In a museum full of dead things, the butterfly garden gets prominent billing: “Alive and Enchanting,” says the banner above the admissions desk.
But the skeletons still fascinate. Pointing and squealing, schoolchildren thunder through the hall of the “Mesozoic Monsters,” as the museum calls them. For millions of Americans under the age of seven or eight, dinosaurs and their relatives occupy the same niche in the imagination that will later be filled by pop stars and Hollywood celebrities.
In a slightly quieter part of the museum, a 3,000-year-old mummy lies half-naked in a replica of a tomb. Here disassembly rather than assembly was required. Small knots of schoolchildren pause before the exhibit long enough to express their bafflement at finding a dead man on display on a floor otherwise devoted to taxidermy mounts.
But one floor down, the cocoons are left unwrapped until they hatch. Here in this newest addition to the museum’s permanent exhibitions, nature is no less of a spectacle than in the more traditional exhibits, but now the visitors are permitted behind the glass.
And while we are still discouraged from touching the exhibits, we are given instructions in how to behave should the exhibits happen to touch us: “Just stand still and wait for them to fly off. And watch where you step.”
We were all eyes.