A Naturalist’s Dream

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in February/March 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.

It’s funny when you go to a place that you’ve seen a million times in movies and on TV and it looks… exactly as it looks on the screen. New York City is very big (very, very big) and thus very different, depending on the area that you happen to be visiting, but I hold these cute house façades as lovely early memories of my time in this city. The uncanny feeling returned as I visited other places (crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance while riding the Staten Island Ferry come to mind), but I still hold these first few days dear, when I did not quite believe that I was in the mythical New York City, and that I was finally in the company of my best friends (whom I hadn’t seen in five years!).


American Museum of Natural History

Usually abbreviated to AMNH, the American Museum of Natural history was first housed in the Arsenal building in Central Park, which itself predates the existence of the park and was originally used as a storehouse for arms and ammunition for the New York State Militia. The AMNH started as the dream of naturalist Dr. Albert S. Bickmore, who lobbied extensively for the creation of such a museum in the city of New York. This dream finally became realized on April 6, 1869, after his proposal gained the support of the then Governor of New York, John Thompson Hoffman.

The cornerstone was laid out in 1874, and the first building (one of a total of 26) opened in 1877. It was designed by Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould, who worked as well on several structures in Central Park.

Additions followed in the 20th century, including a building designed by J. Cleaveland Cady, as well as the New York State Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, designed by John Russell Pope in 1936.

The Akeley Hall of African Mammals is named after the taxidermist, biologist, and conservator Carl Akeley, who first proposed its construction in around 1909. It holds 28 dioramas depicting various ecosystems found in Africa and the mammals native to them. The art that serves as background for these dioramas was created under the direction of William R. Leigh, an American artist and illustrator.

Akeley unexpectedly passed away of dysentery while on an expedition in Africa in 1926, and so James L. Clark, who had been his apprentice and had been accompanying him on the expeditions undertaken to fill these dioramas, took charge of the project. The hall eventually opened gradually between the mid-1920s and the early 1940s.

Plans for more dioramas — such as Birds of the World, the Hall of North American Mammals, the Vernay Hall of Southeast Asian Mammals, and the Hall of Oceanic Life — soon followed.

While most of the fossil collection held by the museum is not on display, they do make quite a few items available to visitors, with Halls of Vertebrate Origins, Saurischian Dinosaurs, Ornithischian Dinosaurs, Primitive Mammals, and Advanced Mammals.

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