The giant Brontosaurus in Central Park
A mammoth native of Wyoming of some odd million years ago, 67 feet long with a stomach cavity as big as the kitchen of a Harlem flat
By Walter L Beasley
Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn, curator of the department of vertebrate paleontology of the American Museum of Natural History, who planned and directed the mounting of the skeleton of the gigantic dinosaur-brontosaurus recently uncovered to public view, has accomplished an epoch-making task and presented one of the most noteworthy contributions to science ever made in this country.
For the first time, the world now has a vivid glimpse of the actual size and appearance of the mighty and unfamiliar beasts who roamed the primeval marshes and lagoons of our western continent and other parts of the globe some 3,000,000 to 12,000,000 years ago.
Charles R Knight has produced a model in clay under the direction of Prof. Osborn which is considered an ideal and perfect representation of the ancient creature in life. This is seen under the mounted skeleton. Mr Knight is recognized as the leading authority on the restoration of extinct life.
The brontosaurus was one of the largest animals that ever lived and walked on four legs, being nearly 67 feet long, 15-1/2 feet high and weighing 90 tons. The head, only 26 inches long, was not found, and has been partly reproduced by the knowledge gained from other specimens, especially from the skull of a related form called morosaurus, of which a nearly perfect example was obtained from previous explorations. Some other missing parts have been supplied from a skeleton in the Yale museum which equals this one in size, but which the Yale authorities have not yet been able to mount, principally for lack of space in their halls.
The length of the tail was 31 feet d inches, the neck 17 feet. The cavity of the body equalled that of the average flat kitchen, having space for a table around which a family of six persons could dine. Three cavalrymen could easily ride abreast between the front and hind legs. A footprint would nearly have covered a square yard of earth, while head and tail would protrude beyond the length of two Broadway street cars. In height, it would have towered above two elephants.
As a fossil find, it surpasses all others in existence, while the difficult engineering points embodied in its structure are a paleontological triumph, establishing a new process for heavy fossil mounting. Hitherto no institution has ever attempted to mount a complete fossil skeleton of such enormous proportions, although dinosaur skeletons of smaller size have been mounted in the Brussels and Yale museums.
Future scientists here and abroad will have to pattern after Prof. Osborn’s great masterpiece, which is destined to stand as a fitting monument to the superior knowledge, skill and technique possessed by this ardent and scholarly paleontologist.
As an educational feature it is unrivaled, being far more impressive to young and old than volumes of dry text books. No exhibit has ever before started and created such widespread interest in public and scientific circles as has this strange and mighty representative of the past.
The time employed in the preparation of this wonder of wonders for exhibition is astonishing. Extracting the lengthy creature’s form from the rock matrix, patching up and restoring fragmentary and missing parts in the laboratory and constructing and putting together the massive bones of the body in their final state have consumed the attention of Prof. Osborn and his staff of able assistants for seven years.
Prof. Osborn, in furthering an ideal project to present in his halls a complete history of animal life on the North American continent, organized a series of fossil expeditions to explore certain fields in the west. The aim of these researches was to investigate the geological deposits associated with the age of reptiles, dating, according to estimate, three to twelve million years back, to search for the remains of the great dinosaurs, five types of which flourished during the reptilian age.
Chief among these were the water living monsters, cetiosaurs, so named from the Greek words meaning “whale lizard,” owing to the fact that their outward appearance, long limbs, neck and tall resembled an enormous lizard, to which class they are remotely related, while the size approaches that of a whale. They were the largest animals that ever trod the earth, and were the absolute monarchs of the antique world of their day.
As the pioneer collectors, Professors Marsh and cope had previously made many interesting discoveries in certain regions of the Rocky Mountains. Professor Osborn directed his first expedition in 1897 to begin in the heart of the Laramie plains near the Como bluffs, south central Wyoming. Here headquarters was established, which was probably the most romantic on record. The camp was literally pitched over the vast prehistoric cemetery of the dinosaurs.
These sepulchral layer beds, in which the great dinosaurs lay entombed, are, according to Professor Osborn, about 274 feet in thickness and are of fresh water origin. They rep-resent different stages of earth’s history, caused by the uplift of the mountain ranges, resulting in the emergence and submergence of land.
At first, surprising evidence of the presence of nearby buried forms of extinct life was indicated by the fact that a wandering Mexican sheep herder had collected a series of dark brown boulders, taking them for ordinary stones, which were in reality petrified bones. These he used for the foundation of his cabin.
As this spot yielded up sonic of the strangest and mightiest animals in the past, it has been aptly named “Bone Cabin Quarry.” Only 7250 feet of this quarry has been systematically explored by the museum during a half dozen seasons of expeditions, yet the yield of fossil treasures has been phenomenal. Over 483 parts,. representing 73 various animals, were recovered. Others are still buried in the vast graveyard waiting the pick of future excavators.
The crowning find and the first point of scientific interest was the skeleton of the giant dinosaur brontosaurus, the largest and most complete so far found, unearthed about four miles south of the Bone Cabin quarry.
The lucky and fortunate explorer whose keen eyes made this remarkable and memorable fossil discovery was Mr Walter Granger. In fossil hunting, science, to a great degree is eliminated, and, like prospecting for gold, it is a matter of pure luck. The collector never knows where he is going to unearth some treasure and strike it rich. It is this element of chance that makes the pursuit somewhat fascinating. The trained collector is not only a naturalist but a geologist. He knows the color of the rocks in which fossils are most likely to be found, and his eye is quick to see a piece of bone protruding from a rock or lying among the shale. Sometimes he waits weeks or months, and even a whole season, without success.
It was in September, 1899, on one of these days of dejection, resulting from a lull and scarcity of specimens found, that Mr Granger started on a reconnoitering trip to a point three miles distant from Bone Cabin quarry to reinvestigate a locality where he had picked up on the surface the previous season of 1898 two stray pieces of tail vertebrae.
Coming upon these exposed fragments is generally the surest clue of the presence in the vicinity of fossil remains. Mr Granger commenced to carefully excavate, and had not gone down more than three or four feet before other vertebrae were met with which corresponded to those picked up the preceding season. With renewed enthusiasm the digging was continued, and gradually the cut revealed a large section of vertebrae, with ponderous ribs still attached. On close examination it was recognized immediately as part of a great amphibious dinosaur, and proved to be one of the greatest fossil prizes so far unearthed and a fitting climax for the season’s work.
Almost in one compact plot more than two-thirds of the complete skeleton was found — an exceptional occurrence in fossil discoveries. The whole of the summer of 1899 was taken up in getting out the massive skeleton and preparing the various parts fur transportation. Extracting such a weighty specimen without damaging the brittle bones, burled as they are in a weak and shattered mass of heavy abate, is a slow and delicate operation, requiring special care and skill.
To insure safety during shipment and to aid in the “setting” of the much-fractured bones, they were handled after the fashion of a surgeon’s treatment of a broken leg. Parts of the skeleton, bones and all, were encased in layers of plaster and strengthened by strips of timber tightly bound around with wet rawhide. In the paleontological laboratory. nearly two years were consumed in removing the matrix, piecing together and cementing the brittle and shatered bone and restoring the missing parts in tinted plaster…
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Source publication: Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Publication date: April 02, 1905