My Travel Memories: The American Museum of Natural History, New York City

We’re going to frame my trip to the American Museum of Natural History as a flashback.  Our story opens with a movie called The Relic, released in 1997. The Relic was filmed, in part, in Chicago, most notably at the Field Museum of Natural History. I’ve always loved the museum, and I got my now-ex to kinda like it, too, during our relationship. So, although I’m not a big fan of horror films, we went to see it.

The Relic featured a cargo ship in Lake Michigan, kind of by the Shedd Aquarium, if memory serves (bear in mind that this was 19 years ago now and I have never felt motivated to see the movie again). I don’t think the water is deep enough for a ship that large and according to Wikipedia the ship was originally headed for Chicago from Brazil — up the Illinois River? That doesn’t even work.  I mean, the Illinois doesn’t go that far, and the ship would have to have gone through the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi first.  And then from the Illinois River to the Sanitary and Ship Canal which, despite the word “ship” in the name, was probably not really intended to carry cargo ships from Brazil.  In real life, by the way, a cargo ship from Brazil would dock at the Illinois International Port, which is on 95th Street at the place where Lake Michigan meets the Calumet River, so it likely would have gone up the Atlantic Ocean to the St. Lawrence and then through Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron to Lake Michigan.

The crew is all dead when the ship arrives, but if they made it that far, obviously they can’t all have been dead that long.  You know? If they’d died in the Illinois River, they probably wouldn’t have made it past Lockport because, well, there’s a lock in Lockport.  While having Joliet menaced by a monster would be an interesting movie (Ooh! And we could have a ragtag team of prisoners from the penitentiary be the heroes! That would be fun!), that’s not the movie that they have here.

I kind of wandered off the topic there. Sorry.

Anyway, so the film uses the outside of the museum Stanley Field Hall, which, if I recall correctly, still had at least one of its old fountains that are now long gone.  It was very nice for a more or less perennially homesick Chicagoan.

Then we venture farther into the museum (to sets on a sound stage, probably in California) and suddenly it stops being the Field Museum. With no warning whatsoever, the Field Museum turns into the American Museum of Natural History.

This was, as I’m sure you can understand, kind of disorienting. It also totally spoiled my suspension of disbelief. I spent the rest of the movie thinking, “But that’s the American Museum in New York.” And when I told the now-ex of this experience, he was actually kind of confused at how certain I was that it was the American Museum, so I looked it up. Yay for our first years of Internet access at home!

And sure enough, the novel that the movie was based on was set in the American Museum of Natural History.  The American Museum refused to let them film inside the museum, so they shopped around for other museums. The people in charge of the Field Museum liked the script (and probably the visibility for our city in general and the museum in particular) and so they gave permission to film there.

I remember the museum as being a very nice one, though not “home,” like the Field Museum is.  Now I’m wondering, though, if we got to the whole thing.  Now, granted, my folks never spent much time at the “peoples of wherever” exhibits in the Field Museum, so it’s not surprising that I don’t remember it.  I suspect we might not have seen it.  However, there’s a planetarium in the museum as well, and that has been my folks’ idea of a good time, but I don’t remember it at all.

Megalodon jaw, AMNH, New York
Megalodon jaw, American Museum of Natural History, New York City

I do remember the prehistoric creatures areas at the museum.  In fact, the only photos we took in the museum were my pictures of the Megalodon jaw (see above — I wasn’t sure which side I liked better, so I’m including them both).  I’m unclear on whether the jaw on display is a new one, or if it is the original jaw being seen from a different angle. It does appear to no longer be displayed in the doorway of a room with mood lighting.

Overall, I think I’d like to return and see what, if anything, looks familiar from the intervening nearly 30 years.  I would also like to make sure that I get to that planetarium.

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