As with most natural history museums, the Peabody is anchored by its Great Hall of Dinosaurs, an austere, 83-year-old exhibition space where visitors can marvel at the fossilized bones of a stegosaurus, juvenile apatosaurus, and even a rare archelon, the largest species of turtle ever known. They're the coolest turtle bones you'll ever see. It's all about the shiny rocks at the museum's new Hall of Minerals, Earth, and Space, with rows of sparkling, multi-hued crystals and gems, ranging from brilliant green malachite to a menacing, black meteorite the size of a grapefruit that crashed into a home in Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1982. (Nobody was hurt.)
My favorite exhibit was the museum's collection of dioramas, those 3D window depictions of animals in their native habitats, frozen in a moment of hunting, resting, or scanning the horizon for predators. For some reason, they seem like a throwback to an earlier time, when museums had to make due without sophisticated electronics and video screens to show visitors what life is like for animals around the world. Sure, they might be nothing more than a couple of stuffed bears, birds, or bighorn rams (pictured) set against a painted mural, but the painstaking detail and unique sense of perspective makes it easy to get lost while looking at them, half expecting the animals to dart away at any moment.
The year 2009 marks a major milestone for the Peabody, as it celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. The museum is planning a new, original exhibition entitled Darwin: 150 Years of Evolutionary Thinking, which be be on view from April 25 to August 23. (I hope they have some blue-footed boobies.)
We breezed through the rest of the museum, pausing to gaze at ancient Egyptian sarcophaguses and pondering our existence at the Tree of Life, before heading out into the rain to find some food. The Peabody is a great museum because it's so easy to visit. It's cheap ($7 for adults), well-respected (it's Yale's museum, after all), and not so big that trying to see everything will wear you out. When it comes to museums, I favor portion control, and the Peabody goes down easy. Definitely worth an afternoon out of the city.
[Photo: Victor Ozols]
· Peabody Museum of Natural History [Official Site]
· New Haven's Pepe Pizzeria: A Little Slice of Heaven [Jaunted]
· Jaunted Field Trips [Jaunted]