It’s a night unlike any other, where reflection brings nostalgia. A night when the Field Museum opens its doors and greets its members to an all-access event of its centuries-old artifacts. Artifacts that have preciously been kept in the halls of the Chicago museum for a century. As a member, I was granted exclusive access to these halls where these incredible pieces of history reside.
May 9, 2019, marked the 68th Annual Field Museum Members Night. Members Night celebrates the museum’s supporters by bringing out the best in entertainment in the institution, which includes clever and informative shows that use everything from puppets to paleontology.
Before heading into the revered building for this special event, I took a moment to stop and reflect on the museum’s architectural presence. Often visitors are quick to overlook the bulking Neoclassical architecture that graces the lakeside. The history of the building is enough to house its own exhibit. It nearly served as a hospital during WWI.
The building may be a masterpiece of design but stepping inside and being teleported to a new world is never a dull experience. With the multiverse mentality dominating pop culture, it’s so important to remember this world has had secrets locked away for millennia and are still waiting to be found.
Once inside, and after crossing the half-acre of space that is the Stanley Field Hall, I was greeted by Maximo, the Field’s latest addition and new centerpiece. However, the scale feels slightly off after housing Sue the T-Rex in the space for nearly three decades. While the new exhibit stands tall and wonderful it sometimes feels odd for longtime patrons of the museum. This is the first night in nearly 30 years when members have been welcomed without the famous T-Rex waiting for them. Like an old friend moving across town, Sue’s presence is certainly missed.
The first stop is at Evolving Planet on the second floor to visit the brand-new Griffin Dinosaur Experience, where Sue is now being housed and opened this past December. Here members are treated to several new stories associated with Sue that has never been told before. The Griffin Dinosaur Experience features a showcase devoted to telling Sue’s tale. With a string of videos on five vertical displays that combine the tale of her discovery and the elements of her fossil bed site, a tale is woven by science that describes her former roaming grounds and what her life was like, from fauna to fights.
Contributing to the eerie ambiance of the exhibit includes sounds of elements like rain and wind that, when caught in the middle of Sue’s new light show, gives realistic insight as to what sort of raw natural conditions the tyrannosaurus faced. The story of the infected jaw that researchers speculate lead the T-Rex to starve to death is only one of many interesting stories told through this show. The new exhibit also features other related pieces, including Sue’s skull, which is too heavy to fit on the actual fossil, and a triceratops fossil that was previously located outside of the main entrance to Evolving Planet.
As a photographer, The Wildlife Photographer of the Year traveling exhibit, is one that I have excitingly beenwaiting in anticipation to see. Inside the monotone hall is a collection of photography from people around the world. With extreme details associated with each image, it was a great opportunity to see through the vision of the global photography community, and how the composition and story of several pieces were arranged.
One of the most compelling pieces of the photography exhibit was Pipe Owls, by Arshdeep Singh of India, who was the only child photographer featured. Singh spotted the owlets in a pipe while driving with his father. The image leaves a remarkable survival tale of how animals have adapted to increased urban development on a global scale.
However, what was odd to me about the exhibit was the fact that the most seemingly impactful photos were not labeled as “winners” by the exhibit judges. Instead of listing the winners I’ll share my personal favorites.
Check out more of the collection online for yourself here.
Above all else, Members Night is about embracing the spirit of exploration and forging into new and unfamiliar territory. With the event the Field continues to offer up a look within the archives of the museum, showcasing the storage areas, giving us direct access to scientists and discussions we would never have on a regular basis.
But one of the most interesting displays I saw was devoted to the museum’s origins, locked away in the offices of the third floor. Deep inside the catacombs was a single display devoted to the organization’s origins, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and photos of the original exhibit that lead to the Field’s founding.
The Exposition was originally held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Although it only lasted for a total of five months, the stories that could be told from this event alone leaves one in awe. One such example is the story of August 25th, 1893, as the World’s Columbian Exposition held “Colored American Day,” after several racially led verbal attacks were lead against the “White City”, a nickname for the World’s Columbian Exposition itself. Frederick Douglass was scheduled to give a prepared speech before a crowd of well over 2,500 people, but threw it away and confronted spectators in an eloquent off the cuff speech after heckling began.
Nostalgia also comes with reflection, of both our past and our future. The lessons to be learned from the Field Museum and organization like it will never go out of style.