The American Museum of Natural History — which claims an 18-acre chunk of Upper West Side real estate spanning one long and four short blocks— comes among its parents New York’s governor in 1869, Teddy Roosevelt’s father and J. Pierpont Morgan, one of the richest men in the world at the time.
Best of all, after a short five-year stint in the East Side’s Central Park Arsenal, the Upper West Side claimed the jewel of history museums and has kept it—and grown it—ever since.
Let’s run through the “gee whiz” figures before taking a look at the Upper West Side museum’s jaw-dropping history and collections. Within the complex of 27 connected buildings, the museum boasts 32 million artifacts and scientific specimens in its 45 permanent exhibition halls. There is, of course, the world class Hayden Planetarium, a library, temporary exhibit halls and research facilities.
On the Screen
The hit Ben Stiller movie Night at the Museum premiered there (and started the Museum’s Night at the Museum Sleepovers!). But the real-life adventures spurred by the American Museum of Natural History are every bit as gripping as the film.
Out in the Field
Barely a decade after its founding, the Museum began sponsoring “Indiana Jones-like” expeditions all over the world. These would often reach unexplored regions; the South Pacific (with Margaret Mead), the Pacific Northwest, the Gobi Desert, the African Congo, Siberia and more. It surprises many to learn those expeditions are still going — more than 130 every year!
A walk around the Museum’s exterior is worth the time! You’ll see varying architecture from the classic façade on Central Park West to the luminescent Rose Center for Earth and Space on 81st. Or, to enjoy Theodore Roosevelt Park on the structure’s north side.
Inside the main entrance, the breathtaking Roosevelt Rotunda welcomes visitors with style. Named after the president, it features the tallest free-standing dinosaur exhibit in the world. But before you go, plan your visit by exploring the Museum’s excellent website. The interactive map spreads each of the Museum’s four floors out before you, with clickable icons to explain what is where.
A sure-fire hit with kids is the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, complete with a life-size blue whale suspended from the ceiling; dinosaurs on the fourth floor; and the Akeley Hall of African Mammals, with a full herd of elephants, thank you very much.
I saved the Akeley Hall for last to talk about its namesake, Carl Akeley. He first offered to create the dioramas the AMNH is world famous for. Whatever you do on your visit, don’t miss these painstakingly accurate recreations of animals in their natural habits. Spread throughout the museum, you can learn about them (and see them).
Scratched the surface? Not hardly. You can spend days in the museum. But the one thing not to miss is going, whether you’re touring a visitor around, looking for a great escape with kids or just wanting one of those “New York” adventures.