DAY TRIP: The rex is history

January 4, 2019

CHICAGO – Her name is Sue, but don’t expect her to ask “How do you do?” when you meet her. Though she used to have quite the ferocious greeting, she’s pretty quiet these days. In fact, she doesn’t say a word.

But make no bones about it, she’s still one of the most interesting creatures you’ll ever run across in your travels.

Sue is a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton that’s found a new home at the Field Museum. But this is no ordinary fearsome-looking fossil (if there is such a thing as an ordinary fearsome looking fossil); this T rex skeleton is the world’s biggest and best preserved. It measures 40 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hip and is made up of nearly 90 percent of its original bones.

Though I’m using the feminine pronoun for Sue – she’s named for Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur in 1990 in South Dakota – her actual gender is unknown.

But what is known is that, male or female, she’s “widely considered the greatest dinosaur fossil in the world,” museum president Richard Lariviere said in a news release.

If you want to stop by Sue’s prehistoric pad for a visit, she can be found in the Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet. She’s part of the Griffin Dinosaur Experience in the redesigned Stanley Field Hall, along with Maximo the Titanosaur.

Sue’s suite is 5,100 square feet of interactive displays that show off the knowledge scientists have gathered about her over time.

This is where the fascinating fun starts. A narrated light show will highlight bones on the skeleton, focusing on details such as broken ribs that healed to an infection in the jaw that might have been what finally brought her down.

“Sue’s skeleton is so complete and so well-preserved, it’s been a treasure trove for scientists. Studying it has shown us everything from how fast a T rex would have been able to run to how quickly a baby T rex grew up,” Exhibition Director Jaap Hoogstraten said. “The light effects will let us point out the details that make Sue one of the world’s most important scientific finds.”

When a discovery is made, it should be shown off, so the suite brings facts about Sue to life through the work of Atlantic Productions, which used digital technology to project animations onto six 9-foot-tall screens behind, forming a panorama.

Through these animations visitors will be able to see Sue hunt down an Edmontosaurus, battle a Triceratops, and, yes, even poop.

“It’s one thing for scientists to be able to figure out how an animal would have moved or hunted based on clues in its fossilized skeleton, but with these animations, we’re able to show our visitors what that would have actually looked like,” Hoogstraten said. “The animations look so real, and scientists checked every detail – if you want to know how T rex really looked and behaved in its habitat, this is probably the best way in the world to learn.”

Sue’s former home was the main Stanley Field Hall, where she was by herself and didn’t strike quite the impressive presence.

“When Sue was in Stanley Field Hall, a lot of people would say, ‘Aw, Sue’s smaller than I thought.’ This new gallery does a better job showing how imposing SUE would have been in real life. This is the biggest, scariest, and most impressive Sue’s ever looked,”  Lariviere said

But it’s not just looks: Sue really does have more to offer – more bones.  Scientists have added a set of bones that had them confused when they were first found.

“T rex had a set of bones across its abdomen called gastralia – they’re like belly ribs, and they helped T rex breathe,” Pete Makovicky, the museum’s curator of dinosaurs, said.“When Sue was discovered, scientists didn’t know exactly how the gastralia fit onto the skeleton, so they were left off. Thanks to the research we’ve been doing on Sue for the last 20 years, we now know what they were for and where they should go.”

Now that Sue’s crew has this prehistoric puzzle almost complete, it’s a good time to stop by for a visit and see just how these pieces of the past tell a story that’s been 67 million years in the making.

If you go …

What: Griffin Halls of Revolving Planet

Where: Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Christmas; last admissions accepted at 4 p.m.

Cost: Included with every admission price. Through Jan. 6, it’s recommended to purchase tickets in advance online as visitors will need to select a time and day (arrive at exhibit 30 minutes before is starts). Basic admission is $24 for adults, $17 for children 3 to 11 and  $21 for seniors 65 and older and for students with identification. Special offers are available. Parking can run to $25 for up to 12 hours.

Distance: 100 miles from Dixon

Accessibility: Accessible to wheelchairs; paid accessible parking in east museum lot ($25 for up to 12 hours).

Information: 312-922-9410 or fieldmuseum.org

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