Saturday, February 19, 2011


Off and on we've been following the history and evolution of the concept of having a permanent, in-place museum exhibit at Dinosaur National Monument.  The last post about this was Boyle and the First Museum. During the time that Boyle's museum was being designed and built, another effort was underway to create the long hoped for in-situ exhibit.

The distinguished Mr. Bones.

In 1930 the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, one of the world’s preeminent museums and one with tremendous holdings of dinosaur fossils, approached the NPS about working at the Carnegie Quarry and developing the in-situ exhibit.  As a result of a series of meetings between the NPS and the AMNH in 1930 and 1931, it was decided that the AMNH would undertake the in-situ exhibit and assist in the development of a museum and associated exhibits at the Monument.

Barnum Brown examining the skull of the Cretaceous hadrosaur Edmontosaurus in the Dinosaur Hall of the AMNH

Dr. Barnum Brown of the AMNH was to be the paleontologist overseeing the project. Brown was well qualified. He was a renowned paleontologist, having collected fossils around the world and he collected more dinosaurs than anyone else in the history of dinosaur paleontology. He was certainly one of the most colorful and well known scientists in the discipline.

“In the mid-twentieth century Brown --- known by his adoring admirers as “Mr. Bones” --- was one of the most famous scientists in the world. People would flock to the train station when he arrived in the field to collect dinosaur fossils, vying for the right to drive him to his hotel or camp. Thousands of other aficionados would gather around the radio to listen live to his tales from the field about the latest exploits and adventures on his decades-long quest for dinosaurs.” (3, p. xi)

He never lost the passion either. In his 80's Brown tried to put together a project where he would use a platform suspended from a helicopter to collect fossils from otherwise inaccessible heights on the cliffs of the Isle of Wight (3). Brown was definitely someone you wanted on your side in the search for how to get the Monument museum built.

The major points of the AMNH / NPS agreement were

1. The AMNH would budget $50,000 to support five of its employees to prepare the in-situ exhibit. The AMNH will have its staff at the Carnegie Quarry as soon as the excavations begin, with work starting in May 1932. The five man crew would work for three years, summer and winter, to complete the exhibit.

2. A $200,000 appropriation, over three years, would be requested from Congress for the cost of excavation, building roads and houses, and building the Museum to enclose the completed excavation site with the exposed bones.

3. The NPS would allow AMNH personnel to use equipment, such as compressed air, and housing already on site.

Brown was anticipating that the still to be excavated part of the Carnegie Quarry would be rich in complete or nearly complete dinosaur skeletons.“This enterprise is planned with the primary objective of obtaining desired complete, uncrushed, dinosaur skeletons for the new Jurassic Dinosaur Hall [at the AMNH] while developing the Vernal dinosaur quarry as a National Monument – in fact, placing a second American Museum Dinosaur Hall in Utah.”

So the final in-situ display would not contain all the fossils found during the AMNH excavation, because, as Brown described it, the AMNH would take one specimen of each new dinosaur species. However he agreed that such specimens “should be removed in a way not to destroy other specimens. In other words: we would practically complete our laboratory work at the quarry site before removal of specimens.”

Anyway, after years of effort it seemed that the in-place fossil exhibit and museum at Dinosaur was finally assured.

Drawings were prepared of the proposed museum building. These follow Douglass’s vision of a flat roofed building with the natural hills forming the north and south sides and large windows on the roof to let in light. A long mural, nearly the length of the enclosed quarry, was to portray the extinct Morris Formation dinosaurs and the environment they lived in.

Cross sectional drawing of the AMNH version of the Quarry Visitor Center, bone-bearing sandstone on the right, with flat roof, skylights, and a 190 foot long dinosaur mural .

The proposed flat roof in the 1937 drawing would probably have served as a nice surface on which to trap and hold mud and blocks of sandstone that would be weathering off the slopes to the north and south. Unless frequently cleared off the roof would have collapsed. So the building ultimately constructed in 1957/1958 took a different approach with the roof.

However, by 1932 the United States was deep in the Great Depression. First the Trustees of the AMNH met and decided that while they were supportive of the agreement with the NPS, as far as the AMNH contribution of $50,000 was concerned they were “Loath at this time to assume an obligation of that magnitude”. Next The US Congressional appropriation committee “refused to consider the suggested appropriation owing to the necessity for an economy program.”

So once again, planning for the Museum had to shift from the present to the future. Nevertheless, Brown never gave up his vision for what the Monument would become, for as he wrote in 1937(2)...

“The Dinosaur National Monument, when completed sometime within the next three years, will be unique in character and is destined to become the crowning educational jewel of our entire system of national parks. It is the greatest natural history feature ever attempted and is an achievement of such magnitude that it will rank with the great monuments of the world.”

… and he was, of course, absolutely right!

Notes on Sources

Dingus and Norell (2010) is an excellent biography of Barnum Brown, chock full of stories about the greatest dinosaur hunter of all time.

Much of this blog is based on R.G. Beidelman’s report Administrative History, Dinosaur National Monument. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this post are from this source. This fascinating report is the best summary of the history of the Carnegie Quarry between its discovery and 1956, much of which has never appeared in print. It contains abundant quotes from correspondence, newspapers, etc. and provides complete citations to where these documents can be found in the National Archives. Although it is in an unpublished internal report, it is available on-line from the National Park Service at It is an interesting read.


(1) Beidelman, R.G. 1956. Administrative History, Dinosaur National Monument. Unpaginated. ( )

(2) Brown, B. 1937. Dinosaurs on Parade. Natural History, December 1937: 505-513.

(3) A. Dingus, L. and M.A. Norell 2010. Barnum Brown, The Man Who Discovered Tyrannosaurus rex. University of California Press, Berkeley: 168 pp.

Photos: AMNH

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