While I was in Chicago two weeks ago, I had hoped to make it over to the Art Institute, which is only about two blocks from the hotel I stayed at while I was at the conference. The first morning I was there, I walked over to the Institute, but I got there about a half hour before it opened. So, I thought that I would walk around a bit and then come back.

I walked down Michigan Avenue and ended up at the Field Museum. I didn’t know what it was, but it had the word “museum” in the title, so I figured I go in for a little while and then walk back to the Art Institute. Three hours later, I left the museum and went in search of lunch. A friend of mine was supposed to arrive a little while after that, so I went back to the hotel and waited for him. I never made it to the Art Institute, but I loved the Field Museum.

The Field Museum, it turns out, is a natural history museum. PJ and I don’t often go to natural history museums — if we’re only in a particular city for a few days, we tend to try to fit in as much art as possible instead. The Field Museum is well worth a visit.

Sue at the Field MuseumThe museum’s main draw is Sue, the world’s largest, most complete, and most famous Tyrannosaurus Rex. She’s practically right inside the door. Her skull is too heavy for the exhibit, so it’s displayed separately; the skull attached to the skeleton is a replica. There’s also a special Sue gift shop where you can buy Sue souvenirs.

A large portion of the museum is dedicated to taxidermied birds, mammals, and reptiles. The birds section, in particular, was both fascinating and totally macabre. On the one hand, I can see how useful it is to have the specimens in the museum. While I was there, for example, a woman was painstakingly drawing one of the birds. On the other hand, it feels like a weird kind of funeral home for dead birds — rows upon rows of carcasses. Some of the birds are now extinct; the bodies of these birds especially evoked the dual sense of benefit and grotesqueness.

My favorite part of the museum was the Evolving Planet exhibit on the upper level. This is the best explanation of geological time and evolution that I have ever seen in a museum (not that I’ve seen a lot of them, but still this one is excellent, which is my point). As you walked through the exhibit, you walked through geological time. I was particularly impressed by the exhibit’s discussion of (I think) six mass extinctions that struck the earth at various points.

The most interesting of these mass extinctions is the one that led to the extinction of dinosaurs. When the exhibit gets to this point, you can sit down and watch a video about various theories of what caused this extinction. It’s a really interesting little video. Very educational (in a good way).

The exhibit ends with the last mass extinction — now. It asks whether we’re ok with causing the mass extinction of earth’s wildlife. I found it be rather powerful and it reminded me of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

In the middle of the Evolving Planet exhibit, there’s a room of other dinosaur skeletons and recreations. The children in the room really loved it. (I did too, and I’m not usually a sucker for that kind of thing.)

I also saw an exhibit about Pacific Spirits, which was made up of Pacific Island artifacts, one about gems (quite dazzling), and one on Jades (not quite as interesting as I’d hoped).

Overall, the Field Museum is really quite good. If I end up going to the Modern Language Association, which is also in Chicago this year, I’ll definitely go to the Art Institute — I can’t believe I didn’t make it the two blocks this time. I had also wanted to go to the aquarium, but the line of school kids just inside the door was too much for me. Maybe next time. (I’m a total sucker for aquariums!)

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