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Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins-Crystal Palace-Central Park-American Museum of Natural History-NYCImage via Smithsonian

So you know about the dinosaur fossils that are in the American Museum of Natural History. But there are allegedly dinosaurs buried under Central Park (!). Some believe they are located near 106th Street, others think they are near the former convent of St. Vincent. Either way, what is known is that they aren’t real dinosaur fossils but full size models by artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, who was commissioned by the comptroller of Central Park, who had seen his work on display at the 1854 Crystal Palace in London.

The models were to be displayed in a Paleozoic Museum that was planned for Central Park near 63rd Street. Keep in mind that during this time, the models shown at the Crystal Palace and in Hawkins’ American lectures were the first time that dinosaurs were presented in their full form, instead of in fossil fragments. It’s not surprising that New York City would want its very own models, in a museum no less.

Hawkins worked in a studio inside Central Park, on what is now the American Museum of Natural History, building a 39-foot hydrosaurus and other creatures. But 1850s New York City may not have anticipated the rise of Boss Tweed and by 1870, the head of the Tammany Hall machine was also in charge of Central Park. Boss Tweed and cronies killed the plan for the Paleozoic Museum on account of cost and when Hawkins spoke out, his studio was attacked, models smashed and dumped into a pit in Central Park. 

A CUNY website that chronicles the history claims that the dinosaurs “still rest somewhere under the sod of Central Park, probably not far from Umpire Rock and the Heckscher ballfields. Could one of the pitchers’ mounds really be a small embankment covering the severed head of Megalosaurus? Who knows, maybe so.” A 2005 New York Times article recounts more recent attempts to uncover the dinosaur models, but Carl Mehling manager of the fossil collection at AMNH believes “It’s sort of like a Loch Ness monster search. It’s always going to be there, even if it’s not there.”

The latest is from Central Park Conservancy historian Sara Cedar Miller, who tells Gothamist that “the dinosaur models were made of concrete and metal so their ‘bones’ would basically be unidentifiable if found. The remains were thrown into the Pond, not under sod as the [Ephemeral NY] article falsely states, and the Pond has been dredged for restoration restored many times and it is quite unlikely that anything would be there now.”

h/t to Ephemeral New York for surfacing this amazing story

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.

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