‘SCENES OF DINOSAURS’
Memphis Pink Palace Museum showcases new exhibit.
It’s easy to imagine the “Scenes of Dinosaurs” exhibit now at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum as the natural-history equivalent of the offerings at a small multiplex cinema.
Like the auditoriums in a movie theater, the scenes on display inside the museum’s upstairs exhibition hall present a variety of striking performers in emotional and sometimes tense scenarios.
For fans of action blockbusters, the exhibit offers a pair of Pachycephalosauruses, snorting and pawing in the moment before they butt the 10-inch-thick skulls inside their spiky block heads.
Patrons who prefer heartwarming family entertainment may be drawn to the Maiasaura tableau, which depicts a duck-billed herbivore — the species name means “good mother dinosaur” — with several of her children.
Gorehounds, meanwhile, can grok the exhibit’s most violent scene, in which a pack of Deinonychus — a Velociraptor-type dinosaur whose name accurately translates from the Latin as “terrible claw” — chew up a fallen Tenontosaurus.
Like many small boys, 3-year-old Sean Windmiller of Fairfax, Virginia — who was visiting the Pink Palace this week with his parents, Anne and Terry Windmiller, and his twin sister, Alaina — was particularly fascinated by the dining Deinos and their bad table manners. “He asked if they were having a snack, like his graham crackers,” Mrs. Windmiller said.
“The way the kids interact with the dinosaurs is really one of the reasons we do this,” said Steven Masler, Pink Palace manager of exhibits. “There’s something about the idea of these gigantic animals walking the Earth at a time that’s basically incomprehensible to us that really captures kids. And then the fact that they all became extinct — there’s a romance to it.”
On display through Oct. 2, “Scenes of Dinosaurs” is the Pink Palace’s big-draw attraction for the year. “You can’t beat dinosaurs in the summertime,” affirmed Ronda Cloud, museum marketing manager.
She said close to 20,000 visitors have experienced the “Scenes of Dinosaurs” exhibit since it opened in early July. Close to 32,000 people likely will see it by the end of its run, making it a truly substantial draw for a museum that is expected to have 120,000 visitors by the end of the year.
The “Dinosaurs” exhibit features five “scenes” of robotic — and sometimes life-size — dinosaurs, designed to be as realistic as possible. The dinosaurs are identified with scientifically accurate and
fact-filled labels, and their star presence is complemented by mini-displays of reproduction dinosaur eggs, touchable dinosaur “skin” and so on. (And don’t forget to look up: A spike-beaked Pteranodon hangs from the ceiling.)
The prehistoric creatures in “Scenes of Dinosaurs” were manufactured in Japan for Kokoro Exhibits, one of several companies that create dinosaurs, ice age mammals, giant insects and other animatronic attractions for museums, amusement parks, convention centers and so on. The dinosaurs are pneumatic, which means they are powered by compressed air, in contrast to the motorized animatronic dinosaurs of past exhibits. (The Pink Palace owns one of these more old-school creatures, a Tyrannosaurus rex, which is on display on the first floor.)
Wearing a “Reunite Pangaea” T-shirt as he led a visitor through the exhibit, Masler, 62, said the Pink Palace hosts an animatronic dinosaur exhibit every few years. In part, these shows help cover the costs of some of the more adult-oriented
and challenging exhibits; more important, Masler said, is the fact that many of the thousands of visitors expected to attend “Scenes of the Dinosaurs” will be young children and first-time or infrequent museumgoers. The hope is the dino-exposure will convince new visitors that the Pink Palace is a fun rather than intimidating place.
“It’s like getting a coffee-table book about dinosaurs,” Masler said of the exhibit. “It’s supposed to pique your interest, and maybe you’ll continue to carry that interest and become more and more sophisticated in your interest
in dinosaurs, and also museums.”
Masler said dinosaurs have become so ubiquitous in pop culture that a form of “bonding” has occurred between them and us, even though — contrary to the evidence of “The Flintstones” and “One Million Years B.C.” — dinosaurs were extinct some 60 million years before the first ancestors of humans appeared. “It is a cautionary tale,” he said, pointing out that creatures that once totally dominated the Earth now exist only as fossils, fictions and fancies, or as new types of post-dinosaur animals.
Derrick Bennett puts on his best scared-of-the-dinosaurs face while posing with his kids serenity (right), and lucian at the Pink Palace’s “scenes of Dinosaurs” exhibit during a free tuesday at the museum.
Jeia Knowles (right) goes full on dinosaur as her daughter, Victoria Knowles, and skye richards (left) push buttons to control a robotic dinoskeleton.
Issac Hernandez, 9, yells out to get his mom’s attention as he leans into the T-rex jaws. The exhibit is expected to draw close to 32,000 people by the end of its run on Oct. 2.
Kids get a chance to feel what a dinosaur’s skin might have been like. “The way the kids interact with the dinosaurs is really one of the reasons we do this,” said Steven Masler.
Justin Warfield (center) digs for fossils as part of the Pink Palace’s interactive exhibit “Scenes of Dinosaurs” during a free Tuesday at the museum.