4. It Was Almost A Paleozoic Museum-But Boss Tweed Literally Wrecked It

Dinosaur fossils at the American Museum of Natural History

Preston also recounted the fascinating early history of the museum in his book. According to him, there was almost a Paleozoic Museum based on London’s Crystal Palace (which was in Sydenham Park) in Central Park instead. A British artist named Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins had grand plans to restore and decorate Syndenham Park with pools, fake geographic structures and life-sized dinosaur models.

This park “caused quite a sensation,” so that news of its restoration quickly reached the U.S. In 1868, the head of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, Andrew Green, decided to build a similar Paleozoic Museum in Central Park, which was still undergoing construction. He personally wrote to Hawkins asking him to undertake this task.

Hawkins came and collected fossils from around the U.S. (the museum was only dedicated to American creatures). There would have been a “giant iron framework covered with vines” arching the museum, and there was going to be “a menagerie of extinct mammals and dinosaurs.”

What happened to these extravagant plans? Boss Tweed hired henchmen from the Tweed Ring to break into Hawkins’ studio and sledgehammer his molds and dinosaur models to pieces. (Nope, not kidding).

Since Tweed couldn’t profit from such an establishment, he initially disguised henchmen as Central Park commissioners, who ordered that the museum’s foundations be plowed. However, a determined Hawkins kept working on his project, so Tweed took direct action to get his way. One of the henchmen even told Hawkins that he “should not bother himself about dead animals when there were so many living ones to care for.”

Boss Tweed, who then tightly controlled the state legislature as senator, was actually one of the people who happily approved the construction of Bickmore’s American Museum of Natural History. Bickmore himself approached the intimidating politician with a letter from a former New York governor and friend of Tweed’s requesting the bill’s approval.

Tweed was evidentally less sympathetic towards the devastated Hawkins, who soon returned to England.