is no less ambitious than Andrew Carnegie’s dream of creating a home for prehistoric creatures in the dusty steel town where he made his fortune. It will go beyond the mere presentation of dinosaur skeletons, however, as it places the skeletal remains of dinosaurs, mammals, fish, and the plant life from the Age of Dinosaurs in realistic environments and scientifically accurate positions. Groundbreaking is scheduled for March 2005.

“Carnegie intrinsically understood the appeal of the dinosaurs and how the public would react,” says Bill DeWalt, director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “He knew dinosaurs would bring people in, and he wanted his museum to be to be the center of scientific research about dinosaurs and their world.”

Right: What Andrew Carnegie wanted, he got—and he wanted a dinosaur. Here, then-museum Director William Holland gives dignitaries a look at Diplodocus carnegii.

“Carnegie was of the ‘Oh my!’ value of things,” says Mary Dawson, curator emeritus with Carnegie Museum of Natural History. And no matter how jaded we think we’ve become, the spectacle of a roomful of dinosaurs never ceases to impress us.

“I’ve seen parents literally dash through the other rooms in the museum with their children—they just want to see the dinosaurs,” says Dawson, who retired in 2003 after 30 years as the museum’s curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, although she’s still active in research. Surprisingly, the woman who has spent a good part of her career talking about dinosaurs isn’t a dinosaur expert at all. Her field of expertise is fossil mammals. “I’ve never done research on a dinosaur,” she says. “But dinosaurs are an occupation here for any curator because of the public interest and the collections.”

For the Love of Dinosaurs
As a child, John “Jack” McIntosh was one of those kids who would race by other exhibits to see the dinosaurs. A Wesleyan University physics professor emeritus, McIntosh remembers the first time he visited Dinosaur Hall at age five. “I fell in love immediately,” he says.

As a teenager in the 1930s, McIntosh visited the museum’s Paleontology department regularly—even during vacations—getting to know the staff and the collections. Even though a Yale professor convinced him to go into a field where he’d earn more money, McIntosh continued to study the dinosaurs. Today he is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on sauropods (plant-eating dinosaurs with long necks and tails), such as the museum’s Diplodocus carnegii.

Dinosaurs have enthralled people of all ages since they were first discovered in the mid-1800s, and Carnegie was no exception. The combination of the animals being a relatively new phenomena, extremely rare, and colossal in size was an intoxicating mixture for the industrialist.
“Carnegie always wanted the latest thing,” says Betty Hill, retired collections archivist and now a volunteer with the Museum of Natural History.

It was while visiting New York City that Carnegie opened the newspapers to articles touting the Wyoming discovery of a Brontosaurus giganteus. Carnegie immediately sent the New York Post article to William Holland, with a note “can you buy this for Pittsburgh—try…get an offer...hurry.” Hill has the note, and many others, scanned into the archives that she continues to painstakingly fill.

Hill, who was hired by Mary Dawson in 1975 to help archive the museum’s vast collections, probably knows the story of Carnegie’s dinosaurs better than anyone, having spent the last three years electronically storing countless documents into the museum’s archives, including old letters from Carnegie to his staff.

With a wealth of knowledge and experience between them are Mary Dawson (left), curator of Vertebrate Paleontology for over three decades and now curator emeritus, and Betty Hill, retired collection manager, whose association with the Museum of Natural History has spanned 30 years.

Pay Dirt
Holland, always eager to please his boss, did hurry—fulfilling Carnegie’s request within a year.

He spent the first six months trying to buy Brontosaurus giganteus—which later turned out to be only a femur. Finally admitting defeat, Holland moved his bone-digging team 20 miles away to another site in the Morrison Formation in Wyoming, hoping to find another dinosaur. On July 4, 1899, they hit pay dirt. In the months and years ahead, they would send so many crates of fossils to Pittsburgh—including the bones of three partial Diplodocus specimens—that the museum installed railway tracks in its basement to facilitate delivery.

Left: Earl Douglas, Carnegie bone hunter, at work.

Before becoming director of Carnegie Museums, Holland, a Princeton graduate proficient in several languages, had been pastor of Oakland’s Bellefield Presbyterian Church and chancellor of Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh). While he was self-taught in paleontology, Holland had a thirst for scientific knowledge.

“Holland learned an awful lot,” says McIntosh. “His later papers were quite good.” Dawson adds that while Carnegie had the funds, Holland “was important in understanding what was found.” What’s more, Holland used Carnegie’s money to recruit major talent, including Arthur Coggeshall, a fossil preparator, and Jacob Wortman, the museum’s first curator of Vertebrate Paleontology—both hired away from the American Museum in New York. “Holland got a very fine staff of very experienced men,” says McIntosh. “Coggeshall was one of the best preparators of his time.”

When Wortman left the museum in 1900, Holland hired Princeton Paleonto-logist John Bell Hatcher, who invented the excavation grid system still used by paleontologists in the discovery and study of dinosaur fossils. “Hatcher was a very, very fine paleontologist,” says McIntosh.

It was Hatcher who dubbed the Carnegie team’s first major find—a colossal sauropod—Diplodocus carnegii “in recognition of Carnegie’s interest in vertebrate paleontology.” The longest known dinosaur at the time (its reign was later usurped by Brachiosaurus), the Diplodocus is a type specimen—the first of its kind found and the basis for the species’ original description.

While the $5 million museum expansion to house the dinosaur was underway, King Edward VII saw an illustration of Diplodocus carnegii and requested that Carnegie find one for the British Museum. Knowing such a task would be nearly impossible, Carnegie offered the king a Diplodocus carnegii cast. Once mounted in England—two years before the original would debut in Pittsburgh—requests poured in. As a gesture of goodwill and scientific cooperation, Carnegie (and later his wife) gave casts of his namesake to 12 museums around the world, making Diplodocus carnegii one of the world’s most seen dinosaurs.

All the casts, as well as the originals, were mounted using an ingenious system created by Coggeshall in which dinosaur vertebrae are strung along one iron rod—using Carnegie steel, naturally. Bones were attached with steel as unobtrusively as possible. Mary Dawson says the mounting “is a work of art itself.”

Bones, Bones, and More Bones
In 1909, thanks to Carnegie’s annual $10,000 add-on to the museum’s paleontology budget, Paleontologist Earl Douglass—often referred to as “the King of Collectors”—discovered one of the largest caches of dinosaur bones ever found in the Morrison Formation near Jensen, Utah. Designated Dinosaur National Monument in 1919, the site contained enough dinosaur bones to keep crews excavating year-round for 13 years.

Of the 20 mountable skeletons found, six were erected in Dinosaur Hall between 1915 and the early 1940s: Apatosaurus louisae (a.k.a. bronto-saurus), Dryosaurus altus, Allosaurus fraglisi, a juvenile Camarasaurus (the most complete sauropod skeleton ever found), Stegosaurus ungulatus, and Camptosaurus dispar. The Apatosaurus louisae, a type specimen, was named after Carnegie’s wife, Louise. A more unusual gift from a husband to his wife is difficult to imagine.

Also difficult to imagine is what Carnegie’s men felt while unearthing the dinosaurs. But Betty Hill, who wore many hats during her 28 years with the museum, may best sum up their feelings when recalling the two dinosaur expeditions that she participated in during her tenure. “As we were digging up bones, I kept thinking: ‘These are the first human eyes that have ever looked at these bones. The first.’”

According to Hill, about 70,000 specimens from those digs have been catalogued—many of which she personally entered into the computer system. “There are still boxes and boxes of bones that havn’t been identified,” she says.

In the years after the Utah digs ceased in 1923, Carnegie Museum of Natural History purchased several dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) and Protoceratops andrewsi.In the 1980s, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology David Berman excavated the remains of the museum’s first Triassic dinosaur, Coelophysis, in New Mexico. Of the 15 dinosaurs currently displayed in Dinosaur Hall, five are type specimens.

But as new and more complete dinosaurs are unearthed and studied, long-held ideas about how dinosaurs lived and looked are altered, necessitating changes to the display of dinosaurs. For instance, in 1978, Berman and McIntosh proved that in 1934 a Camarasaurus head had been mis-
takenly attached to Apatosaurus louisae, which had been headless for more than 20 years. It was quickly replaced with a cast of the correct skull.

Lore, Legend, and Real History
Correcting history through science isn’t always a popular thing, however. Legends die hard—such as the legend of T. rex being a fierce, Godzilla-like predator.

That’s how T. rex was depicted in Dinosaur Hall’s old Tyrannosaurus rex mural. Created in 1949 by painter Otmar Von Fuhrer, the giant mural was commissioned to complement the skeleton purchased in 1942 from the American Museum. It loomed from the darkness, intimidating and exciting children and adults alike for decades. But as paleontologists researched T. rex using computer simulations, ichnites (fossil tracks), and more complete skeletons, they realized the mural’s depiction of T. rex’s anatomy and surroundings were incorrect.

Left: The process used to mount the bones of the dinosaurs—using specially molded Carnegie steel—is still called “a work of art” today.

In the late 1990s, the museum removed the mural, much to the chagrin of many Pittsburghers. It was eventually replaced by a new painting—from renowned dinosaur artist Michael Skrepnick— depicting T. rex in what is now considered the correct horizontal position. Prohibitive remounting costs, however, necessitated leaving the skeleton improperly sitting up.

T. rex is not the only dinosaur that will be remounted in a scientifically accurate, active pose during the upcoming renovation. Scientists now believe sauropods did not drag their tails, so Diplodocus and his sauropod friends will receive makeovers as well. (The fiberglass replica of “Dippy” erected outside the museum in 1999 is correctly posed with tail in the air.)

The expansion will also provide space for several dinosaurs kept in storage, the museum’s rich collection of mammals, fish, and plant fossils, as well as new dinosaur discoveries. DeWalt specifically mentions the work of the museum’s new Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Matt Lamanna, who at the ripe old age of 25 discovered the sauropod Paralititan in Egypt. DeWalt hopes that after the skeleton is studied, a cast will be made for the museum and the original returned to Egypt. Fittingly, the creation of that cast would likely employ many of the same techniques created over 100 years ago by the ingenious Carnegie team.

Almost 100 years after Dinosaur Hall opened, its famed dinosaurs are still attracting crowds. And Carnegie Museum of Natural History—recognized for having one of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur fossils—is still on the cutting-edge of scientific research, global cooperation, and education.

“We continue Andrew Carnegie’s interests and visions,” DeWalt says. And the world continues to be fascinated.

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