My dinosaur is better than yours

Rockford’s Burpee Museum challenges Field for dino supremacy


 
 

Cindy Richards

 
Ever since a Tyrannosaurus rex named Sue was bought by the Field Museum in 1997 for a whopping $8.36 million, she has dominated the Midwest dino scene, much as paleontologists believe the T. rex dominated the planet 65 million years ago.

But there’s a new dino in town. Or in the region, at least. Her name is Jane and she is on display at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford.

Unlike the much larger Field, which bought its dinosaur, the Burpee—dubbed the "little museum that could" by CNN—found Jane, thanks to a team of amateur paleontologists.

Burpee had already sponsored "Family Fossil Field Trips" for amateur paleontologists at a local quarry. So it didn’t seem such a stretch to send those volunteers to the Hell Creek formation in southeastern Montana for the real thing. The result: a junior Tyrannosaurus rex discovered by Carol Tuck, a Rockford housewife, and Bill Harrison, a professor of romance languages at Northern Illinois University.

Hell Creek is the same fossil-rich area where Sue was discovered by namesake Sue Hendrickson.

The Burpee’s T. rex, named Jane in honor of donor Jane Solem, is an 11-year-old dinosaur that died before its teenage growth spurt—or so museum officials believe. Other dino experts believe it may be the first nearly complete fossil of a Nanotyrannus, a pygmy T. rex. If it is a T. rex, it is the third most complete skeleton ever found. The Field’s Sue ranks first on that list.

A marketing grant from the Illinois Department of Tourism, which named Jane one of the state’s top three attractions for 2005, is giving Burpee a lot of exposure. Ads around the Chicago area helped increase attendance at Burpee tenfold this summer, according to President and Chief Executive Lewis S.W. Crampton.

The exposure has led to the inevitable comparisons between the juvenile Jane and her full-grown counterpart, Sue. So, we at Chicago Parent thought we would take a look as well. The chart on this page compares the family friendliness of the two exhibits and the museums.

Jane

Kid appeal The $1.3 million Jane display includes several interactive options for kids, including touch-screen computers, a movie about the excavation and matching games.

Cost Burpee: $5 adults, $4 kids 3-17, free on Wednesdays.

Other things for kids to do there Burpee is a small and manageable museum with "Jane: Diary of a Dinosaur" on the first floor, rocks and geoscience on the second and interactive environmental and Native American exhibits on the third. It is connected to the terrific Discovery Center Museum for children. When the fossil lab is open, kids can touch Jane’s 66 million-year-old jawbone.

Food Vending machines and a microwave oven are the only options. Bring a lunch and eat outside at one of the picnic tables along the banks of the Rock River on nice days, or pick up a copy of the map to area restaurants to buy your lunch.

Getting there The big problem with the Burpee is that it’s in Rockford. That may not be a problem for northwest suburban residents—who may find it easier to drive to Rockford than the lakefront—but it is 90 miles from the Loop. Once you get there, though, parking is free. Particulars: 737 N. Main St., (815) 965-3433, www.burpee.org.

Bottom line Burpee is better for younger kids who can spend only a couple of hours in a museum.

Sue

Kid appeal Sue sits on the first floor in Stanley Field Hall. The interactive exhibits, including casts of Sue’s bones, are upstairs with her skull, but there’s no sign near Sue telling you that.

Cost Field: $12 adults, $7 kids 4-11, students and seniors. Free Mondays and Tuesdays through February.

Other things for kids to do there The Field is huge, with hundreds of exhibits to keep kids busy, but the regular dinosaur exhibit is closed for renovation until March 2006. There’s a temporary exhibit on Chinese dinosaurs which has some great bones but not nearly enough buttons for kids to push. That exhibit costs an extra $7 per person and closes April 26, 2006.

Food Vending machines, McDonald’s and a Corner Bakery, or bring your own lunch and eat in the cafeteria area or outside on the museum campus lawn.

Getting there The Field is an easy walk from the Roosevelt Road stop on the CTA train. You can also take a bus or cab from the Metra stations. Driving will cost you: Museum Campus parking is $13, but $35 on Sundays when the Chicago Bears are playing. Particulars: 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., (312) 922-9410, www.fieldmuseum.org.

Bottom line Field is better is for older kids who have the patience to read displays.

 
 







 
 
 
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