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TheDrama Unfolds in Paterson

Carnegie’s dinosaurs—now getting the star treatment at Phil Fraley Productions—will be starring in provocative new scenes when they return to Pittsburgh next year.

Right: Phil Fraley, museum Director Bill DeWalt, and Curator Chris Beard survey Apatosaurus louisae.














At times it’s as delicate and exacting as internal surgery. Other times it takes the appearance of a construction zone. Still other times it’s apparent that true artists are at work. It’s the process of taking Pittsburgh’s oldest residents—the Carnegie Museums dinosaurs—and making them ready for their fabulous new digs at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. And it’s all happening, sometimes simultaneously, at the hangar-like studio of Phil Fraley Productions in Paterson, New Jersey.

For the past year, team Fraley has been chemically cleaning, chipping, chiseling, molding, welding, and doing plenty of heavy lifting as part of this extreme makeover of Carnegie’s dinosaurs. Their core materials are bones unearthed by Andrew Carnegie’s intrepid group of dinosaur hunters a century ago. And these aren’t just any bones: One femur of an adult sauropod weighs in at 300 pounds; an entire pelvis of the same creature breaks the scale at 3,000 pounds. The men and women doing the job are sculptors skilled in metal work, now charged with the task of molding the steel armature snaking its way through the standing specimens, holding the bones together; artists who normally work with clay pottery, now charged with the task of creating plaster casts of missing bones; and graphic designers who never dreamed they’d one day be building dinosaurs.

On a hot and sticky day in August—perfect jungle-like weather if you’re a sauropod from ancient Utah—Bill DeWalt, director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Chris Beard, curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, took news reporters from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and the New York-New Jersey area up close to some mind-boggling history. Although both have been involved in the planning of Dinosaurs in Their World since the $36 million project began, they still appear in genuine awe of what’s being created.

“ People who have been viewing these dinosaurs for decades won’t even recognize them,” exclaims Beard, as he peers up—way up—at one of the objects of his admiration. Beard is surveying Apatosaurus louisae, the 76-foot-long, almost graceful-looking sauropod named after Andrew Carnegie’s wife Louise. But louisae hasn’t looked this good—this alive—since she perished and fell to the ground about 150 million years ago.

For nearly a century, louisae had stood in the museum’s now-dismantled Dinosaur Hall, tail down, head hanging, and looking every bit the part of the big, clunky, peace-loving vegetarian we thought her to be. But here’s the catch: Through decades of new findings, including the discovery of trails of dinosaur footprints frozen in fossilized time, scientists now know that this dinosaur, although not a predatory animal, was nothing like the slow, lumbering dinosaurs of our imaginations.

“ What we’re creating in our new exhibit halls are scenes that will give visitors a new vision of the dinosaurs they thought they knew, and a new appreciation for the world they lived in,” says Beard.

Scene Stealers
Scene one was in the midst of being played out that day in August, as reporters made their way through Phil Fraley’s massive studio—walking beneath louisae’s newly elevated, 30-foot-long swirling tail and loitering beneath her giant rib cage. Since being disassembled in Pittsburgh last summer and then shipped to Paterson, Apatosaurus louisae has been put back together again in a dynamic new pose. Anything but dormant and docile, this new louisae is protecting her baby— head swung to one side, peering at the threat behind her, her tail in mid-swing, ready to strike.

Her infant Apatosaurus hasn’t entered the scene yet; that’s the next project for team Fraley. One of only two baby Apatosaurus skeletons in existence, this specimen will be new to the Carnegie Museums dinosaur exhibits and will play the part of louisae’s baby in peril. The predator in the scene is an Allosaurus, recently reassembled into his own dynamic new pose: charging, his head and neck outstretched and almost parallel to the ground, his tiny arms ready to swipe his dinner. Less than half the size of the giant louisae, this 30-foot animal was fast and furiously efficient at preying, two-footed, on living creatures his own size or smaller, such as the baby Apatosaurus.

How this scene ends is anyone’s guess. Just as it’s anyone’s guess which Tyrannosaurus rex will be triumphant in another scene that Phil Fraley’s team will begin constructing early next year. A small model of the scene sits off to the side in the studio: the first T. rex, the museum’s famous type specimen (which means it’s the scientific model that all other T. rexes are compared with) looks to be in the middle of a violent dance with another T. rex intent on depriving him of the carcass of an Edmontosaurus. “Visitors will literally be able to circle around this amazing scene,” Beard says.

They’ll circle, and they’ll wonder: Which one wins? It doesn’t much matter, since the real winners of these dramatic scenes of the life and times of dinosaurs will be the millions of people who, for the next century and beyond, will be awestruck by the sight of Dinosaurs in Their World.

“ This is by far the biggest project we’ve ever done,” says Phil Fraley, who has already managed the biggest dinosaur-hall projects in the world. “It’s going to be something fantastic to see.”

Stay tuned.

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