Tag Archives: American Museum of Natural History

Where was Manhattan Square? The Gilded Age remaking of a neglected park

Theodore Roosevelt Park (77th and 81st Streets, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue), which contains the beloved American Museum of Natural History, is the oldest developed section of the Upper West Side, purchased by the city in 1839 as a possible strolling park to be called Manhattan Square.

Museum of the City of New York

Central Park was but a gleam in the eye back in 1839! The Grid Plan of 1811 had divvied up upper Manhattan into organized blocks but not much was properly developed in the early 19th century. There were few suitable transportation options and thus upper Manhattan was only sparsely populated.

Near this spot on the grid was the old African-American settlement of Seneca Village, which was later wiped away with the development of Central Park.

Below: A sketch by Egbert Viele from 1857 showing the remains of the small village of Seneca Village. Manhattan Square would have been off to the upper left portion of this image.

The original grid plan had no significant parks built into it so later city planners had to carve some out themselves. Unfortunately, the city almost literally forgot all about Manhattan Square — it’s even included in an 1860 New York Times article headlined NEWLY-DISCOVERED CITY PROPERTY

To be fair, the land had been granted to the Central Park Commission which was rather busy developing the park proper. As a result, Manhattan Square’s rugged and unpleasant terrain became an eye sore and rather dangerous for any actual visitors.

Samuel Ruggles, developer of both Union Square and Gramercy Park, once squawked, “It is a disgrace to the city. It is in some places forty feet below the grade and well characterized as ‘a pestilential hole of stagnant water.’”

Below: From the late 1870s, the solitary American Museum of Natural History building sits on the spot of Manhattan Square, now leveled out for public enjoyment, even if the lots surrounding it are quite barren.

In the early 1860s, the city proposed selling off this sorely underused area of land. At one point, during the Civil War, some suggested it be turned into a proper military parade ground. “Manhattan-square [has] been proposed for the parade-ground; over Manhattan-square the Commissioners have control and it is understood that they are willing to assign it, but, just now, they have not the funds which its preparation would require.” [source]

The next plan was to make a zoo! Animals had accumulated near the Central Park Arsenal as a make-shift ‘menagerie‘ — abandoned pets, former circus animals, far-flung beasts brought over on ships. At one point it was determined to move those animals to a more formal Zoological Garden, to be built on the much abused area of Manhattan Square.

From 1865: “The Zoological Gardens are about to be commenced at Manhattan-square, and the commissioners fully expect to have this valuable garden completed before the Summer wanes.”

Below: The chaos of the Central Park menagerie, depicted in an 1866 illustration

Harpers Weekly

Those planned fell through of course. Today the Central Park Zoo marks to location of that former menagerie.

By 1872, the Central Park Commission would utilize Manhattan Square for another mission, designating it the home for the American Museum of Natural History. The first structure would be completed in 1877. (For more information on the institution’s development, check out our podcast on the subject.)

Apartment developers later flocked to the park’s edges, drawn to its proximity to other fashionable apartment houses in the neighborhood like the Dakota Apartments (at 72nd Street, built in 1884). Luxury apartment living soon transformed the Upper West Side, and the fate of Manhattan Square — renamed Theodore Roosevelt Park in 1958 — changed with it.

Below: 44 West 77th Street. Manhattan Square Studio Apartment, photographed in 1910


Of course, you may not know it by that name today either. From the New York Department of Parks and Recreation: “Neighborhood residents have traditionally referred to the parkland as Museum Park or Dinosaur Park.”

Below: The fully expanded museum as it looked in 1913

The above is an expanded excerpt from our book The Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, now available at bookstores everywhere.

Photographs of wonder from the American Museum of Natural History

One hundred years ago, the American Museum of Natural History received a massive visitor, one so mighty that the doors of the museum’s delivery room “had to be removed and [the] partition openings enlarged” in order to accommodate it.

Was it a dinosaur? A meteorite? Perhaps the remains of a great whale?

No, the new visitor was a bush chrysanthemum,  with over 1,500 blooms, 17 feet in diameter, wider, the New York Times notes, than the largest meteorite on the property.

The massive plant, grown north of the city at Ardsley-on-Hudson, was the star of an impressive plant and flower show at the museum with thousands of chrysanthemums and a so-called ‘rose gorgeous’ which “changes color as it opens.

While looking for a picture of this notable flower, I stumbled into something equally as magical — the American Museum of Natural History digital library of images.  While I never found the flower, I did find some stunning and lovely images of visitors and students enjoying the museum in its early days.

What is it about old museum pictures that I find so interesting? Most of the exhibits would today be considered politically incorrect, and modern advances have improved our knowledge about many of the objects being pictures. But the faces filled with wonder and imagination could be taken from museum images today.

So enjoy these pictures and visit the archives to view more:

School children viewing Indian canoe exhibit, 1911:

 Julius Kirschner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kirschner, courtesy AMNH


Students and teacher at a mammal display, October 1911

2007 METRO Project | ImageDigitizationSpecifications v1.0 | Epson Perfection V750 Pro
Julius Kirschner, courtesy AMNH


Young ladies in Forestry Hall, October 1911

Julius Kirschner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kirschner, courtesy AMNH


Schoolgirls from Public School 94 drawing items on display in Southwest Indian Hall, May 1916

Julius Kershner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kershner, courtesy AMNH


Blind children studying the hippopotamus, May 1914

Julius Kershner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kershner, courtesy AMNH


Kids in Dinosaur Hall, July 1927

Courtesty Irving Dutcher, courtesy AMNH
Courtesty Irving Dutcher, courtesy AMNH


More students in Dinosaur Hall, this time in December 1929

Julius Kirschner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kirschner, courtesy AMNH



Diving helmet made and submitted by Harry Hanson of Theodore Roosevelt High School, Children’s Fair, December 1930

Julius Kirshner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kirshner, courtesy AMNH


How to do parks the right way! A boy views a display showing Children’s Attitude Toward Public Parks at the Children’s Fair, December 1931

Julius Kirshner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kirshner, courtesy AMNH


Good advice for campers! Boys viewing display showing Edible Mushrooms at the Children’s Fair, December 1931

Julius Kirshner, courtesy AMNH
Julius Kirshner, courtesy AMNH


Students on guided tour of the Natural History of Man, December 1937

Photo by Charles Coles, courtesy AMNH
Photo by Charles Coles, courtesy AMNH


Children doing Native American dances in the Plains Indians Hall, July 1939

Photography by Thane L. Bierwert, Courtesy AMNH
Photography by Thane L. Bierwert, Courtesy AMNH


Kids have loved sharks for decades. Here’s a picture from the Sea Rovers display, Hall of Fishes, 1948

Thane Bierwert, courtesy AMNH
Thane Bierwert, courtesy AMNH


October 1957 — A group of children receiving instruction at the Natural Science Center

Morton Yourow, courtesy AMNH
Morton Yourow, courtesy AMNH


Children viewing bronze lions in Akeley African Hall, 1965

Photo New York Times, courtesy AMNH
Photo New York Times, courtesy AMNH


I never did find that historic chrysanthemum but the exhibition would have looked like this one from the Fall Exhibition of the Horticultural Society of New York, November 17-20, 1908.

Photo by Thomas Lunt, courtesy American Museum of Natural History

‘Spectacle’: The Story of Ota Benga

In 1906, visitors to the Bronx Zoo observed a rather bizarre sight in the Monkey House — the exhibition of a man in African dress, often accompanied by a parrot or an orangutan.

An African pygmy, so read the sign, “Age, 23, Height, 4 feet 11 inches, Weight 103 pounds, Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Central Africa.” Displayed in one of America’s foremost institutions devoted to the display and care of exotic animals. Elephants, tigers, polar bears, snow leopards, bison. And one young man named Ota Benga.


He is the subject of Pamela Newkirk’s engaging new book Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, both a sincere ode to his tragic life and a contemporary accusation of the terrible forces that exploited him over a century ago.

But the story is really about the ghost of Ota Benga.

He spoke little English and there are no accounts from his perspective. Almost everything we know is from the perspective of a jaundiced press and the glare of condescending authority. He was the subject of great fabrications over the years; the truth is almost impossible to extricate from hyperbole.

While his story is front and center in Spectacle, but he barely raises his voice. He never had one.

1906 photograph of Ota Benga, described as being taken at Bronx Zoo. (Wikimedia) Title: Ota Bengi     Creator(s): Bain News Service, publisher     Date Created/Published: [no date recorded on caption card]     Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller.     Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-22741 (digital file from original negative)     Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.     Call Number: LC-B2- 3971-2 [P&P]     Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print     Notes:         Title from unverified data provided by the Bain News Service on the negatives or caption cards.         Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).         General information about the Bain Collection is available at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.ggbain     Format:         Glass negatives.     Collections:         Bain Collection     Bookmark This Record:        http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2005022751/
1906 photograph of Ota Benga, described as being taken at Bronx Zoo. (Wikimedia)
Creator(s): Bain News Service, publisher 
Ota Benga is probably not even his real name. And even then, it’s twisted and distorted mercilessly, sometimes by the man himself. (When he died in 1916, he was known as Ota Bingo.)  In 1904 he was rescued from captivity in the Congo by the explorer and would-be scientist Samuel Phillips Verner.

This is probably true although Verner is an unreliable source, often changing his own biography to burnish his reputation in the science community.  Verner was the product of his age, seeing Africans as inferior beings but seeing their continent as a source of revenue. Verner sought to profit handsomely from his ‘explorations’ both by currying favor with the Belgian King Leopold II (the ruthless leader who exploited the people of the Congo) and by snatching human specimens for display in America.

Ota Benga first arrived with a group of other men and boys for an exhibition at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.  People delighted at his mischievous nature and unusual appearance. His teeth were filed into points, a decorative trait that exhibitors (including Verner) proclaimed were the product of a cannibalistic nature.

Below: Ota Benga at the St. Louis World’s Fair with other men taken from Africa 


He went back with Verner to Africa only to arrive back in America by 1906 where he was placed in the care of the American Museum of Natural History. Ota Benga actually lived inside the museum, subject to more than a few indignities. “I have bought a duck suit for the Pigmy,” wrote Hermon Carey Bumpus, the director of the museum, to Verner. “He is around the museum, apparently perfectly happy and more or less a favorite of the men.”

Ota Benga’s removal to the Bronx Zoo and subsequent display in the Monkey House has certainly been a blight to that institution’s history. The decision reveals the outmoded and racist philosophies that pervaded scientific thinking of the day.

At best, Ota Benga was simply an object in an exotic diorama with audiences prodding him to do tricks. His humanity was barely considered. At worst, the exhibition lays bare the racism of the day in the most baldy sinister way possible, corroding even the most esteemed institutions of the day.

It’s a small relief to hear of the many criticisms the zoo received in the press back in 1906. Sanity soon prevailed and Ota Benga left the zoo to live in an orphanage in Weeksville, Brooklyn.

2Newkirk gives the life of Ota Benga a proper eulogy. She crafts an intriguing tale around the many uncertainties of his biography, sometimes even stopping to analyze his state of mind.  I greatly credit the author for parsing through volumes of inaccurate news reports in search of even the smallest grains of truth.

His story ends with an unsatisfying hollowness, outside New York and far from the Congo. Few in his life ever treated him as an equal. In fact, due to his size, he was frequently treated like a boy, although he mostly like ended his life in his early 30s.  He never found a place to fit in.

There’s only a single moment in the book where Newkirk lets us in on his marvelous potential, on a life that could have been under more fair and enlightened circumstances.

He becomes, for a moment, “a father figure and hero” to a group of small African-American boys in Lynchburg, Virginia.  “In Benga they found an open and patient teacher, a beloved companion, and a remarkably agile athlete who sprinted and leaped over logs like a boy. And with his young companions Benga could uninhibitedly relive memories of a lost and longed-for life and retreat to woods that recalled home.”

Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga

Amistad, HarperCollinsPublishers

by Pamela Newkirk


Other recently reviewed books on the Bowery Boys Bookshelf:

Presidential: Spending your weekend with the Roosevelts

In 1973, the sliver of land in the East River called Welfare Island was given a more lofty name — Roosevelt Island — in anticipation of a grand monument to Franklin Delano Roosevelt designed by premier architect Louis Kahn.  But Kahn died in 1974 after designing the somber, angular granite memorial, set to be placed on the southern end of the island.

Then the 1970s happened. The city could barely keep itself operational, much less embark on a new landmark.

Thirty-eight years later, the memorial — called Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park — finally opened this Wednesday.

The timing is definitely off, in more ways than one.  Its tasteful rows of trees are already losing their leaves, and who knows how they’ll endure Hurricane Sandy next week.  The sun has rarely made an appearance since the park opened, robbing visitors of a fabulous trick which occurs at the granite monument to the south. (Western light filters through inch-wide slots, creating an “accidental Alice-in-Wonderland effect” when you look through them.)

But the end result is fantastic, calming and geometric, subtle and nostalgic. And they’ve done a fine job situating the memorial in conversation with one of Roosevelt Island’s most famous features — the ruins of James Renwick’s smallpox hospital.

Visit their website for more information. The park is open Thursday through Sundays, 9am-5pm.

Meanwhile, over at the American Museum of Natural History, Theodore Roosevelt makes a spectacular re-introduction at the museum he helped populate. The museum’s Central Park entrance and the Hall of North American Mammals reopen this weekend after a $40 million renovation, which includes a brand new statue of Roosevelt and a refreshed Panama Canal mural in its rotunda.

Live Science has a photo essay spotlighting the renovations. Visit the museum’s website for visiting information.

And we’ve got podcasts on this history of both places! Before you head out, make sure to download our free shows on the history of Roosevelt Island (Episode #82) and the American Museum of Natural History (Episode #116). You can also find them on iTunes.

(Picture at right courtesy New York Times)

ALSO:  It’s a good weekend to brave the Statue of Liberty before the bad weather. Why? According to the National Park Service: “As of October 28, 2012, all interior and exterior levels of the Statue of Liberty, including the Pedestal, Museum, Crown and Fort Wood, are accessible by advanced reservation.”

Rainey’s African Hunt: A bloody 1912 movie blockbuster

Hunter and gadabout Paul Rainey: An accidental matinee idol

Catching a movie this weekend? Many New Yorkers had the same plan one hundred years ago, but the experience was vastly different.  Motion pictures in 1912 were shorter, without sound and in black-and-white, of course, but they were sometimes presented as part of a set of vaudeville performances, with live musical accompaniment and in repertory with several short films.

In the days before movie palaces, movies were shown in legitimate theaters which often gave them a must-see feel. This was the case with a strange non-fiction film that played in New York for well over a year — Rainey’s African Hunt.

In September 1912, the film played Joe Weber‘s Music Hall at Broadway and 29th Street:

The film made its debut in April 1912 up the street at the Lyceum (45th/Broadway) and played there through the summer, heralded as a serious entertainment, for ‘wealthy people at top prices‘ to distinguish it from the fiction films favored by everybody else.

But is seems that ‘African Hunt’ resonated with all sorts of audiences. The film moved to Weber’s in August, then to the Bijou (30th/Broadway) in October, where it stayed put until April 1913!

So what made this film so popular? Americans were still safari crazy in the early 1910s thanks to Theodore Roosevelt‘s famous African trip in 1909, in which he brought back the carcasses of dozens of exotic animals and donated them to natural history museums around the country, including New York’s own American Museum of Natural History.

The wealthy playboy Paul Rainey was also a renown game hunter and filmed his exploits in Africa following Roosevelt’s trip there. The film depicts his interaction with African tribes and the trials of hunting exotic animals. Although Rainey claims to have been more interested in photographing and trapping live creatures, he ended up killing several dozen animals, including “twenty-seven lions in thirty-one days.” One notable scene features Rainey’s specially trained fox hounds stalking and killing a leopard.

 Claimed one advertisement: “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. That is the secret to the extraordinary success of this picture.”

The film came with a sterling pedigree and glowing reviews, include praise from the American Museum’s Henry Fairfield Osborn, who proclaimed it the ‘greatest contribution to natural science of the decade.’ [source]

Distributed by Carl Laemmle’s Universal studios, ‘Rainey’s African Hunt’ grossed over a half-million dollars, an extraordinary sum for an early motion picture. It would stand as one of the most successful non-fiction films of the decade.

Like every box office success, a sequel debuted in 1914 at the Casino Theatre (29th/Broadway). Portions of its first week gross were donated to a newsies home and summer camp in Staten Island. Despite emphatic reviews — “better and clearer” than its predecessor, according to the New York Times —  it appears to be mostly recycled material and was not a hit.

Below: A grim photo from Rainey’s safari. The hunter killed so many animals that is exploits eventually led to stricter regulations on foreign hunters.

According to the site Silent Era, a print exists of the film, although I don’t know if its presently available for view.
For more information on New York’s unique relationship with African safari hunters, check out our podcast on the American Museum of Natural History. For a peek at the early days of cinema in New York, listen to our show on NYC and the Birth of the Movies.
For more information on Paul Rainey, check out this interesting blog page on his Tennessee lodge and his tragic death.

‘Mad Men’ notes: The 1960s enlightenment of New York’s natural history museum leaves taxidermy in the past

WARNING The article contains a couple spoilers about last night’s ‘Mad Men’ on AMC. If you’re a fan of the show, come back once you’re watched the episode. But these posts are about a specific element of New York history from the 1960s and can be read even by those who don’t watch the show at all. You can find other articles in this series here

Theodore Roosevelt did not donate all the mounted animals at the American Museum of Natural History, as Glen casually suggested to Sally Draper (below) in last night’s episode. Just a great, great many of them, not least of those prizes from his 1909 post-presidential safari, literally thousands of African specimens captured, killed and presented for display here, at the Smithsonian, and other American museums. New York’s museum even holds the contents of Roosevelt’s ‘natural history cabinet’, his collection of taxonomy which he started at age nine from his home on East 20th Street.

With Roosevelt’s African collection also came expert taxidermist Carl Akeley, who had gone on safari with the former president in 1909 and remained at the Natural History museum to mount and curate its African exhibit. The hall of African mammals is named in his honor and continued to define the museum in the popular imagination.

The early 20th century was a golden era for taxidermy, as greater understanding of natural habitats allowed curators to present their specimens in ‘realistic’ settings and lifelike poses. But such understanding placed a deadline upon classical museum taxidermy; the more one understood the underpinnings of the natural world, the more absurd such displays seemed.

With the 1960s came a greater awareness of the plight of rare animals and their disappearing habitats that rendered the presentation of mounted taxidermic displays into antiquated, often vulgar set pieces. The first federal endangered species act was passed in 1966 and greatly expanded upon with the Endangered Species Act of 1973, ‘the Magna Carta of the environmental movement‘.

The staid animal galleries at the American Museum of Natural History faced other surprising challenges. The museum reached record attendance in 1967, but people weren’t necessarily there for the mounted elephants. The American Apollo missions ignited a public passion for space science, and with the installation of the awe inducing Zeiss projector in 1960, the museum’s Hayden Planetarium easily became its hottest attraction.

Leading up to its centennial in 1969, the museum prepared several new halls (including several of the current anthropology exhibits) and renovated many others; thus Glen and Sally most likely would have seen many ‘Closed for Renovation’ signs during their trip here.  Had Sally not had a certain emergency which sent her from Glen’s side, the pair might have wandered over to the bright, new exhibits in the Hall of the Indians of the Plains, which opened in February 1967.

A refreshed Milstein Hall of Ocean Life would dazzle audiences upon its reopening in 1969, and the museum’s trademark blue whale was presented in a new context — the 1966 worldwide ban on hunting the endangered ocean mammal. The extensively revitalized exhibition also presented a new 1960s museum trend — the use of artificial, plastic models over actual animal carcasses.

By 1967, New York’s natural history museum — which once touted a staff of 20 full-time taxidermists — employed only two. “There’s not much left to collect and mount (we don’t say stuff),” lamented staff taxidermist David Schwendeman.

Taxidermy would live on in the worlds of hunting and fishing. One need only take a trip today to the Bass Pro Shops World Headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, to witness a world where the art of taxidermy continues to thrive, as though there was nothing creepy at all about it.

But in the vaunted hallways of the American Museum of Natural History, the elder animal displays serve a new educational purpose — a preservation of science’s evolving views on the natural world.

NOTE: Since ‘Mad Men’ doesn’t film in New York,  Jen Carlson at Gothamist deftly notes that the exhibit displayed in the episode is from Los Angeles’s natural history museum.

Top picture courtesy flickr/Getty Images
Lower picture: Prepping the blue whale in 1968, photo by Yale Joel, Life/Google images

A meteorite’s biggest enemy? Crazy boys with jackknives.

Rock of ages: The meteorite is lifted off its wagon for removal into the American Museum of Natural History. I wonder if those ragamuffins to the right in the photograph have their jackknives ready? (Pic courtesy JFGryphon/Flickr)

As mentioned in last week’s podcast, one of the great treasures of the American Museum of Natural History is the Cape York meteorite — in fact, three separate pieces, the largest being called Ahnighito (Inuit for ‘tent’). Explorer Robert Peary discovered the rock in Greenland and brought it back to New York (along with six unfortunate Inuit companions) in 1897.

The extremely heavy rock — at 31 metric tons — sat at the Brooklyn Navy Yards for many years before Peary’s wife sold the interstellar stone to the museum in 1904. The museum hired a wrecking company to carefully transport the meteorite through New York Harbor to a pier on West 50th Street. From there, it was lifted onto a wagon pulled painfully by 30 hard-working horses, up Eighth Avenue and Central Park West to the museum on 77th Street.

From there, however, the poor unsettled stone, far from home, received its most vicious attack. According to the Tribune: “Hardly had the truckman unhitched their horses when the heavenly body was covered with ambitious boys, all eager to dig out a piece of the metal as a souvenir. Jackknives were broken by the dozen.”

The Cape York meteorite is one of the few items displayed in the museum — may, in fact, be the only item — to appear on an international postage stamp (Greenland, 1978).

Less than a couple years later, the museum bought their second largest stone — the Williamette meteorite — from the widow of Bronx philanthropist William E Dodge.

American Museum of Natural History: Digging up the past

Make no bones about it, the AMNH is the city’s best destination for releasing your inner child.

PODCAST Millions of years of space rocks, fossils, artifacts and specimens are housed in New York’s world famous natural history complex on the Upper West Side. But few know the whole story about the museum itself.

Residents of New York tried a few times to establish a legitimate natural history venue in the city, including an aborted plan for a Central Park dinosaur pavilion. With the American Museum of Natural History, the city had a premier institution that sent expeditions to the four corners of the earth.

Tune in to hear the stories of some of the museum’s most treasured artifacts and the origins of its collection. And find out the tragic tale of Minik the Eskimo, a boy subject by museum directors to bizarre and cruel lie.

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: American Museum of Natural History

CORRECTION TO THE PODCAST: I mention that the blue whale hanging in the Hall of Ocean Life is made of wire and plaster. The original whale displayed earlier in the century, in fact, was; but the current one, created in 1968, is of sturdier fiberglass design.

A sketch of what the Paleozoic Museum might have looked like, had construction not been stopped by the cronies of Boss Tweed.

The lonely little first building of New York’s natural history museum, pictured in the early 1870s, placed on an unspectacular plot of land alongside Central Park called Manhattan Square. It was the former home to goat fields and small farms. To the left of the picture, you can see the development along Columbus Avenue.

This illustration of the building from 1871 displays the particular touches of Jacob Wray Mould, in the whimsical window design. What it doesn’t show is the vibrant, robust color of the building. Although subsumed by later additions, some areas of the original walls are still peeking out within the larger structure today. [source NYPL}

The regal, theatrical 77th facade of the American Museum of Natural History, finally presenting a bold look worthy of the treasures inside it. (source)

Roy Chapman Andrews, the dashing adventurer who became one of the museum’s most valuable explorers. It’s rumored that Andrews was the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.

Images of Minik Wallace, the Inuit boy brought to New York with his father in 1897. Minik was subject to one of the most bizarre and tragic cover ups in the museum’s history. [Image courtesy Nunatsiaq Online]

James Earle Fraser equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt,dedicated by Teddy’s relation Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936, along with the entire Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall. Although they are concealed by scaffolding, there are actually sculptures of four explorers looking down at Roosevelt, also created by Fraser — depictions of Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, and John James Audubon.

The current 94-foot long blue whale that greets visitors in the Hall of Ocean Life is modeled after a female blue whale found of the coast of South America in 1924.

An example of the enduring fontage of an earlier era, still adorning some of the older exhibits. I hope they never upgrade it.

Further examples of graphic design, Natural History style. This is from an advertisement in 1941 or 1942. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

The monster Ahnighito rock, part of the Cape York meteorite.

A great example of the marvelous miniature work done for some of the displays. Much of the fascination found within the various display cases comes not from specimens, but from the clever presentation, a mix of painting and lighting techniques mixed at times with a little optical illusion.

The website of the American Museum of Natural History has all the details you need for your visit. On top of suggested admission, there are additional costs for the special exhibits, including the planetarium. The museum is open everyday by two — Christmas and Thanksgiving.

However, you may still be visiting the museum on the evening before Thanksgiving for the annual inflation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons! Below: Kermit gets ready for the big event (pic from 2006, courtesy Gothamist)