Field Museum of Natural History

During the month of February, one of Chicago’s best museums, the Field Museum of Natural History, is free to Illinois residents.  It ranks among the best natural history museums in the United States, along with New York’s American Museum of Natural History and Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. 

This dinosaur standing in the Field Museum’s main hall is a model, and not one of its real fossils.

After the World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Marshall Field, a Chicago businessman, helped create the museum.  Originally called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, it soon took on the name of its chief benefactor.  The Field Museum not only began as a museum showcasing artifacts from the Chicago World’s Fair, but was also located in one of the few structures remaining from the Fair, the Palace of Fine Arts Building in Jackson Park.  However, as the Museum grew, it eventually moved into a newer building further north, in an area now called the Museum Campus.

The Field Museum is named after Marshall Field, who created a famous department store in Chicago in 1852. Macy’s bought it out in 2005, however the original building still has the historic sign and clock at 111 N State St, Chicago, IL 60602.

Through a personal connection, I recently had the opportunity to visit part of the Field Museum’s archives, which are not open to the public.  I say “part,” because my visit made me realize how vast its archives are.  My connection does research on insects, so he only showed me the lab where they do their research, as well as the archives where they store thousands of specimens of different types of insects and arachnids.  If this large archival space only contains insect specimens, then I can only imagine what archives the mammals, fish, birds, minerals, mummies, etc., must each have as well.

This is the insect archives at the Field Museum.

A large portion of the Field Museum displays mammals, plants, and other creatures that have been preserved and stuffed.  This includes the Tsavo Lions, which were two lions in Kenya that killed between 35 to 135 people (a huge gap in estimates) in 1898.  The British colonel (John Henry Patterson) who shot them, eventually sold them to the Field Museum.  Apparently, Hollywood has made several movies about the two lions.  Another lion, which ate six people in Zambia in 1991, is also on display at the Field Museum.

In addition to the animals, the Field Museum also displays meteors, gems, and rocks.  One section of the Museum also describes Native American life in the United States.  Perhaps the most popular display is the dinosaur bones and fossils, including a new one from Argentina called Maximo the Titanosaur.  However, my favorite display at the Field Museum is called “Inside Ancient Egypt,” and contains 23 human mummies, as well as animal mummies.  The exhibit is designed to appear as if you are entering a pyramid, which makes the experience more exciting.

The Field Museum displays the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, which was named Sue after its discoverer, Sue Hendrickson.

For more information about Chicago museums affiliated with the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, see what I previously wrote below.

Chicago World Fairs & Chicago Museum Free Days

Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

Sources and Further Reading

Conn, Steven. “Field Museum.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/450.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

“History.” Field Museum. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/about/history (accessed January 25, 2020).

Rothstein, Edward. “Assessing a Future from 120 Years Ago.” The New York Times, November 1, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/02/arts/design/field-museum-looks-back-at-chicagos-worlds-fair.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Tsavo Lions.” Field Museum. February 10, 2018. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/blog/tsavo-lions. (accessed February 13, 2020).

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