September 29, 2004


After Dark, the Stuffed Animals Turn Creepy (ANDREW JACOBS, 9/29/04, NY Times)

At 5:30 p.m., the canned announcement, a pleasant but firm female voice, echoes off the East African elephants, filters through the rib cage of a fossilized stegosaurus and briefly drowns out the chanted recording of the Mbuti Pygmy tribesmen: "Your attention please. Your attention please. The museum is now closed. Any security officer can direct you to an exit."

The Japanese tourists in sensible shoes, the whining, overstimulated children, the earnest art students with sketch pads trickle past glassy-eyed grizzlies and the indignant gorilla thumping its chest. They linger for a final snapshot beneath barosaurus as a towering set of bronze doors seal off the Asian Hall behind them. "Sir, the museum is closed," keeps the dawdlers moving, and by 5:45, the American Museum of Natural History has been largely drained of the living.

Depending on your point of view, this 135-year-old stone fortress is an edifying temple to life on earth or an eerie mausoleum for millions of stuffed and pickled creatures. To generations of schoolchildren who shrieked beneath that giant dangling squid, it is the site of a field trip that launched a thousand nightmares. At night, with the comforting buzz of the city blocked out by thick granite walls and the hum of air-conditioning the only aural distraction, the museum and its frozen inhabitants play tricks on the skittish, the superstitious and those with overactive imaginations.

Even after five years sweeping and mopping the exhibition halls late at night, Frank Saunders is occasionally unnerved on his lonely janitorial rounds. "Sometimes you feel like the animals are watching you," he said, unaware of the gargantuan centipede lurking behind him. "When I'm up on the third floor, with the totem poles and the Indians, you think you see the veins pulsating and the tendons moving."

Where better to find superstition than a temple of science?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 29, 2004 10:14 AM

I see that Mr. Jacobs grew up reading Ray Bradbury, too!

Posted by: Eugene S. at September 29, 2004 10:19 AM

Where better to find superstition than a temple of science?

I'm sure that if it's superstition you're looking for, there are lots of churches you could investigate. Not to mention sports bars and Boston Red Sox fan clubs.

Posted by: Brandon at September 29, 2004 1:45 PM

Reminds me a little of the storyline from the Douglas Preston & Lincoln Childs novels "The Relic" and "Reliquary". Both were good fun.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 29, 2004 2:06 PM

Say! Is there a betting pool on how close the Red Sox will come this time to winning the Division... and cruelly losing out in the end, as nature has decreed?

I like the final day of the season (October 3rd).

Posted by: Eugene S. at September 29, 2004 2:52 PM

A cathedral.

A Baptist church.

The ICR.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 29, 2004 5:24 PM


All apt comparisons.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2004 6:48 PM