Navigating the treasures of The Field Museum
Before your first trip to Paris, veterans of the City of Light won't hesitate to warn you about The Louvre. "It's too big. There's too much. Don't try and see it all in one day."
The same could be said of The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Dr., near downtown Chicago. You could say it's The Louvre of Midwestern natural history museums.
Because we already knew that, we've been saving it for a day trip of its own, rather than trying to combine a visit there with a trek to, say, the top of a skyscraper or a day at the Art Institute.
Recently, we took that trip. Despite having spent hours making our way around the museum's three floors, we barely scratched the surface of The Field Museum's treasures.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Inside Ancient Egypt -- This multi-level exhibit takes visitors through a life-sized Egyptian tomb. There are dark corridors, mummies, a huge diorama of the Nile with an ancient boat, ancient treasures and, best of all for families, a section that allows kids (and adults) to walk through a virtual marketplace. Our favorite feature in this room was a kiosk that allowed us to see what we'd look like as ancient Egyptians.
- Sue and the Elephants -- The Field boasts -- rightfully -- about being home to Sue, "the world's largest, most complete and most famous T. Rex." Entering the museum, Sue and the two elephants donated to the museum by Carl and Delia Akeley -- they've been on view at the Field since 1909 -- draw immediate attention. The young ones in our group were still talking about them weeks later.
Upstairs on the balcony is Sue's skull (the one on the skeleton is a fake because the real one is too heavy for the structure supporting the skeleton). Although it's in a clear box, visitors can get in for a really, really close -- and very memorable -- look at this one of a kind archeological find.
- Africa -- After spending a long time exploring the rooms housing bird habitats, African mammals and reptiles and amphibians, we took a walk through the vibrant and lively Africa rooms, which recreates African street scenes and showcases modern and ancient African culture.
- Traveling the Pacific and the Maori Meeting House -- Thanks to an ongoing fascination with Moai -- yes, thanks to "A Night at the Museum" -- we went in search of them in "Traveling the Pacific." Although we didn't find any Easter Island monoliths, we did find and enter the Maori Meeting House, an amazingly intricate structure adorned with dozens and dozens of eye balls. Built in New Zealand in the late 19th century, it fell into disrepair and was purchased by the Field in 1905. The house was rebuilt in 1992 with the help of Maori from Tokomaru Bay, where the 56x22-foot house came from.
- Evolving Planet and its great big globe -- We took a quick turn through the gleaming Hall of Gems, which was more to the taste of the adults than the kids. The latter preferred "The Evolving Planet" exhibit which opened at the Field in 2006 and traces the evolution of life on Earth, using the swamp that was Chicago 300 million years ago as an example.
There are tiny fossils and huge dinosaurs, hands-on displays and a really cool room with a projected, wrap-around video that creates an ancient Cambrian Seascape populated by all manner of Seuss-ian sea creatures. We all stood, rapt, gazing at it for a long, long time. It was almost hypnotic and completely fascinating.
- Special exhibitions -- You have another month to check out "The Nature of Diamonds" exhibit, which runs through March 28, 2010 and requires a separate admission ticket (although admission to the exhibit includes basic admission to the Field).
Opening on March 5, 2010 and running through Sept. 6 is "Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age," which promises to be a hit with kids. When it leaves the Field, the show heads to 10 venues around the world over the next four years.
Visitors can see the first public appearance of an intact, 40,000-year-old baby mammoth -- Lyuba -- discovered by a Siberian reindeer herder in 2007. The 7,500-square foot exhibition is loaded with dioramas, virtual experiences, rare objects and, of course, large skeletons that visitors can examine up close.
Although someone suggested we flee the museum for lunchtime we ate at the Corner Bakery on the main floor and had a satisfying lunch in a nice atmosphere.
Packers fans might want to note that the parking at the Field -- which is next to Soldier Field -- is owned by the Bears. If you bristle at ponying up cash for them to buy players to sack Aaron Rodgers, take public transportation or a cab.
Details on everything from admission prices and opening hours to parking and directions to permanent and temporary exhibitions can be found on The Field Museum Web site.
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i agree--milwaukee has a fantastic, treasure filled natural history museum downtown. write about it--not a chicago museum.
Thanks for the great info! Yup, I'm from Milwaukee and love our city, but definitely venture south to Chicago on occasion. Seriously people, lighten up. Thanks again for the coverage - it will be very helpful.
MKE Guy | Feb. 18, 2010 at 9:59 a.m. (report)
I feel like I see articles here about Milwaukee museums all the time. This same guy recently wrote this: http://onmilwaukee.com/buzz/articles/deadseascrolls.html
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