|The wooden model used to explore poses for the original |
brontosaur mount is now on display beside the
revised mount at the AMNH. Photo by the author.
This is in no small measure thanks to the efforts of problematic Hitler enthusiast and highly successful paleontology promoter Henry Fairfield Osborn. Osborn became the first curator of the Vertebrate Paleontology department at the AMNH in 1891 and quickly rose to prominence, becoming the president of the museum in 1908. Osborn worked quickly to create a world-class collection of dinosaurs for the museum, both launching his own expeditions to collect fossils for display and making significant trades and acquisitions, such as the collections of E.D. Cope.
|The completed forelimbs of the AMNH|
Brontosaurus mount, 1904. AMNH.
By that time, the AMNH had already begin preparing a few of their first display mounts. One of the museum's early acquisitions were a series of apatosaurine specimens collected by museum employee Barnum Brown, which Osborn planned to use to create the first ever mounted skeleton of a sauropod dinosaur. A competition had been ramping up between these newly culturally relevant urban museums to create the biggest and best fossil displays. At around the same time, Andrew Carnegie was reading about the discovery of giant sauropod bones, and was sending out his own teams to find a complete sauropod to mount in his new Pittsburgh museum. Osborn ended up beating him to the punch.
|The AMNH Brontosaurus, on display in the original|
dinosaur hall on the 4th floor of the museum, shortly
after it was completed in 1905. Note the 1897 Charles
R. Knight painting and model on display beneath it.
|Brontosaurus behind the anatosaurs|
in the second AMNH Dinosaur Hall (now the
Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs),
In the images shown here from the AMNH photo archive, you can see the Brontosaurus displayed among a growing collection of specimens, including Cope and Barnum Brown's "trachodont dinosaurs" (Anatosaurus) mounted in 1907, the Allosaurus mounted at about the same time or slightly earlier, and some of those early mounted sauropod legs. It was soon joined by the museum's other iconic dinosaur mount, the Tyrannosaurus, which was originally placed in the ground floor Hall of Man and Nature (now the Warburg Hall of New York State Environments), and moved to the new 4th floor Dinosaur Hall in the 1920s. The museum's Triceratops, and plaque mounts of Gorgosaurus and Struthiomimus were also in place by this time flanking the entrance to the Dinosaur Hall.
|The Brontosaurus being |
disassembled in the
Dinosaur Hall, 1938. AMNH.
|Moving the tail section to the Hall of Jurassic Reptiles, 1938. AMNH.|
|The Brontosaurus and new Stegosaurus |
mount in the Hall of Jurassic Reptiles. AMNH.
|Brontosaurus remounted on a trackway base, 1959. AMNH.|
|Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus in the AMNH Hall of Early Dinosaurs circa 1987.|
Colbert also criticized the use of an entirely replica set of skeletons for the new centerpiece of the museum's dinosaur displays, the 55-foot tall rearing Barosaurus and allosaurs in the Roosevelt Memorial rotunda. "If you have to replace some missing bones with casts, that's fine," Colbert was quoted saying by the Times, "but something of the real animal should be there." Museum staff noted that, of course, the pose would be impossible if they had used real, heavy fossil bones. All that aside, here's my favorite, somewhat prescient line from this article: "The most widely publicized of these errors is in the museum's brontosaur (or as some paleontologists prefer to call it, apatosaur)." Prefer, indeed.
When I returned to the museum in 1995, many of the mounts had been moved and/or disassembled again, and re-shuffled based on classification instead of time period. The second Dinosaur Hall, which then became the Hall of Cretaceous Reptiles and then the Hall of Late Dinosaurs, is now the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where the re-mounted Brontosaurus stands today, still atop the Paluxy River tracks. The tail is longer and depicted in mid-whiplash, the neck is more elevated, and the head is based more appropriately on Apatosaurus rather than Camarasaurus, but otherwise it's the same classic mount.
Now, maybe we just need another label change...