National Museum of Natural History exhibit–WISH Intern Experience

By Stephanie Delateur| June 13, 2019

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Waiting in line with the crowd to see the grand opening (Photo by Stephanie Delateur).

The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils-Deep Time at the National Museum of Natural History opened on the morning of June 8, 2019. I learned about this exhibit finishing up my junior year at Cal State Fullerton. The paleontology fan that I am, I was immediately excited. I even watched the video posted on the National Museum of Natural History website. I later read on the website that the first 300 people could hear the director of the museum speak and see the grand opening. I waited until June 8 finally came.

Coming to Washington, DC from California as a WISH intern was a long trek, but it was worth it to see an exhibit opening. Because I live on Capitol Hill, I am near Union Station, which is only a few stops away from the transfer stations where passengers can change lines to board different trains–which is what I had to do.

I woke up at 7:30, but by the time I arrived at the museum, it was a little after 9:30. I overheard who I assumed was a staff worker in a green shirt tell someone they were out of wristbands, which is what those in the initial group must have received. I realized I was too late. How many people could be that excited about fossils?

Evidently, more than I thought. Well, there goes my chances of getting to see the grand opening, I thought to myself.

Despite not being included in the 300-person group, I was able to enter the museum.

Once inside, I looked up to see staff workers upstairs looking down from the balcony. I turned around to see two trumpeters standing upstairs, flags hanging from their golden instruments. It looked like a king about to make a decree.

This is really happening, I thought. I am going to be one of the first people to step foot into this exhibit.

The ceremony began, I recall, with trumpeters, speeches from Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton and National Museum of Natural History Sant Director Kirk Johnson, and concluded with a countdown to the lifting of an almost floor-to-ceiling banner with a forest scene, trumpeters, and fireworks projected near the banner.

The cluster of people bottlenecked into the entrance. I was astounded.

Walking in, guests are greeted by skeletons of dinosaurs and other animals. Near the back, a Diplodocus towers over the heads of curious children, parents, and others.

The exhibit was more than fossils on display. The team who put this together must have had an immersive and interactive experience in mind because of the props by the bones.

The most immersive part of the exhibit was the “Fossilab,” where visitors can walk by and see people working on fossils. A tablet sat behind glass windows to allow people to look at the work being done, alongside an explanation of what the person was doing.

Dinosaurs were not the only type of animal featured. The ocean had its own section. Fossilized shells and coral reef models were easily visible, as well as other animals unknown to me. There were also more plant fossils than I expected.

Some fossils were easy to miss. The exhibit was so vast it seemed I would be there all day looking at everything.

After a few hours, I decided it was time to go. As I was about to leave, I realized I had missed part of the exhibit. When I first came in, I went straight to the back to look at the Diplodocus and T. rex; I missed the animals by the entrance.

I felt I had seen everything, but I did not want to leave. Even though I woke up early, the opportunity to be a part of an event like this made the subway rides worth coming. On the way out, I remembered a pressed penny I wanted with a Stegosaurus on it; it seemed fitting for the occasion.

After picking up my penny, I gathered my belongings and left. The day was a success: I saw the opening of an exhibit I had been excited about for weeks, I saw some new fossils and I had another penny to add to my collection.

If activities like this sound interesting, apply for free at Living through WISH allows me to go to activities like this and have memories I will cherish the rest of my life. Living in Washington, DC allows students to experience the city and learn how a different part of the country operates. There is never a dull moment in DC.

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