Authors: Douglas Preston
For Mom and Dad
The Magic School
The Museums That Almost Were
Professor Bickmore's Museum
The First Grand Expedition
Exploration at the Top of the World
The Search for the Arctic Atlantis
The Great Dinosaur "Gold Rush"
In Deepest Africa
Fossils in Outer Mongolia
The Thirties and Beyond
THE GRAND TOUR
A Library of Bones
Amphibians and Reptiles
Harry Shapiro and Peking Man
Minerals and Gems
I would like to thank a number of people for their assistance. Alan Ternes, Editor of
, and Kate Bennett-Mendez had the dubious wisdom to hire me; Alan compounded the error by giving me a column in the magazine, from which this book sprang. Dr. Thomas D. Nicholson, Director of the Museum, was a great supporter and inspiration. Although a discussion of his dynamic and highly effective tenure is beyond the scope of this book, I would in any case like to acknowledge my debt to him here. I would like to express my deep appreciation to my aunt and uncle, Anna and Bob Taggart, for luring me to New York City many years ago and buying the suit for my first job interviews, without which I would undoubtedly still be buttering toast at the Newton-Wellesley Nursing Home. Finally, I must thank Lincoln Child, my editor at St. Martin's Press, for proposing this book in the first place and for his peerless editorial guidance. I have had many editors and, without question, he has been the best.
There are many others who deserve mention here. David D. Ryus III, former Vice-President of the Museum and a close friend, deserves special thanks. Marshall Schwartzmann read first drafts of chapters and offered excellent editorial advice, saving me from embarrassment at my publisher. I also thank Ann Metcalfe, Chairwoman for Development and Public Affairs at the Museum, for reading the entire manuscript and offering suggestions. I thank Lelia Wardwell, Elisa Rothstein, and others who assisted with research. The Museum Library and its able staff under the superb direction of Nina Root were terribly patient with me during my labors, and most helpful. I acknowledge the Wang VS–80 computer for its help, although I did not appreciate its erasing seventy-five pages of my manuscript late one night. I thank the following scientists for allowing me interviews and/or reading sections of the manuscript: Dr. Jerome G. Rozen, Jr.; Dr. Malcolm McKenna; Dr. Stanley Freed (who was exceptionally helpful); Dr. Harry Shapiro; Dr. Charles Myers; Dr. David Hurst Thomas; Dr. Guy Musser; Dr. Lee Herman; Dr. Martin Prinz; Dr. George Harlow; Mr. Joe Peters; Dr. Betty Faber; Miss Alice Gray; Mrs. Barbara Conklin; Dr. Pedro Wygodzinsky; Mr. Helmut Sommer; Mr. Bill Coull; Ms. Barbara Conklin; Mr. Paul Beelitz; Mr. Anibal Rodriguez; Ms. Peggy Cooper; and many others. In addition, I'd like to thank Herb Kurz for advice (and for his future efforts publicizing the book); I wish to express my appreciation to Ernestine Weindorf for being a classy dame; I thank my former associates at
including Tom Page for being such a great guy and Florence Edelstein for trying to teach me to not split infinitives; Colleen Mehegan for carrying the torch; Bob DeAngelis and Marc Breslav for keeping things going during my leave of absence; and Lillian Berger for her honest and forceful opinion of my dreadful handwriting. I acknowledge Peggy Nicoll because she'll kill me if I don't. I thank my brothers Dick and David for leaving me with an intact cerebrum after all our childhood brawls; I thank Michelle Preston for translating the Latin on pages 178–179, which was too obscene to include; and Dr. Charles R. Crumly for explaining cladistics, among other things. I also express my deep thanks to my grandparents for passing on such excellent genes. And last but not least, I acknowledge J. G. Studholme, Chairman and Managing Director of Editions Alecto Ltd. (simply because I thought it prudent to mention the man who is currently paying my salary).
I alone must take responsibility for any errors and faults in this book.
Dinosaurs in the Attic
is divided into two parts. The first focuses on the explorers, scientists, and collectors who accumulated the Museum's vast collections. It tells the stories of some of the Museum's famous expeditions—as well as some of its more obscure. (Considering that there were over one thousand expeditions to choose from, I have of necessity been highly selective.)
The second part is something of a walking tour of the Museum, the most discursive armchair ramble imaginable; we will talk with curators, explore vaults and storage rooms, take sudden and unexpected leaps in space and time, choose strange or unusual objects and tell their histories. I have been unashamedly guided by whim and prejudice. I am sure cries will be raised in the Museum about my blatant omission of one thing or another. There is nothing here about Margaret Mead, for example, perhaps the most famous curator in the Museum's history. Nor is there much about the science of ichthyology, one of the important disciplines studied in the Museum. The chapter on birds is very short and does not do justice to the Museum's seminal research in ornithology. On the other hand, I have devoted copious passages to insects, which I happen to find extremely interesting. Terribly important people in the Museum's history, such as Theodore Roosevelt, have been neglected, while I have written pages about some of the most obscure characters imaginable—people like the free-lance dinosaur hunter Charles Sternberg, whom almost no one has ever heard of.
At first the reader may see here not a book, but a strange and wild collection of stories, histories, and anecdotes. This cannot be helped. Often the first-time visitor to the Museum sees only a confusing welter of objects. It is my great hope, however, that the reader will find this book—and this Museum—to be not so much a mass of objects and specimens, but rather a complex web of science and history, of human passions, of grand accomplishments and failures, of half-cocked ideas and brilliant insights.
The Museum is physically compact. All of its buildings sit on a sixteen-acre parcel of ground. This is, of course, deceptive. The Museum, in its largest sense, is a diffuse, sprawling, complex and ineffable thing, whose real boundaries extend to the farthest corners of the earth. It is not, by any means, a single entity. While looking back in time may give us the impression of planned and rational growth, in truth the Museum grew in an irregular fashion, driven along by the diverse loves and passions of its myriad explorers, scientists, administrators, and benefactors, all of whom had different ideas of what the Museum was and should be. A straightforward, chronological history of the Museum could capture neither its true nature nor its spirit. Besides, it would have made a boring book. We will instead explore the Museum through many different eyes, and rummage about in its fascinating past.
This book is not so much about "collections," perhaps, as about the people and passions behind them. You will not learn much about the Widmanstätten structure of iron meteorites from reading this book, or much about dinosaur evolution or universal classification. You will learn, instead, about the man who collected more dinosaurs than any other person who ever lived, and the explorer who risked his life to discover the largest meteorite in the world, and the beach bum who stole a priceless sapphire. You will read about a young explorer who became unhinged and killed his guide, and another who gave his life for his work. You will read about a British baron who lost his beloved collection of birds because of a blackmailer. If you look behind and beyond the glass display cases of the famous halls, you will learn more about human passions than about birds and butterflies and mummies.
That is what this book is all about.
Any attempt at enumeration of the items in the collections quickly becomes absurd. Butterflies? The Museum has 2 million of them (in addition to its 1.6 million beetles, 800,000 flies, I million spiders, and 5.5 million wasps). Bones? The Museum stores roughly 50 million of them, including 330,000 fossil vertebrates, 100 complete elephants, and the largest skeletal collection of Manhattan aborigines, among others.