The last time my brother Jacob spent the weekend with us Kristen and I took him to the North Carolina Museum of History, where we could spend all day studying photographs and learning about how people lived in our state years ago. Jacob enjoyed the museum for a few minutes here and there — a new pirate exhibit and the complete gun-making workshop of Dunn-native “Carbine” Williams caught his interest — but for the most part, he dutifully followed us around and told us how bored he was. We promised the next time he stayed with us we would go to the more kid-friendly Museum of Natural Science. We got the opportunity last weekend.
I visited the science museum often as a child when my dad would take me and my younger brothers strolling through on Saturdays while my mom was at work. At that time, the coolest things in the museum were a fake T-Rex skull in the foyer and an impressive blue whale skeleton that hung high overhead in its own exhibit hall. Years ago the museum underwent a major renovation, and though I had stepped in from time to time, I hadn’t taken the opportunity to really soak it all up before.
One of the highlights of the museum is a prominent exhibit hall with a fully-developed dinosaur display. The old T-Rex model still greets guests as they walk up the stairs, but the star of the show is a full size display of Acrocanthosaurus. The dinosaur supposedly lived 45 million years before the first Tyrannosaur arrived on the scene. More importantly, “Acro” as he’s affectionally called at the museum, lived in the southern states from Texas to Maryland (including North Carolina) while his larger, younger and better-known brethren hung out on the West Coast.
The skeleton at the museum in Raleigh is only 53 percent authentic, with the rest being cast models of bone. Still, this is the most complete Acro remains found to date. Only four sets of Acro bones have ever been found, making this dinosaur one of the rarest known to science. At just 40 feet long, Acro doesn’t have the size of T-Rex, but he made up for it with an aggression all his own. While T-Rex is largely believed to be a scavenger, Acro was taking on dinos twice his size to grab a bite of lunch.
As strongly as I believe our state needs to keep a better grasp of how they spend money and reign in some dollars that aren’t being used in the best way, I am very proud to have such fine museums in our capital city. These projects represent a great use of state funds because they are offered to the benefit of everyone, everyday, free of charge. Most of the exhibits, including the $3 million Acro skelton, are funded through donations and grants from companies and individuals. The state keeps the doors open, the lights on and the payroll staffed with experts who can educate the citizenry — school children, seniors and guys like me who just like to know stuff — whenever they take the time to ask.