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An Alumnus and His Superstar T-Rex

Posted on Monday, August 04, 2008

No one is exactly sure why a 40-foot-long T-Rex is in Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History. But one thing is for sure, Hobart alumnus and Carnegie Museum Assistant Curator Matthew Lamanna '97 and the rest of the museum's staff are working hard to give this dandy of dinosaurs the celebrity treatment it deserves. (It's a "holotype," after all, the first identified specimen of its kind and the one that all the rest will forever be compared to.) "It's the superstar," said Lamanna in a recent New York Times article. "There are other carnivorous dinosaurs even bigger, but this one had the best publicity agents." To unearth all of the details, read the New York Times article below:


New York Times "Museum’s T. Rex Roars Back in New" Sean D. Hamill • June 16, 2008 PITTSBURGH — Looking at the 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex in its renovated exhibition space, Matthew C. Lamanna, an assistant curator, said: “It’s the superstar. There are other carnivorous dinosaurs even bigger, but this one had the best publicity agents.” Matthew C. Lamanna, an assistant curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, discussing the holotype Tyrannosaurus rex, right, which is the museum’s main attraction. The T. rex, one of the most important examples ever discovered, is a main attraction in the dinosaur hall at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It goes back on display this weekend, after completion of a three-year, $36 million renovation of the hall. What may never be resolved completely is why this 66 million-year-old specimen ended up in Pittsburgh, a story involving World War II, rival museums and a debate over the reason it changed hands — which the Carnegie is happy to discuss if it adds to the allure of this creature, the holotype of its kind. The holotype is the first specimen of its kind to be scientifically identified and to which all others found afterward have to be compared. Like many natural history museums, the Carnegie hopes the seemingly unquenchable thirst for all things dinosaurian, particularly anything about the tyrant lizard king, will increase memberships, donations, attendance and even gift-store purchases. The first phase of the renovation, featuring the Carnegie’s 90-foot-long Diplodocus carnegii holotype — named after the museum’s benefactor and namesake, the steel baron Andrew Carnegie — opened in November, and attendance tripled in the first quarter of 2008 to 96,000, but officials said the real reason to renovate was scientific. “We realized our dinosaur hall had become, well, a dinosaur,” said Samuel Taylor, director of the Carnegie. The prized T. rex, in particular, was sorely out of step with the newest discoveries. Since it was first displayed at the Carnegie in 1942, its nearly 40-foot-long, five-ton body had stood, Godzilla-like, on its hind legs, head high in the air, tail dragging on the ground. Since the 1960s, paleontologists have known that T. rex more likely stood horizontally, with its tail in the air behind it as a counterbalance to its massive skull — which is now the stance of the Carnegie’s dinosaur. The renovation’s two phases more than tripled the dinosaur hall’s size, to 18,600 feet, allowing the museum to nearly double the number of mounted dinosaurs it has on display, to 19 from 10. Fifteen of those mounted dinosaurs are made up of mainly real bones, not plaster duplicates, which gives the Carnegie the third-greatest number of “real” dinosaurs on display in the country, behind the American Museum of Natural History in New York (30) and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington (26), which the Carnegie believes is further proof of its relevance. The Carnegie’s T. rex was found in 1902 in Hell Creek, Mont., by Barnum Brown, the legendary dinosaur hunter for the American Museum of Natural History. Three years later, Henry Osborn, the New York museum’s president, prepared a scientific paper in which he gave the Latin name for “tyrant lizard king.” But in early 1941, years after Mr. Brown found an even more complete T. rex, the museum put the holotype up for sale, offering it first to Yale University which turned it down. It then turned to the Carnegie, which had one of the world’s most prominent dinosaur collections, but no Tyrannosaurus rex. The museum jumped at the chance to buy the holotype T. rex from New York — particularly for the bargain price of $7,000, equal to about $100,000 today. Officials at the American Museum of Natural History maintain to this day that it was sold because the museum was worried that with the war in Europe already raging in early 1941, and with the United States expected to enter at some point, Germany would make New York a target. “Barnum Brown was the one concerned,” said Mark A. Norell, curator in the museum’s division of paleontology. “He thought New York would be bombed because there were already examples in Europe of museums getting hit.” In a letter Mr. Brown wrote, he said the goal was that “we had hoped that at least one specimen would be preserved” if war came to the United States. But Carnegie officials said that as far as they knew, their Cretaceous creature was sold for financial reasons only. “In the documents we have, Barnum Brown says it was simply to raise money for the endowment,” Dr. Lamanna, assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology, said. Considering that perhaps the world’s most famous Tyrannosaurus rex — the nearly complete specimen at the Field Museum in Chicago known as Sue — was bought for $8.3 million a few years ago, Dr. Lamanna is just happy they made the deal. “Whether it was a war refugee or not, that’s fine with us,” he said. “For $7,000 I think we got the steal of the century — or even the last 66 million years.”

 


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