Dinosaur references in popular culture surround us. There are the books and the movies such as Jurassic Park (1993+) and The Good Dinosaur (2015). Then there are the television characters such as Ross the paleontologist on Friends and Dino on The Flintstones. So it’s pretty exciting to have a museum just about dinosaurs in Kenosha. In fact, we get to boast that the Dinosaur Discovery Museum has the nation’s largest display of meat-eating theropods! Not only that, but it’s the only museum to focus exclusively on the evolution of meat-eating dinosaurs to modern day birds. Visit the museum and you’ll learn that dinosaurs are NOT extinct! They surround us every day, but we call them birds, according to Nick Wiersum, the DDM’s Curator of Education. There are 10,000 different species of birds in the world!
The free Dinosaur Discovery Museum opened in 2006 and is located at 5608 Tenth Avenue in the Civic Center Historic District. Prior to the dinosaurs moving in, the building was home to the Kenosha Public Museum (now at 5500 First Avenue). The building, built between 1908 and 1910, was originally located a few blocks away and used as the United States Post Office. It was moved foot by foot across the Civic Center in 1933.
The main floor of the museum houses the exhibit gallery and gift shop. The lower level houses the Carthage Institute of Paleontology and an activity area. There are 24 different dinosaur skeletons on display - each a different species, and each showing the next step in the story of how dinosaurs became more bird-like. Some of the dinosaurs on display have a nickname, so given when the specimen was found. For instance, the Tyrannosaurus rex is known as Stan, while the Allosaurus goes by Big Al, and the Coelophysis is nicknamed Madonna.
As you go through the gallery, you learn that some dinosaurs had feathers covering their body. The first flying dinosaur whose feather arrangement is similar to modern birds is the Archaeopteryx. You also learn that not all animals that lived long ago were dinosaurs. There were different kinds of species living at the same time, including woolly mammoths (learn more about them at the Kenosha Public Museum).
For many summers now, staff and students from Kenosha’s Carthage College have been excavating dinosaur fossils in the Hell Creek Formation of southeastern Montana. The fossils are then returned to Kenosha and cleaned, prepared, and studied in the Carthage Institute of Paleontology, which is located in the lower level of the Dinosaur Discovery Museum. Visitors can see the bones that are being worked on, and projects in various states of completion.
Over the years, this fieldwork has resulted in the un-earthing of “Little Clint” fossils. Little Clint is a juvenile T-rex. Now staff is working on Maddie, a Triceratops. She lived 67 million years ago.
Dino Digs are held in the lower level of the museum each Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Aspiring young paleontologists can experience first-hand the excitement of excavating a dinosaur fossil. This is a free activity for children ages 3 and up. Any time the museum is open, other activities are available in the lower level. There is a reading corner with books about dinosaurs, and tables to work on puzzles, rubbing sheets, and more.
The gift shop is full of … dinosaurs!! There are books for various ages, movies, models, puzzles, clothing, toys, and much more. Especially meaningful to Nick is the activity book titled: Nick Montana & The Dinosaur Discovery Museum (available for $1.50). In a 2012 interview with the KACVB when he was developing the book, Nick shared its purpose was to get kids more interested in why the dinosaurs are in the museum. The book is based on a character named Nick Montana. Nick said he had been toying with the nameless character for six years, when he went on one of the Montana excavating trips. He credits whoever wrote the work schedule at the museum that week for the name. Usually the employee’s name is just listed, with “out” next to the name. But his was written as Nick Montana. It sounded “like a really cool name”, and thus his character was named. The book shares facts about dinosaurs and the museum, and also serves as a coloring and activity book for kids to bring home with them.
Be sure to stop by and say “Hi” to Stan next time you’re in Kenosha! Make it a day touring our Downtown Kenosha museums! Take the Electric Streetcar from the Dinosaur Discovery Museum to the Kenosha Public Museum. Next door to it is the Civil War Museum. Across the harbor from that museum is the Kenosha History Center and Southport Light Station Museum (open seasonally). No matter the time of year, you can’t go wrong with an entertaining, educational, and enjoyable visit to a museum!
See the KACVB-produced Kenosha. Now. video clip here.
(262) 653-4450, http://www.dinosaurdiscoverymuseum.org