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The American Museum
When the American Museum of Natural History opened to the public on
April 6, 1869, a few hundred mounted birds and mammals were on view.
Today it is home to vast collections of insects, invertebrates, fish,
amphibians, reptiles, anthropological artifacts, and more fossil mammals
and dinosaurs than any other museum in the world. It has over 200
working scientists and welcomes millions of visitors each year.
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«history.files/f.gif» Founded by a young Harvard graduate named Albert
Bickmore, the Museum swiftly outgrew the Arsenal Building in Central
Park. On June 2, 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant laid the cornerstone
for the Museum’s permanent home in what would become known as Museum
Park. The site now houses twenty-three buildings, including the Theodore
Roosevelt Memorial on Central Park West and the Hayden Planetarium,
which will reopen in 2000 as part of the new Rose Center for Earth and
Both within these walls and far, far beyond them, the American Museum of
Natural History has pioneered scientific research and discovery, a
process characterized by scientists of great vision and nerve. One was
Henry Fairfield Osborn, whose fossil hunters raced West in the 1890s.
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Roy Chapman Andrew’s famous Central Asiatic Expeditions found dinosaur
eggs in the Gobi Desert in 1935.
Another legendary museum figure was scientist, explorer, writer, and
teacher Margaret Mead, whose dedication to exploring the history of life
and what it means to be human exemplifies the Museum’s ongoing purpose.
The 25-foot-long male giant squid (Architeuthis kirkii) weighs 250
pounds and came to the Museum in 1998 from New Zealand’s National
Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
The squid’s arrival in June 1998 attracted considerable attention
because so little is known about these mysterious creatures. Giant squid
live at least a mile below the ocean’s surface, and they have never been
Of the dozens of squid species of large squid in the oceans, none comes
close to the giant squid in size. It remains the stuff of nightmares and
lurks as a sea monster in literature like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues
Under the Sea.
«The giant squid is the largest invertebrate on Earth, and a member of
the class Cephalopoda, which includes octopus, nautilus, and extinct
ammonites,» said Neil Landman, curator in the Division of Paleontology.
«It has the largest eyes in the animal kingdom — this one’s eyes are six
inches across. It also has a huge, parrotlike beak that it uses to rip
chunks of flesh from its prey, probably fish. The squid has eight arms
and two long tentacles, all equipped with toothed sucker rings. The
mantle, or main body cavity of the Museum’s specimen is 4 feet long, the
head and arms are another 6 feet, and the two tentacles extend 15 feet
beyond the end of the arms.»
The Museum’s squid was caught accidentally in late 1997, by a fishing
boat in waters off New Zealand. It was flash-frozen on the boat and
flown to New York, where it was delivered to the Museum on June 10 by
refrigerated truck. Dr. Landman and Dr. Paula Mikkelsen, assistant
curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, both performed the
initial examination of the squid and subsequent preservation processes.
They were assisted by Steve O’Shea, a biologist at the New Zealand
National Institute, who arranged the donation, plus members of the
Museum’s staff. The three-week procedure included thawing and spreading
out the specimen for measurement and observation, followed by injection
with formalin. It remained two weeks in formalin, during which time the
solution was closely monitored for changes in acidity. After washing and
a one-week soak in fresh water, the squid was transferred into ethyl
alcohol, the preservative in which it rests today.
The squid is on display in a specially created tank of fiberglass with
glass windows — which took over a year to design — by the Museum
Department of Exhibitions, under the direction of David Harvey, Vice
President for Exhibitions. The Museum already has two life-size models
of giant squid on view. One hangs from the ceiling opposite the real
specimen in the Hall of Biodiversity and is a 105-year-old paper-mache
model that is 42-feet-long. Purchased in 1895, it is the oldest model on
display at the Museum. The other model can be seen battling a sperm
whale — its best-known predator — in a diorama in the adjacent Hall of
Ocean Life. The Museum’s new giant squid specimen is expected to be on
display for about two years, and then it will go to the Museum’s
research departments for study.