Brachiosaurus altithorax, mounted inside the Field Museum

May 30, 2014

Here is the wonderful Brachiosaurus altithorax mount in its original location, in the main hall of the Field Museum in Chicago. (Click through for full resolution.)

Glut1997-p215--brachiosaurus-altithorax-mount

I scanned this from Don Glut’s Dinosaurs: The Encyclopedia, page 215. There must be better quality versions somewhere, because this is one of the Field Museum’s own photos — negative #GN 86962 — but I can’t find it in their singularly unhelpful online photo archive.

I’m posting it because there’s an astonishing lack photos of this mount on the Internet. As I noted last time, I was only able to find this striking image:

The Brachiosaurus mount in its original position in the main hall of the Field Museum. I can't find a higher resolution version of this photo -- can anyone help?

The Brachiosaurus mount in its original position in the main hall of the Field Museum. I can’t find a higher resolution version of this photo — can anyone help?

at the miserably low resolution shown here (358×248). More generally, almost every photo of a mounted Brachiosaurus out there seems to be from either the picnic area outside the museum, or O’Hare Airport. If anyone’s able to find decent-resolution examples of this skeleton indoors, please do drop the links into a comment.

I mentioned this to Matt, and he commented:

I think that the mount got moved outside just a bare handful of years before digital cameras went from rare to ubiquitous. If the move had happened even five years later, I’ll bet there would be loads of photos of the old mount.

I’m sure he’s right. But someone must have half-decent photos from back then?

Seriously -- is this tiny photo the best photographic record we have?

Seriously — is this tiny photo the best photographic record we have?

Of course, the real question is: why did they shove the Brachiosaurus outside? It was mounted in 1994, and taken down again in 1999, so this marvellous mount — by any objective standard the single most awesome exhibit in the museum’s history — was only actually in residence for five paltry years.

The standard explanation is that it was removed “to make space for” Sue, the vulgar overstudied theropod. But a glance at the photo above shows that there was plenty of space to put in half a dozen T. rexes without needing to move the brachiosaur. I can only assume that someone realised having a brachiosaur next door would make Sue look feeble. It’s a tragedy.

Update

Thanks to Dean for finding this one: small, but beautiful.

chi-8sue20100512120107

References

Glut, Donald F. 1997. Dinosaurs: The Encyclopedia. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. 1076 pages.

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26 Responses to “Brachiosaurus altithorax, mounted inside the Field Museum”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    You know, I’m not a sauropod guy, and even I questioned the logic of moving the Brachiosaurus skeleton out of the great hall to make room for Sue the T. rex. When I was a little kid, the Brachiosaurus skeleton in the great hall was by far my favorite exhibit at the Field Museum, as it really showed you just how big dinosaurs could be (especially since it was right next to those two African elephants). But with Sue, the hall seems…smaller for some reason, as even though Sue is a nice fossil, it doesn’t really have the presence that the Brachiosaurus did. Indeed, if one didn’t know the story behind the discovery of Sue, they would write it off as “just another tyrannosaur”.

    Which brings me to the other reason why the decision to punt Brachiosaurus out into the cold was so surprising. There is a grand total of one Brachiosaurus skeletons out there (at least, now that the African species is separated into Giraffatitan). One. That makes a Brachiosaurus skeleton far, far rarer and more unusual than a certain big-headed, robust-jawed theropod. And while there are a few casts of Brachiosaurus here and there (As stated in the previous SV-POW post), Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons are a dime a dozen in most museums (especially as casts). Heck, there are several museums like the California Academy of Natural Sciences where the only fossil on display is a cast of a T. rex skeleton. I get that you should flaunt what you’ve got if you have a wealth of tyrannosaur fossils, but shouldn’t many of these museums focus on showing off why their specimens are unique rather than getting yet another cast of Stan or the AMNH specimen?

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Precisely. It was a very surprising decision.

    It would be great if anyone reading this knew the back-story, and could explain.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I highly doubt there is a backstory beyond whoever was in charge thinking “everyone likes Tyrannosaurus, and we have the most well-known Tyrannosaurus specimen in the world right here, we should make it our centerpiece”, and to heck with anything else because T.rex attracts people.

    At one point, I had heard they were going to build a separate, special gallery for Sue and have an exhibit in there on the discovery of the specimen and the paleobiology of the Hell Creek Formation. Now, despite my feelings on the over-exposure of the specimen, that would be an interesting exhibit to see.

  4. Nima Says:

    The rotunda was easily big enough to fit both the Brachiosaurus and Sue and many other skeletons besides. With Brachio booted out and Sue in its place, the hall just looks empty. THAT is what in my mind makes their decision so O’Hare-brained.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Precisely! It looks like a big empty space now — like a very nicely designed railway station or something. It’s in desperate need of a brachiosaur.

  6. Matt Says:

    I agree with all of these statements. I had a chance to visit the Field Museum last August. I admit it is was great to see Sue for the first time. Nice tyrannosaur, however as Mike mentioned the hall is big enough for both. The Brachiosaurus does look great against the Chicago skyline. However, as someone posted on here brachiosaurs are even more rare than a t-rex. The t-rex took center stage while the brachiosaur had to placed outside, due to the public’s thirst for big theropods. By the way Mike, if you are interested, I can make copies I have of photos from the 97 SVP, when the brachiosaur was inside. The best one is a vertical shot of the brachiosaur neck and skull. Just let me know!

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    Matt — yes, please! Scan your photos and we’ll post them here!


  8. […] currently in a sequence of Brachiosaurus-themed posts [part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6], this seems like a good time to fix that. So here is my response, fresh from November 2011, […]


  9. […] our Brachiosaurus series [part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7], here is another historically important photo scanned from the Glut encyclopaedia: this […]


  10. […] recent photo posts on the mounted Brachiosaurus skeleton and its bones in the ground, I’ve lamented that the Field Museum’s online photo archive […]


  11. […] mature – see the unfused scapulocoracoids of FMNH P25107, the holotype of Brachiosaurus mounted in Chicago, and MB.R.2181, the lectotype of Giraffatitan mounted in Berlin. And histological sampling suggests […]


  12. […] The Brachiosaurus skeleton was tall enough to look over the second floor mezzanine. Source […]

  13. Phil Senjanin Says:

    People contributed to the Brachiosaur, and their names were put on a plaque at the base of the skeleton. I was one of them, What ever became of the plaque?

  14. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hmm, what a good question! I have looked at both the original mount in its new home at O’Hare Airport, and the new one out in the museum picnic area, and I am pretty sure that if there was a plaque on either one of them, I’d have noticed. Anyone from the museum know what the story is?


  15. Couple comments here from a Field docent and lifetime attendee-

    The one outside is a metal replica-the one in the main hall has moved to O’Hare’s United Terminal.

    Remember, it’s heavily reconstructed, mostly based on the Humboldt Museum fur Naturkunde Giraffititan. Whereas Sue is 90% complete. I think Pete Mackovicky and the exhibit perpetrators considered it rather embarrassing that the type specimen cases have only a humerus and a few vertebrae, so it’s in a corner of the main dinosaur hall behind Rigg’s Apatosaurus (or Brontosaurus or Diplodocidae incertae sedis depending how you call it. I call him Elmer myself)

    The Field had Brachiosaurus for a century before they got Sue, which is new and fresh. Not to mention cost the museum (and McDonalds) 8.2 million.

    There is room for the Brachiosaurus in the middle of the hall between the Akeley elephants and the Haida poles, but it’d be between the east and west entrances as well. Coming up from the lower level would just give you Brachiosaurus ass.

    Finally, the reason Brachiosaurus is in the corner there is so that it would be facing Life Over Time, our main fossil exhibit. It’s been replaced by Evolving Planet, but the exhibit halls are in the same location. Indeed-they put up a Pteranodon model to show visitors where the fossils are. The idea is “look at Sue” then “look at the Pteranodon” then “look at the big globe at the exhibit entrance”

    That’s my reasoning, anyway. I’d put it in the very front of the South Entrance so people could walk around it while waiting in line for tickets, but that’s just me.

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, David, great to hear from you and to get another perspective on this historically and scientifically important mount. I am very sorry to hear that anyone ever considered FMNH P25107 “embarrassing”!

    You say “Brachiosaurus ass” as though that would be a bad thing.

  17. Matt Wedel Says:

    I’d leave the one outside where it is, put another one in front of the south entrance, a third in front of the north entrance, a fourth in the middle of the main hall, and a fifth looming over Sue. I think that would be approaching adequate brachiosaur coverage.

  18. Mike Taylor Says:

    Now we’re cooking with gas.

  19. LeeB Says:

    And then perhaps we could get the bones of the Archbishop put on display in it’s museum; and casts sent to other museums with Brachiosaurs so they could be mounted as comparisons alongside the other Brachiosaurs.

    Imagine have casts of all the different Brachiosaur species in one place to look at.

    LeeB.

  20. Mike Taylor Says:

    I would be in favour.

  21. Chelsea Farace Says:

    Wow! I was lucky enough to have my godmother get me a tail bone when I was a little girl. I have searched and searched for it wondering where my most favorite dinosaur ever, ended up. I have a picture of me pointing to the plaque in the field museum after it was just released. I’ll have to dig up some photos however i’m sure they were taken on a very old camera so i’m not sure how great they will be. I’m just happy to know where it ended up. That thing is pure nostagia to me. It was the coolest thing ever owning a dinosaur bone as a little girl. I still have my certificate. if you’d want photos of that

  22. Mike Taylor Says:

    Are you saying you owned an actual Brachiosaurus caudal vertebra?

  23. Phil Senjanin Says:

    My name and that of my young son (now grown with a son of his own) was on that plaque. Does any one know what happened to it?

  24. Mike Taylor Says:

    Oh, or maybe I misunderstood you, Chelsea: maybe you’re saying that you sponsored one of the bones in the mounted cast?


  25. […] The last time a sauropod graced the Stanley Field Hall. Source […]


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