Most people agree that the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in Manhattan’s Upper West Side is a great place to spend the day. First, there are dinosaurs. But it also features a neat mummies exhibit and includes the Hayden planetarium. But did you know that there’s a pretty neat offbeat way to explore the space? Enter Museum Hack. The group leads what they call “unconventional tours” of some of the world’s most interesting museums. They fill you in on bizarre facts and morsels of adult-focused content you wouldn’t learn about during a regular museum visit.
I recently took part in Museum Hack’s AMNH “Un-Highlights Tour,” and it was highly entertaining and definitely unconventional. The tour took place on a Sunday afternoon during a particularly busy day at the museum. Five of us were instructed to meet our guide, Dustin Growick, in the lobby by the tail of the Barosaurus. After a quick introduction, we were asked to name any animal we could think of that we’d like to see that day. I chose an aardvark (and Dustin eventually delivered an anteater, which I deemed close enough). We also pumped our hands together in solidarity and shouted “Mu-seum!” before starting our adventure.
We began our tour in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals, which includes 28 dioramas. We only had two hours to spare, so our time there was brief. However, Dustin clued us in to many unusual facts about the making of the dioramas and the history behind explorer/taxidermist/all-around badass Carl Akeley, the hall’s namesake. I don’t want to spoil the tour for anyone interested in taking it, but it’s safe to say I had no idea real animal poop was on display at the AMNH.
When you visit a museum, it’s impossible to see everything and read every description. So, it’s good to have a guide point to things you might miss. While you can’t miss the slab from a giant sequoia on display in the Hall of North American Forests, you may not know who cut it down or why. If you take the tour, you’ll get the answers.
While it was the AMNH “Un-Highlights” tour, you still get to see some of the things that the museum is known for, including the model of the giant blue whale that hangs in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. But unless you dig deep, you won’t learn about the pranks involved in its display or that the whale has a bellybutton.
There are some things the museum doesn’t want the average visitor to know, but that didn’t stop Dustin from telling us about one of greatest thefts that occurred there or how rodents have caused problems with several of the exhibits over the years. We also got some behind-the-scenes info about the installation of the Cape York Meteorite, which is 4.5 billion years old and weighs 34 tons.
Museum Hack’s AMNH “Un-Highlights Tour” also included time in the Koch Dinosaur Wing, where we played a game, got our pictures taken, and received some treats from our guide. The tour was geared towards adults (and you have to take it to find out why), but there’s a family friendly version too. At $59 it’s worth the money, particularly if you leave time to explore things you may have missed during the tour itself.