What: Burpee Museum of Natural History
Where: 737 N. Main Street, Rockford, IL (815) 489-7970
When: Seven days a week, 10am-5pm
Children 4-7: $7
Children 3 and under: FREE
I had never heard of the Burpee Museum, but Charles wanted to check it out, and chose it as one of a couple stops in the much-maligned city of Rockford. The name Burpee made me think of Burpee seeds and wonder if it was some kind of plant or farming museum. Apparently it’s named after furniture maker Harry Burpee, no relation to the tomato empire.
Opened in 1942 with funds from Harry Burpee and the Works Progress Administration, the Burpee Museum is four floors of natural history exhibits. Its current star attraction is Jane, the world’s most complete and best preserved juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex in the exhibit Jane: Diary of a Dinosaur. Discovered in Montana in 2001, Jane’s bones have been reconstructed into a fully restored 21 foot skeleton. Jane is about half the size of Sue, the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton housed at Chicago’s Field Museum.
NIU researchers made important discoveries about the juvenile behavior of young T. rexes through the bite wounds on Jane’s nose. “When we looked at the jaw and teeth of Jane, we realized her bite would have produced a very close match to the injuries on her own face,” NIU researcher Joe Peterson said. “That leads us to believe she was attacked by a member of the same species that was about the same age. Because the wound had healed, we think this happened when Jane was possibly a few years younger.” In other words, if I understand correctly, T. rexes may have rumbled with each other to practice their fighting techniques like common house cats.
There was much to learn about dinosaurs. Another exhibit was Homer’s Odyssey: From Badlands to Burpee, which recreates the life of another “teenaged” dinosaur, this time a Triceratops. There was an entire wall covered with different species of Triceratops skulls; I had no idea there was so many, The museum also had exhibits on the Ordovician Sea which millions of years ago covered the land now called Rockford, the living habits of indigenous people, and the local flora and fauna. The top floor had interactive panels that shot out the scent of local flowers and the sounds of local birds. Located as it was right on the Rock River, there was a lovely view out the window of what looked like some kind of outdoor concert area (I could only guess at its purpose as it was way too cold for outdoor shenanigans when we visited).
I have to say it was extremely dead the day we visited. We practically had the place to ourselves, which was a little spooky. I don’t know if it’s not a high traffic museum or we just went on an off day (Charles’ Facebook check said there was a Bears game that day). Apparently local legend Rick Nielsen’s exhibit there a couple years back was a big hit
The Burpee Museum has many educational programs for adults and kids, including science workshops for home schooled students, programs for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as virtual field trips for non-locals.