Mastodon bones and other fossilized creatures have turned up occasionally in New York City. But dinosaurs? Here’s the story.
In 1854, British artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built giant models of dinosaurs, which were displayed at the Crystal Palace.
Hawkins didn’t exactly know what dinosaurs looked like, but he based his models on the limited fossils available at the time.
His models must have been impressive, as his show was a great success, thrilling audiences in England.
So in 1868, Andrew Green, one of the city planners in charge of Central Park, invited Hawkins to build dinosaur models in New York.
The models were to be housed in a Paleozoic museum planned for the new Central Park. Hawkins took Green up on the offer and began constructing his dinosaurs out of brick, iron, and concrete in a studio (above).
“In a studio in Central Park, crowded with his gigantic skeletal and full-bodied models, Hawkins worked on a 39-foot hadrosaur; his sketches show ferocious giant lizards: a large and scaly iguana head here, certain dragon features there,” states a 2005 New York Times article.
Unfortunately, Hawkins’ work and the entire idea of a Paeozoic museum came to a halt thanks to William “Boss” Tweed, the corrupt Tammany Hall political chief who took control of the park in 1870 and had no interest in building anything devoted to science or education.
“The next year, a few months after Hawkins spoke out publicly against both the decision to forgo the museum and Tammany Hall itself, the Tweed Ring sent vandals to his studio to smash his models and dump them into a pit in the park,” the Times wrote.
Hawkins, understandably, left New York and went back to England. In the ensuing years, Hawkins’ (below) dinosaurs were mostly forgotten.
Despite periodic searches, his sabotaged dinosaur models have never been found.
“They still rest somewhere under the sod of Central Park, probably not far from Umpire Rock and the Heckscher ballfields,” states this CUNY site.
“Could one of the pitchers’ mounds really be a small embankment covering the severed head of Megalosaurus? Who knows, maybe so.”