Chicago: The Field Museum of Natural History

My goal for this trip was to fulfill as many childhood goals as I could, which is why it’s filled with trips to zoos, aquariums, museums, and well, New Orleans. This is why setting foot in the Field Museum of Natural History was a dream come true.

I grew up reading about dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt. Indiana Jones was a huge inspiration, and part of the reason I became a writer, his adventures balanced by his work in academia (I still don’t know how this equated to writing in my head).

The Field Museum was named after its first major benefactor, Marshall Field. It is one of the largest in the world and contains different permanent exhibitions that range from prehistoric fossils to artefacts from different cultures around the world. The entrance ticket I got gave me access to all the permanent exhibits and one temporary exhibit of my choice that I had to decide on up front. I picked the one on tattoos. And then I went to town.

The first things you notice when you enter is the couple of taxidermied elephants frozen mid-fight in the hall and across them, Sue, the skeleton of a T-Rex and the museum’s official mascot (and for a time, the personality behind the Museum’s Twitter account).

The Fighting African Elephants (that’s what the exhibit is called) were stuffed by Carl Akeley, considered the father of modern taxidermy, and whose career included stuffing an elephant for PT Barnum. One of them was shot by Akeley himself, the other by his wife Delia, an explorer and author, both for the Museum. It was not the most enlightened of times as far as conservation was concerned.

I heard the strangest conversation as I was taking photos of the elephants. A teenager was convincing his friend that elephants were real and still existed. The other guy was not having any of it. It was quite amusing, but also more than a little alarming. How could someone think that elephants were fiction? Or maybe I misheard, which doesn´t make it better—how can someone think that elephants are extinct?

I did’t have time to tour the whole museum, so I had to pick the parts that interested me the most. That was easy: dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt. Both were great fun. My younger self would have been extremely pleased.

The dinosaur exhibit was basically a room full of dinosaur skeletons, some real, some replicas, some out of reach, a few that were allowed to be touched. I got to touch a real dinosaur bone!

The Ancient Egypt exhibit was equally fascinating. There were mummies and funerary accoutrements, as well as parts of temples and pyramids on display. Viewers were made to feel as it they were walking through a tomb. The exhibit was very respectful to the dead that it housed, and towards the end actually acknowledged all the bodies in what was essentially a charnel house.

Remember my trip to New Orleans where I had started becoming sensitive to, for lack of a better term, energeticcally charged spaces? Two rooms in the Museum made me feel nauseous: the mummy and the jade exhibits. It was very strange. The feeling went away as soon as I left the rooms.

Since I had time, I wandered into the special exhibit on tattoos. It was a history of tattoos from arround the world. I was pleasantly surprised to see a part dedicated to Philippine tribal tattoos, accompalied by the famous photo of Wang Od taken by Jake Versoza on display. It was a nice reminder of home while being so far away.

This was the most fun museum I have been to so far, and I haven´t even seen half of it. I have to go back, though I think I´d probably visit the same areas again, because one can never get enough of fossils and Ancient Egypt and the fulfillment of childhood dreams.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.