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BROWN: Field Museum ditches SUE for hot new model

Casey Roth and Katherine Ryan of Peoria were disappointed to learn that the fossilized skeleton of Sue, the T-rex, will be moved from its place of prominence at The Field Museum next year to make way for a fiberglass cast of the world's largest dinosaur. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

SUE the dinosaur is special, we were told.

“The largest, most complete and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered,” was the boast that remains true to this day.

Her arrival in Chicago in May of 2000 breathed new life into The Field Museum, and in turn, made Chicago more special as the home of the world’s greatest dinosaur fossil.

Now we learn that SUE will be moved early next year from her position of honor on the museum’s main floor to make way for a new skeleton of an even larger dinosaur, Patagotitan mayorum, the largest known to man.

OPINION

Except this new dinosaur, sometimes called a titanosaur, isn’t a fossil at all but a fiberglass cast.

A model, if you will. A re-creation. A composite pieced together from six different Patagotitan fossil specimens recovered in Argentina because they didn’t have even one as complete as Sue.

The Argentinian folks were nice enough to sell us a copy of theirs. They sold the first copy to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which put it on display more than a year ago.

How special.

Or should I say: That’s show business.

It’s no real secret why the folks who run The Field Museum succumbed to the 17-year-itch and cast aside the old girl.

Museums run on money. They need visitors. To attract visitors, they constantly must evolve and change, offer something new.

Even as Field officials tried to explain how SUE will be better off with a new, more scientifically accurate depiction on the second floor as part of its Evolving Planet exhibit, the museum’s main attraction of the moment is Jurassic World, a traveling Hollywood version of dinosaur life based on the movie.

William Simpson, a Field Museum paleontologist, said he is excited by the opportunity to move SUE, the museum’s famed T-rex, into a new, smaller exhibit space on the second floor. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times
William Simpson, a Field Museum paleontologist, said he is excited by the opportunity to move SUE, the museum’s famed T-rex, into a new, smaller exhibit space on the second floor. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

With its kid-friendly animatronics and pseudo-science about recreating dinosaurs with DNA taken from mosquitoes, Jurassic World is the future of museums.

And I have no doubt that the titanosaur, which at 122 feet in length will dwarf the 40.5 foot long SUE, will be a major attraction.

Not only will it create an eye-popping impression for anyone stepping into Stanley Field Hall, but unlike SUE, visitors will be allowed to walk beneath it and touch it because, after all, it’s not real.

Casey Roth and Katherine Ryan, a pair of 24-year-olds from Peoria, were reverently appraising SUE when I approached them Wednesday and explained the museum’s plans. Both were non-plused.

Ryan, a self-described “dinojunkie,” said replacing SUE’s fossilized remains with a cast would diminish the experience.

“It takes away the aesthetic and the awe of it,” she said. “This is real. This is preservation of life in its most raw form. I think I would be a lot less excited about that than seeing this, and I’ve been talking about seeing this for months.”

“The barricades are here for a reason,” she added. “This is fragile. This is once in a lifetime. A cast can be made again. You can make that a dozen times over if you really wanted to.”

I’m not sure why this irritates me so much. Maybe it’s because I still remember the hype of SUE’s arrival like it was yesterday.

I even remembered there was a naming contest, although I’d forgotten how it turned out.

“Dakota” was the public’s choice, picked for the location where the T. rex bones were found. But officials realized that might get confusing with all the other branded stuff out there with that name, such as the pickup truck. So they overruled the masses and went with SUE for her discoverer, Sue Hendrickson.

Or maybe it’s because I always tell people I’m a living dinosaur facing extinction as a general interest daily columnist for a major metropolitan daily newspaper.

The museum hasn’t decided yet whether to give its new titanosaur a name.

My suggestion is Ginobili. Find another dinosaur to explain it to you.