Field Trip

My publishing house, Sterling, recently began a partnership with the American Museum of Natural History, and our group will be sort of the pioneers in terms of projects with the museum. I’ve had a few meetings there recently, and I must admit that it has brought me back to all of my undergraduate Jane Goodall and Richard Leakey fantasies. (Once upon a time I was a Biological Anthropology major and wrote lots of papers on teeth and bones and primate lineages, which can be hard for even me to believe!)

A couple of days ago I went for a tour of the museum’s library facilities. You wouldn’t believe the stacks! There are, like, eight floors of collections hidden amongst the exhibition halls containing nearly half a million volumes—many of which are rare folios and the like.

Wednesday, after a quick break at the UWS Shake Shack (aka romper room) with Aron, I ducked into the staff entrance and met up with some other editors to weave through the hordes of spring breakers and into the research library. Our first stop was the photo files. Our librarian/guide began flipping through plastic sleeved contact prints in the vertebrate paleontology section, pulling up images such as those of horse-drawn covered wagons carrying scientists on a fossil-hunting trip into Utah in the 1870s! In fact, when the tour was over, we all came back to these stacks to flip through on our own. I particularly enjoyed the drawers of historical images documenting the creation of the museum—like the ones above that show curators creating dioramas, or the many great shots of Central Park, before the great lawn existed and when sheep still grazed its grasses.

The primary point of our visit was to learn what resources we could return to on future visits, and images are our particular interest. So the next stop was the rare book collection. I’m not sure they’d like me to disclose the value of the books, but you can imagine. There was one book about sea creatures which had the most amazing colors. It was hard to believe these hand-tipped illustrations were from the past—the palettes were so vivid and unusual.

The whole thing felt a little like a peek behind the curtain at Disneyland or something. And it reminded me a bit of when I worked at a magazine briefly in Los Angeles and got to go to some of the Hollywood parties to report on celebrities—sort of an “only here” kind of day! Actually, it’s

been a great couple of weeks at work. I’m starting a book on Dickens and getting to revisit some of my literary roots, and also beginning a project on Thomas Edison (no roots there, though I did do the obligatory book report in elementary school and even made an Edison doll that you can still see at my parents’ house). For Edison, I went on a site visit to his home and factory in West Orange, New Jersey—it’s a massive space with amazing history. The National Park Service expects to re-open it to the public in about a year. I had no idea just how prolific Edison was.

After I wrapped things up at the museum, Aron and I walked through the park and headed out to meet some family (Aron’s second cousin and his family, along with Aron’s first cousin, once removed—yeah, I had to look it up) for dinner in the village. The two of us finished the night off at Gramercy Tavern for drinks and dessert.

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