To Visit the Museum

Scions of Rebel Newsmen

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This story by Bart Jackson was prepared for

August 16, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Axe for Arnold the Allosaurus

by Bart Jackson

Hell, son, if there were money in stripes Princeton

would sell its own Tiger." Thus did my Daddy (Princeton University

Class of 1933) respond to his alma mater’s plans to scrap its natural

history museum in Guyot Hall.

You could say that fewer folks than should have seen the remarkable

discoveries in this publicly accessible collection. Saber-toothed

cats and sprawling antlered Irish elk lure the visitor. And of course,

towering above all, stands the great toothy form of Arnold the

Allosaurus

— fearsome predecessor to T. Rex and Tyrannosaurian Sue.

This is a museum of the grand old style. Birds of outlandish plumage

from Great Auks to flowing tailed Quetzal stare back through the

cases.

Ghastly specimens of squirmies and long-leggeddy beasties haunt the

"Formaldehyde Collection." Head-sized frogs apparently were

more readily obtained in the 1880s. And of course, these are just

tantalizing hints of what lies in the basement below, including one

of the best mineral collections in the northeastern U.S.

It all started in 1906 when the morass of bones and bottled giant

sea cucumbers and such began to so clutter Old Nassau’s faculty rooms

that the decision was made to construct a special hall for exhibits.

In 1909 the hall was completed and named after the university’s

renowned

natural history professor, Arnold Guyot. Born in Switzerland, Guyot

not only began the first systematic instruction in geology at

Princeton

in 1855, but his gifted students were intimately involved in the

formation

of its vanguard department of biology shortly after the turn of the

century.

Over the years, the Guyot Hall museum has received a steady flow of

additions from Princeton expeditions — such as an enchanting

collection

of Devonian, armor-plated fish, unearthed in the 1932 Beartooth Butte,

Wyoming, dig. In fact, Arnold — a 90 percent complete Allosaurus

skeleton — came from a 1941 university expedition. And donations

continued, including the Class of 1927’s gift of a Bengal Tiger, shot

and presented six months before the final ban on big game hunting.

More recently, the museum has continued as a source for scholarship,

but its displays have fallen on hard times. In l980, the Guyot Hall

display area was cut by more than half to allow for construction of

the new geology library. Part of the exhibit was transferred to Yale.

Meanwhile its curator and several vertebrate paleontology professors

retired. And now the university administrators in Nassau Hall have

judged it time for these dinosaurs and their compatriots to become

extinct. The space, apparently, is needed for offices. The moving

vans could be lining up at the door as early as the first week in

September.

So, you say, why does Princeton need an Allosaurus? Who cares if some

80-million-year-old dinosaur gets shipped off to the Acme Bonemeal

plant? Princeton is in desperate need of office cubicles; it needs

digital displays, not museum displays. And like any responsible

university,

it should take into account the economic consequences of its actions.

But swapping Arnold and his friends for a maze of Dilbertesque

cubicles

would prove tragically myopic to the bottom line. So believes

Princeton

geology professor Lincoln Hollister. "The university is sitting

on a real cash cow here," he says. "A museum of this quality

and potential can be just as valuable as a sports team."

Professor Hollister holds an exact design for rejuvenating the museum.

He sees a broad, unified sweep of displays covering the natural

history

of the globe, from plate tectonics through the proliferation of life,

on through the dinosaurs, their extinction, and up to primitive man.

Hollister’s plan would incorporate all Guyot Hall’s existing physical

displays, and punctuate them with the extensive list of cutting-edge,

multi-disciplinary discoveries made by Princeton scientists.

Princeton’s geoscience professor Bob Phinney joins in supporting such

a proposal. He enthusiastically explains how the hypothesis and the

proof of plate tectonics originated with Princeton professors. In

fact, the discipline-altering discovery that dinosaurs laid eggs and

nurtured their young began right here in Guyot Hall. Also, the widely

held theory that dinosaur extinction resulted from bombardment by

a meteor the size of Mars was initially propounded and given

supporting

evidence by Princeton scientists. All this could be incorporated into

displays in the historic environs where the science happened.

As the two professors talk cogently and excitedly about the Guyot

Hall museum’s potential, my mind wanders a bit academically northward,

to one of Princeton’s great rivals, where the natural history museum

is becoming exactly the cash cow Lincoln Hollister envisions.

In the spirit of their historic sports rivalry (Princeton played

Rutgers

in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869), both schools

boast excellent natural history museums. Both sides hold more funds

than they claim and both cry continually about lack of space. The

professorial teams stand about even: the Scarlet Knights have more

depth, the Tigers more renown. In terms of open exhibits, both Rutgers

and the Guyot Hall museums are evenly matched. Princeton’s basement

however, holds a strong advantage in bone depth, animal collection,

and, of course, the gem collection.

But the Rutgers Geology Department has truly learned how to run with

the ball. Up on the banks of the Ole Raritan, they have established

a Friends of the Museum group that solicits donations and presents

a fascinating monthly lecture series, with a reception held right

in the museum. In addition, Rutgers’ annual Geology Day features

museum

tours, guest lecturers, kids’ programs, and a mineral sale that

attracts

thousands.

Princeton’s Geosciences Department, by contrast, runs the occasional

student group through the museum and then lets the dust resettle.

Thus the bean counters, desperately in search of space, lit hungrily

on Arnold Allosaurus and his digs. In fact, the entire dismantling

of the Guyot Hall natural history museum would already be accomplished

had not the boys in accounting, blissfully ignorant of their booty,

been hit with the incredible cost of safely dismantling and moving

such a valuable collection. So Arnold has gained a temporary reprieve.

The Princeton administration claims that the collection would be

better

off elsewhere. Yale University currently claims a large vertebrate

paleontology department and a medical school that could better handle

and study the collection. Such collections should be centralized in

places like Yale or in New York’s esteemed Museum of Natural History.

The same goes for a goodly part of the Geosciences Department’s

library

that would be shipped off to an Ivy League, seldom-used book

storehouse

in New England. (Apparently, despite our age of telecommunications,

the administrators deem it more important to have accountants on site

than books.)

The argument for centralizing museum collections is an old and popular

one. But it can be carried too far. "It is a shame to think,"

notes Hollister, "that for any child to see a dinosaur, his school

class might have to make a trip to New York." Or to Trenton, where

the New Jersey State Museum’s permanent dinosaur display, featuring

the South Jersey-bred Hadrosaurus foulkii, is its strongest family

drawing card.

Mark Norell, director of vertebrate paleontology at New York’s Natural

History Museum, tells me with a laugh that "we already have more

dinosaur bones in our basement than we could ever display." The

dangers to the public of junking local exhibits to further augment

some few distant, Home-Depot-style museums are obvious.

But in addition, such centralization strikes a ruinous lance at the

heart of science itself.

Jack Horner, now among the most internationally famed paleontologists,

was a man of limited academic credits who had his interest in

paleontology

sparked in the Guyot Hall museum. Hired as an assistant curator in

the 1970s, he joined a Princeton-sponsored expedition to Montana,

where he discovered a hatching dinosaur nest. His discovery not only

revised all scholarly notions about birds as the evolved descendants

of dinosaurs, it also led to a court battle over ownership of the

ancient booty. The State of Montana won and Horner was hired away

from Princeton to start a new museum in Bozeman. Then he was awarded

a McArthur "genius" grant.

The rest is history. Horner now lectures along with an IMAX film show

that commands huge audiences at each engagement.

A Modest Proposal

Too often administrators, like bad wives, ignore the

value of what they have, in the process of urgently molding the

envisioned

ideal. And, to be fair, professors, like bad husbands, too frequently

let their wonderful renovation designs grow moldy until the barn

collapses.

Hollister’s plan for the rejuvenated Guyot Hall museum seems an

excellent

one. The only flaw in it that I can see is the glaring lack of

enhanced

publicity. Most folks on campus — let alone area residents —

have never heard of Princeton’s Guyot Hall natural history museum.

But it might be wise for Princeton’s Nassau Hall to review the

incredible

unpolished gem it controls in Guyot Hall. Compared to such a potential

payback, building new office space elsewhere seems a cheap investment.

Equally, it might behoove professors Hollister, Phinney, and other

interested faculty to draft a plan. Not the $5-million-dollar plan

that some blue ribbon committee conglomerated involving a raft of

new staff. But design a simple, grassroots plan, similar to Rutgers’,

involving public support, a reorganizing of the exhibits along the

Hollister time-line. Then they could publicly entice people in to

see what marvels nature and Princeton professors hath wrought.

Bob Miller, Princeton Class of ’58, is among many alumni who reside

in town and with his family and have contributed substantially to

the alma mater over the years. "I think it’s atrocious to close

Guyot Hall," he exclaims. "I’ve taken my kids there

frequently,

It’s a wonderful museum." Bob adds that his father, Class of ’28,

also loved it.

It would be a nice and valuable tradition to have Bob’s son take his

children through; let them see old and new exhibits, while talking

with the very professors who study them. Perhaps one of them may be

the next Jack Horner to have their imagination sparked by the

displays.

Or what the hey — Perhaps we should just ship all the old bones

off to Yale.

Top Of Page
To Visit the Museum

Guyot Hall is located on the south side of Washington Road, between

Nassau Street and Faculty Road. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on

weekdays and most weekends. Admission is free.

Top Of Page
Scions of Rebel Newsmen

Spearheading opposition to the dismantling of the Guyot

Hall collections is an unlikely alliance of a professor and an alumna

both of whom share a family legacy of newspaper activism. Princeton

alumna Robin McKinney Martin, Class of 1975, and geology professor

Lincoln Hollister have joined to bring the Guyot Hall question up

for professional scrutiny.

Hollister, who has proposed his own plan to utilize the Guyot Hall

natural history collections for contemporary outreach (see

accompanying

story), specializes in metamorphic petrology, which he describes as

the study of hard rocks and mountain ranges, and works primarily on

sites in western British Columbia and the Himalayas.

"Our objective is to get a moratorium on the decision until there

can be adequate and scholarly discussion on the future of the

collection,

the use of the space, and the role of the university in science

outreach,"

he says. So far, according to Hollister, supporters have only earned

"a stay of execution" from an original removal date of July

5 to Labor Day, September 4.

"It’s not old science versus new science. That’s not what the

battle about," says Hollister. "The issue is the university’s

role in bringing science to the scientifically challenged, to

children,

poets, administrators, humanitarians, teachers — to the community

at large — and even to other scientists."

Robin McKinney Martin, Class of 1975, was a geoscience major who is

vice president of the Santa Fe New Mexican, the capital city’s daily

newspaper. She is the daughter of Robert McKinney, the New Mexican’s

owner and publisher, a man who became mythic in journalism circles

when he sued the Gannett Corporation over a breach of contract in

the sale of his newspaper, and won it back.

Martin first saw the Guyot Hall museum at age five, and says it

attracted

her both to the profession of geology and to Princeton University.

Now, leading a daily newspaper in the capital city of a

science-saturated

state, she brings her geologic background to the newspaper’s coverage

of science and the environment. She feels very strongly about the

role of geology in preparing people to be able to work with the world.

A member of Princeton’s Geosciences Department Advisory Committee,

Robin Martin first learned about the proposed dismantling of the Guyot

Hall exhibits at a spring meeting, and arrived at her 25th reunion

in late May ready to lobby both alumni and administrators in support

of the museum.

Hollister says Martin visited vice-presidents in such areas as

development

and buildings and grounds to find out "what was happening in Guyot

Hall, why it was happening, and whether the university was aware of

what a jewel in Princeton’s crown the collection is."

"Don’t forget," says Hollister, "that any five-year-old

girl who looks in these museum cases may grow up to be a senator,

the owner of a newspaper, or at the very least a taxpayer."

Hollister notes that a dinosaur comparable to

Princeton’s

Allosaurus was sold at auction recently to the Field Museum, Chicago,

for $8 million. "The university has bigger and grander plans for

the area around Guyot Hall," he says. "They say, `In these

plans, we will bring it back in a new and better space.’ But there

has been no professional consultation whatsoever on the museum

collection

or how it might be housed."

Resistance is part of the Hollister family tradition.

"My great uncle, who has been a big influence on both me and on

my father, was Lincoln Steffens — the muckraker," announces

his namesake Lincoln Hollister with gusto. "Muckracker" was

indeed the term Theodore Roosevelt used to describe Steffens and the

group of Gilded Age reformist writers that he led.

Steffens started his career as a reporter for the Sacramento Bee.

In the last decade of the 19th century, he wrote for New York City

newspapers. His influential articles about big business and corrupt

politicians, many published in McClure’s Magazine, where he became

managing editor, were collected as a book titled "The Shame of

the Cities."

Political events in Mexico and Russia turned Steffens’ attention from

reform to revolution. After a trip to Russia in 1919, he wrote to

a friend, "I have seen the future; and it works." Also

remembered

as mentor to another maverick journalist, Walter Lippmann, Steffens’

1931 "Autobiography" was his greatest publishing success.

"My mother fought Franco — although not literally," says

Hollister, but she actively supported the Lincoln Brigade, an American

unit that fought for the Royalists in the Spanish Civil War. His

father

started his professional life as a pediatrician, but eventually helped

run the Hollister Ranch, a large family cattle ranch in Santa Barbara,

California.

A member of Harvard University’s Class of 1960, Hollister earned his

Ph.D at Cal Tech, and taught for two years at UCLA. In 1968 he began

teaching at Princeton, where he now has tenure.

Hollister and his wife are approaching their 40th anniversary

("we’re

dinosaurs in that regard," he notes) and have two sons in their

30s. John is a social scientist, and William is a playwright, actor,

theater designer, and translator who has lived in Prague since 1991.

Despite its perennial appeal to pre-schoolers and grade school kids,

Hollister stresses that paleontology is an active area of modern

scientific

research, where great debates still rage.

"What we have in Guyot Hall is a first-rate outreach

opportunity,"

he says. "I mean how do you bring news to the public of what

science

is now and how scientists do it? Our opportunity here is to connect

the historic with the new."

— Nicole Plett


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