American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West
at 79th - 81st Streets
(212) 769-5100
Hours: Sunday - Thursday 10am - 5.45pm
Friday - Saturday 10:00 AM - 8:45 PM
Fee: $8 adults, $6 students

To get there: take the B or C train to 81st Street.

The American Museum of Natural History is a titan; second only to it's sister, The Smithsonian Institution, in size and scope. This museum takes up an entire block next to Central Park, architecturally linked like a siamese twin to the (much much smaller) Hayden Planetarium. It is easy to spend two days or more exploring this museum— if you start out at opening time and run through the museum, you might briefly pass through all the major rooms before you collapse at closing time. To get the most out of it, take your time and make sure there's at least two days of it.

An enormous bronze statue of Teddy Roosavelt on horseback stands in front of the ediface— the president who popularized conservationism and environmentalism. Within is the result of an ambitious attempt to convey to the everyday person the artistry of Mother Nature, rather than the creations of humanity. This has changed somewhat in recent decades, as the museum has begun to encompass the study of anthropology as well as biology, geology, astronomy, and so forth. You may be surprised to discover artifacts from ancient cultures in the furthest wings of the place, and exhibits on modern culture in the basement.

All this aside, what people remember the most about visits to the AMNH are the big stuff. By which I mean the life sized replica of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling in the oceanography room, and the equally impressive replica of the giant squid in one of those adjoining. By which I mean the two galleries and myriad smaller rooms filled with dinosaur fossils, most of them posed impressively. By which I mean the IMAX theatre with it's building-sized movie screen. By which I mean the space-station looking room of rocks and minerals. By which I mean the laser light shows at the Planetarium. By which I mean the transparent man exhibit. By which I mean the galleries displaying the native fauna of the Americas, and the evolution of man. And every year, I have to admit, it gets flashier. It is a Disneyland for the children of Dr.Cyclops, with pteranodon dolls instead of the ubiquitous Mouse.

A lot of people in the Goth and Industrial scene are vehemently anti-vivisection, so walking through this place is going to evoke mixed feelings. On one hand, this museum is perhaps the pinnacle (both qualitatively and quantitatively) of the black arts of taxidermy and animal experimentation. On the other hand, all of this has been done for the purpose of raising consciousness towards an appreciation of nature and cultivating a broader respect for ecology— and to a large degree it is successful. The Museum of Natural History is easily one of the most impressive things to see in New York City, and of the many museums and galleries here, among the most enriching.

Commentary by Clifford Hartleigh Low, Thursday, October 8, 1998.

Photo: Risa / Models: Will Evans and Leonora Unser-Schutz