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New at DC Museums: Dinosaurs and the Lawn in Summer

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Dinosaur at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Dinosaur at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
The Montana rancher and the T. rex she found.

I first realized that the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History had unveiled a redesigned and expanded Dinosaur Hall by stumbling upon this NPR interview with the museum’s (very impressive) director, the paleontologist Kirk Johnson.

He told the story of how a rancher in Montana found a T. rex fossil. She wasn’t a trained paleontologist, and she’d never found a fossil before.

So I Metro’d downtown and joined the crowds pouring into the museum and was overwhelmed by not just the ginormous fossils but the wealth of information amassed and displayed as part of the main-floor exhibit.

There’s so much about climate change, about evolution, about our common humanity across the ages and parts of the globe, and just SO much enlightened education that it made me wonder if anti-science groups ever complain.

It also made me want to come back to take it all in.

Learn more about the exhibit in an article aptly titled “Amid all the Fossils, Smithsonian’s New Dinosaur Exhibition Tells the Complex Story of Life.” 



Lawn exhibit at National Building Museum

Next, I checked out an exhibit at the National Building Museum called “Lawn” – because I’m a garden writer who’s covered the anti- and pro-lawn skirmishes for years and couldn’t resist. The museum is in Judiciary Square, a 3-block walk from the Gallery Place Station on the Green Line.

Lawn exhibit at National Building Museum
Above,an overhead shot of the”water feature”

In the tradition of the museum’s Summer Block Party installations, “Lawn” takes up the entire Great Hall and offers “interactive experiences for all ages,” according to its website. Those include rolling down a fake-turf hillside, playing croquet, bocce ball or dominoes, and lolling in a swing while listening to lawn stories told by famous people, like Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, Venus Williams and Norman Lear. (The transcripts of the stories – “Never before told!” – are here.)

Here’s a video of the exhibit’s installation, with its designer. And a travel photographer reviewed the exhibit in this video.

Honestly, I had assumed that ChemLawn and makers of fake turfgrass had paid for this huge advertisement for their products and services, and I expected to pan it outright.

Sure enough, I discovered that Synlawn, the manufacturer of the fake lawn in the exhibit, is a sponsor, but AARP is the primary one, and ChemLawn was nowhere to be found in the credits.

I even overcame my fear that the famous people’s stories about lawn would encourage Americans to grow even more of it (and we have more than enough as it is). Instead, I found the stories to be charming remembrances of summers past.

Their stories made me see lawn as a space for beloved outdoor activities, not as the much-maligned garden feature it is today.

Speaking of which, the artificial turf used here is plant-based!  So who knows:  maybe synthetic “turfgrass” will prove to be more sustainable than the stuff we walked on as kids.

But perhaps more important in changing my mind was a mention of the exhibit I saw on Facebook by another Greenbelter, Leslie McLaughlin. I followed up with questions and she told me that “We took 2 1/2-year-old Evalena [granddaughter] today and we had a great time. We had to go back in several times after leaving for a snack or lunch. They open at 10 and it’s a perfect time to go with little children.”

She continued:

It’s just the atmosphere that was appealing…There are speakers all around playing outdoor sounds – dogs, birds, storms etc. It’s just a fun atmosphere.

It’s important to mention that unlike most museums in D.C., this one is private and charges admission, so it’s worth seeing all the other exhibits there while you’re at it (they’re included in the fee.) Leslie recommends them, too:

There are other things for kids to do in the museum too – there is a building room and several exhibits that our granddaughter enjoyed. We had to hunt for a pink flamingo in one exhibit. We took her there last winter and we will take her back there many times in the future. It’s a great place for kids.

In fact, I go probably 2-3 times a year. There is a home exhibit right now with doll houses and models of famous homes – many of which I knew but a few I didn’t know.

Anyway, I’m not anti-lawn if the lawn’s being USED for something and maintained intelligently. Neither is well-known lawn activist Paul Tukey, who wrote a whole book about lawn games. Americans could use more of that.

So I’m overruling my gardening snobbishness and recommending “Lawn” as a fun place to hang out, especially for kids. Combined with the Smithsonian’s Dinosaur Hall, it may be a summer day-trip to remember.

Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com and direct the nonprofit Good Gardening Videos.org.”

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