Posted: Thursday, Jul 16th, 2009
I hope you will reconsider your unfortunate decision to close the University of Wyoming’s geological museum.
Shutting the museum amputates one of UW's richest intellectual traditions. The geology museum is nearly as old as the university. By the late 1890s, Professor Wilbur Knight and his assistant Bill Reed had amassed the second-largest collection of Jurassic fossils in the world. But Knight was outflanked by richer institutions. Wyoming dinosaurs dug up in those years still figure prominently at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the Peabody Museum at Yale.
Knight's son and successor at UW, Samuel H. "Doc" Knight, did his best to reverse that trend. In the 1950s, he talked the Carnegie Museum out of the bones of a dinosaur that had been gathering dust for 50 years on its basement shelves. This was an Apatosaurus (what we used to call a Brontosaurus), discovered in 1902 north of Medicine Bow by recent UW graduate Charles Gilmore, then at the Carnegie Museum and soon to start an illustrious career at the Smithsonian.
Since the late 1950s that dinosaur has been the main exhibit at the UW geology museum. Recently it was remounted, with its tail in the air, under the leadership of museum Curator Brent Breithaupt.
Breithaupt continued the tradition of Reed and the Knights. He did important science. His led scientists from other universities and the BLM investigating the dinosaur tracksite at Red Gulch, near Shell, Wyo. He was also instrumental in rescuing for science the skeleton of "Big Al" the Allosaurus, found by a for-profit fossil collector on public land near Shell in 1991. A cast of that dinosaur is also at the museum.
Until his job ended July 1, Breithaupt continued to inform and inspire the general public about paleontology, geology, and science in general. And--no small thing these days--he generated a lot of good press for the university. (See the May 31 Associated Press story in the Casper Star-Tribune about similarities that have emerged between the Red Gulch tracks and tracks found in Scotland.)
Let me suggest it’s not too late to fix this bad mistake.
Tom Rea, author of
Bone Wars: The Excavation and Celebrity of Andrew Carnegie’s Dinosaur