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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
— 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
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
natural history professor, Arnold Guyot. Born in Switzerland, Guyot
not only began the first systematic instruction in geology at
in 1855, but his gifted students were intimately involved in the
of its vanguard department of biology shortly after the turn of the
Over the years, the Guyot Hall museum has received a steady flow of
additions from Princeton expeditions — such as an enchanting
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
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
it should take into account the economic consequences of its actions.
But swapping Arnold and his friends for a maze of Dilbertesque
would prove tragically myopic to the bottom line. So believes
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
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
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
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
tours, guest lecturers, kids’ programs, and a mineral sale that
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
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
that would be shipped off to an Ivy League, seldom-used book
in New England. (Apparently, despite our age of telecommunications,
the administrators deem it more important to have accountants on site
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
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
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
ideal. And, to be fair, professors, like bad husbands, too frequently
let their wonderful renovation designs grow moldy until the barn
Hollister’s plan for the rejuvenated Guyot Hall museum seems an
one. The only flaw in it that I can see is the glaring lack of
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
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
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
Or what the hey — Perhaps we should just ship all the old bones
off to Yale.
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.
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
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
the use of the space, and the role of the university in science
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
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
her both to the profession of geology and to Princeton University.
Now, leading a daily newspaper in the capital city of a
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
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
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
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
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
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
started his professional life as a pediatrician, but eventually helped
run the Hollister Ranch, a large family cattle ranch in Santa Barbara,
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
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
research, where great debates still rage.
"What we have in Guyot Hall is a first-rate outreach
he says. "I mean how do you bring news to the public of what
is now and how scientists do it? Our opportunity here is to connect
the historic with the new."
— Nicole Plett
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