#888: The T. rex That Wasn’t

February 12th, 2018

Her ass is gone and her ribs have been marked up, hand-writ tags dangling from each one like they’ve been priced for a yard sale. 

A crowd mills about the hasty heptagon of two-by-fours, plywood and Plexiglas enclosing the monster. Photos are taken of the T-shirt wearing scientists slowly lowering a trussed pelvis with a crane-and-pulley system. A Field Museum worker is stationed at the most-natural photo spot, telling half-interested crowds about the process of deconstructing dinos and about Sue’s new home on the second floor.

The enclosure in the middle of the Field Museum’s great hall is full of cases, folding tables, ladders, crates and a dinosaur. The largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered is going away for a bit.

Sue the T. rex — I refuse to oblige the grammatically supect branding that calls it SUE — is getting a room off to the side of the dinosaur room in the Evolving Planet exhibit. The museum set up a viewing window upstairs so you can watch the process there too.

In her place in the hall will be a massive replica of Patagotitan mayorum – think Dino from “The Flintstones” but 122 feet long. I’ll be sad to see Sue go, but kids will be able to touch and play with the replica. Unless you’re employed as a research scientist or trying to look quirky on a first date, kids are really who museums are for, after all.

So the real fossil is getting a room and the great hall is getting a new main attraction.

And on a snow-covered terrace outside, the Brachiosaurus altithorax is wondering why it can’t come back in.

And in a glass box down a downstairs corridor where someone might go if they made a wrong turn to the bathroom, Bushman the gorilla remembers when it was the star.

And in a room of bodies, the Tsavo lions lick their lips at the gawkers and think it’s still better than being a rug.

Of course the critters don’t think like this. The Brachiosaur gazing triumphantly over Lake Shore Drive — occasionally in the uniform of a sports team that’s winning — always was a model, even during the brief four years it strode the great hall. The 93 years cobbled back to lion shape aren’t a better situation for the Man-Eaters of Tsavo than the 25 years they spent as their killer’s floor rugs. They’re still dead.

And I can’t say if Chicago’s first gorilla would register sadness at seeing a life at the zoo capped with a death stuffed and mounted at the museum. I don’t know how apes process death, other than sometimes kittens make Koko sad.

But if there were an exhibit I could check up on, to see how Sue’s ouster makes them feel, it wouldn’t be the mummies or Tully monster, the mounted hyenas or the meteorites. It would be the T. rex that wasn’t. It would be the former great hall resident I marveled at as a kid.

I think the Field downplayed that the Daspletosaurus torosus once in the great hall, now hovering over prey as one of many fossils in the dinosaur exhibit, wasn’t quite a T. rex. It was a tyrannosaur, sure, so they didn’t make a show of correcting people who mistook it for its cousin rex.

I loved that thing. Ran to it as a child to stare at the cold-blooded monster Albertosaurus libratus towering upright in the middle of the hall. They corrected the Albertosaurus misname in 1999 and we now know the upright stance and the cold blood were nonsense (I’m also pro-feathers), but the thrill is still there. Like your first love, ball game or Doctor Whom, your first dino stays with you.

I could talk to it to find out how it feels, of course. I’m a Chicago writer who works in a vaguely journalistic motif. A fake conversation with Daspletosaurus would be no more off-base than Finley Dunne’s Mr. Dooley or Royko’s Slats Grobnik. If they can have their wise-fool ethnic drunkards as mouthpiece, why can’t I pretend a dinosaur thinks I’m cool?

But I’d rather not make-believe a Cretaceous deathbringer would understand or care about a demotion from the main hall. I wouldn’t want to put commiseration with or schadenfreude for Sue in my monster’s toothy jaws. I don’t need to wonder if it’s cold like the Brachiosaurus or asking itself what the hell happened like a stuffed zoo gorilla.

The tyrannosaur was in the main hall, now it’s not. But it still thrills children and is adored by adults. What more does my monster need to say about Sue than that?

Photos of the deconstruction

Questions for a mummy

The love of a penguin

An art museum in Englewood

And just for fun, the last wood-paved alleys in Chicago

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You are currently reading #888: The T. rex That Wasn’t by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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