An Outing for the History Books

13 Mar

Lame as it might sound, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Boston?

It might be the Commons:the expansive tree-lined gardens smack-dab in the heart of the city, or it might be the trains that run like a heartbeat beneath the streets–but for me–Harvard always comes to mind. That’s right. Harvard. The beautiful, old brick-lined hallowed halls of learning. I mean, they don’t ask Bostonians to say “Harvard yard” for nothing

Even though I know I’m nowhere near  a Harvard-level of schooling, there is something refreshing about strolling the school grounds this time of year. People mill about as a jumble of students, tourists and oddballs like me who just seem lost through the slowly greening yards. Professors looking scattered and hurried storm through crowds like angry rhinos, scattering people like terrified birds.

Harvard is a rare stop for me, making yesterday a particularly rare treat. An invitation from my boyfriend and his friend, Steve, to the Harvard Museum of Natural History was intriguing enough to draw me past my usual Park Street Station stop right after work. In the confusing rabble of Harvard station, they awaited me, and together we traveled through Harvard Square and into the inner courtyards of Harvard College.  Steve led the way, having visited this place before, and we were quickly at our destination.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History is at 26 Oxford Street in Cambridge. It is a tall, pointed brick building (though short in comparison to most other buildings around it) with bold brass letters stating “Harvard Museum”. Upon entering, you are first greeted by two fossilized skeletons on either side in the foyer. Straight ahead are the desks to get in, and after paying $7 with our student Id’s: we were on our way to the third floor. A freakishly tall skeleton, bird in appearance ( reminding me immediately of Kevin from Up ) greets visitors as they reach the landing.The bird from Pixar's Up You appear to be in the gift shop first, making things feel a little backward. As the boys had a mission for their Bio class, I was given free reign to explore as I saw fit while they furiously scribbled answers on question sheets.

If you’re like me, and you’re fascinated by animals (living or dead) then this place is for you. If not, well–don’t bother.I was amazed at the range of animal specimens on display. Extinct and living, big and small–all were presented in tasteful and informative displays throughout the many halls.

If you are an animal rights activist–please do not visit this museum. It will horrify you.

Frankly, I was surprised by how not-bothered I was by the countless numbers of taxidermy and pickled animals on display once curiosity set in. Bats in all arrays of size and characteristics were pinned up to display species variations. Beside them, beautiful and colorful insects, jarred lizards and brightly colored birds. One entire room seemed to be more like a large hunting trophy room, filled with animals that almost still felt alive as their plastic eyes followed your from their glass cases. Their sizes ranged from sparrows and mice to elephants and even a towering male giraffe.

My favorite hall by far though, was filled with bones. Fossils to be exact. Not just of dinosaurs (though there were a few) as is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of fossils, but also of former mammals. A particularly large extinct sloth skeleton gave me chills, just from the sheer size of the creature. And I was in awe at their nearly complete skeleton of Kronosaurous, a whale-like dinosaur-ish creature. I was disappointed that we had come so late in the day, and I couldn’t take more time to go through the place. But all and all, I was pleased with the visit.

If you’re looking for a cheap, brain-building, quiet day out: I would definitely recommend the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s to die for! (har-har)

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