February 27, 2011
We had a fun day in Atlanta yesterday. The weather was warm without being hot and, though the locals warn that it was only temporary, we headed out to play tourist for the day. Signs have been been popping up around town advertising the Fernbank Natural History Museum and its mythical beasts exhibit. I knew we risked the exhibit being nothing more than a televangelist with a bible pointing at a dinosaur and yelling “Fake, it’s a myth”, but I was willing to risk it.
Our trip involved two MARTA trains and a mile walk through Inman and Candler Parks. Two of Atlanta’s neighborhoods with unique personalities. The weather held and eventually we rounded a corner to see the dinosaur statuary in the front of the museum. This is when Reed started humming the theme music from the movie Jurassic Park and didn’t stop for at least an hour.
It turned out that the mythical creatures exhibit was legitimate. Dragons, unicorn, topless mermaids and even bigfoot were recreated with explanations as to how people may have come to believe they were real. The reasoning was sound, found bones became dragons for example, except for the explanation for the origin of Bigfoot which, as everybody knows, always involves homemade moonshine and a huntin’t trip.
The permanent exhibit is what I’ve come to expect from a modern Natural History Museum. Enter the building and soon you’ll be in a large atrium in the presence of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton hanging from the ceiling. He will be posed to either look like he’s about to eat you or about to eat the skeleton of what is supposed to have been his prey. In the case of the Fernbank the resident T-rex is attacking an impressive Brachiosaurus. Pterodactil skeletons also hung in the upper reaches of the of the atrium like unfinished model airplanes.
Past the giant dinosaurs are glass cases with examples of the local fauna. The animals are stuffed, mounted and arranged to represent what a peaceful day in their lives would have looked like. The expressions on their faces are all calm and serene when I expect them to look surprised that they’re about to be shot and put in a museum.
Somewhere past the animals is usually an exhibit of the people who lived in the area before it was “discovered” and cleansed of their presence. The Ferbank delivered and, because this is Atlanta, the part of history between happily making pottery and weaving cloth from local plants and not being here was left out. Maybe it was too hard to display Native Americans that didn’t look surprised that they’re about to be shot.
On the way out we, of course, went to the gift shop. I’ve found that Museum gift shops can sometimes be a good place to find unique gifts. A metal replica of an otter skull made into a bottle opener, a coffee cup in the style of native pottery or the paws of various swamp animals with hardware added so they can be made into coat hooks are good examples.
This shop tended toward the more mundane. Plastic replicas of animals that could have easy been bought at the mall and books that were obviously aimed at the guests visiting from out of state and meant to purvey local color. The book “Grits, Grits, Grits” for example and “What’d I Kill” which was a guide to the carcasses that litter the hiways of The South.