Greenville museum evolvesJul 29, 2021 12:56PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
The 32-foot-long replica of a giant squid will remain in the entry hall, and a few other items will keep their locations, but everything else will move and change as the Delaware Museum of Natural History metamorphoses into the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science.
“Delaware” will be reflected in the Delaware Regional Journey Gallery, one of three galleries at the museum, and the huge annotated floor map of the state. The PaleoZone will showcase fossils and dinosaur replicas from Delaware and nearby areas.
“Museum” will continue to be shown in its extensive collection of artifacts, including North America’s second-largest collection of bird eggs, plus quantities of other avian material and mollusks.
“Nature” will lead visitors to trails and other features outside, reborn after being heavily damaged by a tornado last August.
“Science” will include the spotlight on local research, opportunities to be citizen scientists, chances to see the science going on upstairs and curriculum-based programming for schoolchildren of all ages.
Through it all, interaction will be front and center. “We want to give it a more humanistic and conversational touch by planning to have more people on the floor,” said Jill Karlson, director of public engagement. These people will help explain what visitors are seeing, hearing, touching and doing through activity carts, presentations of a menagerie of 25-plus live animals, story times and tours.
Joining the 21st century
“We’re joining the 21st century,” Halsey Spruance, executive director of the private, nonprofit museum on the Kennett Pike in Greenville, told TownSquareDelaware.com. “We’re moving from the techniques of the past and are embracing the future. We have to change the platform, the foundation.”
The museum was founded in 1957 and opened in 1972. The grand opening is planned as a 50th anniversary celebration, on May 13, 2022, with a soft opening at the end of March.
Meanwhile it is conducting some programs at Winterthur, Hagley and online, and Karlson said it’s also partnered with other organizations.
Adult admission before the museum closed for the massive project was $9, and it will probably be $12.95 when it reopens, Karlson said.
The building is 72,000 square feet, with 27,000 square feet of exhibition space on the first floor and the same amount for research on the second, with the rest for administration and operations. The gift shop, the Nature Nook (for programs for the youngest visitors) and classrooms will not move.
The walk-over coral reef is staying in its location, leading to an area focusing on oceans. “The coral reef is the top thing that people mention as something they want to see stay,” said museum spokesman Jennifer Acord, adding that a whale skull pulled from Pickering Beach will hang nearby.
The elephant bird mural will also remain in its current location.
“The current dinosaurs are not returning – they are models and are not in the best condition,” she said. “Model building has definitely evolved since then, and it was a great opportunity to bring in a Dryptosaurus.”
“It’s a distant and somewhat smaller relative of Tyrannosaurus rex,” Atlas Obscura wrote, adding that an 1866 discovery in New Jersey “was the first partially complete skeleton of a carnivorous theropod dinosaur in North America.”
“We are keeping our iconic T. rex skull (it’s a model too),” Acord said.
The new museum will have three major galleries, labeled Delaware Regional Journey, Global Ecosystems Journey and Discovery. The first two are called journeys because museum leaders want to encourage visitors to go on journeys of exploration. The third is for traveling exhibits and events.
Some of that exploration will be in crawl-through areas, sized for children and open to limber and willing adults, to consider what lives beneath the savannah and tundra and how experts understand the layers under the earth everywhere (that’s called stratigraphy).
The Delaware Regional Journey explores five local ecosystems (bald cypress swamp, salt marshes, bayshore dunes, Delaware Bay and temperate forests). The Global Ecosystems Journey explores four more (oceans, savannah, rainforest and tundra).
Interconnectedness and climate change
Two other important areas are the PaleoZone and the outdoor Evolution Trail.
The PaleoZone will focus on dinosaurs and other creatures that lived in the mid-Atlantic in the Cretaceous period, 45 million to 66 million years ago.
The Evolution Trail takes 1,500 feet to represent 4.6 billion years, from the formation of Earth to today (humans join in only the last three feet). Also outdoors are a pollinator garden, a meadow, an outdoor classroom and a forest showing the succession of different plants, called old and new growth.
Research in multiple disciplines will appear in different ways. The work of four rotating teams of local researchers will be in one area. Visitors will be invited to help research by, say, uploading date- and location-stamped photos of flora and fauna. That’s called citizen science. And from time to time, there will be tours of labs upstairs, which features research on mollusks and shorebirds.
One unifying theme is interconnectedness. Dioramas will “tell the stories of where things live and why they are important,” Karlson said, later noting that “all life is connected. We all have DNA.”
Another theme is climate change. “There’s a climate change message throughout because it’s something we can do something about,” she said.
From the ceiling, on the floor, in the ears
Many exhibits will be at eye level, but noteworthy elements will hang from the ceiling and cover the floor. Sounds – like calls from swamp birds and the waves, pings and eventual silence of diving into the ocean in a submersible – will enhance the experience as well.
A $9.8 million capital campaign covers the metamorphosis. By May, six governments, 25 corporations, 25 foundations, and 243 individuals contributed 63% of the museum’s goal, “demonstrating their confidence in the future path of the museum,” Acord said.
“By switching from static, taxonomy-based dioramas to interactive, ecosystem-based engagements, the new Delaware Museum of Nature and Science will inspire people to discover, examine, and uncover the wonders of science in the natural world,” the site promises. “The new museum will be the go-to place to learn about our world, how we are connected, and how we can make a difference.”