Saturday, 21 November 2009

Back in my day part 2, Lealaps and the American answer to Crystal Palace

Back in my day part 2, Laelaps and the American answer to Crystal Palace

In 1868 the commissioners of Central Park in New York were jealous of the Crystal Palace creations of the earlier decades in England. They wrote to Benjamin Hawkins, asking for a similar display of iron framed models of giant dinosaurs and their contemporaries. The plans were made and Benjamin began to design the exhibition in the form of wonderful and lively paintings and drawings. The display would only include prehistoric animals from North America, adding to the pride and patriotism upheld by this nation.

These later reconstructions were much more accurate, however for some reason, although most meat eating dinosaurs were reconstructed by this time as bipedal animals, Megalosaurus was still portrayed as a quadruped. From Hawkins drawings we also know that his art became more ambitious, portraying much more active and sprightly animals as he had done in the English Crystal Palace Park models.

Above is a drawing by Hawkins showing his invisionment of the Central Park dinosaur exhibition.

Surely the star of the show was the skinny, bipedal Laelaps (now called Dryptosaurus). This animal was probably the largest carnivorous dinosaur known at this time. From the remains it was reconstructed accurately as a bipedal animal, although it still was unrecognisable as a dinosaur. A popular myth amongst some palaeontologists of the time is that Laelaps and other bipedal therapod dinosaurs hopped like kangaroos. Of course kangaroos are the only modern analogy to an animal like Laelaps; long hind limbs, short arms and a long tail for balance. Scientists, probably noticing these similarities made the link between the two animals and several out dated illustrations show meat eating dinosaurs bouncing around like joeys after thir prey. Nowadays we know that animals like Laelaps and of course T'rex were not built for such locomotion. They are now invisioned with a more accurate analogy, that of giant lumbering ostriches.

Another outdated painting showing Laelaps, in the left hand corner bounding across the desert plain like a kangaroo on steroids.

Of course you are probably wondering why you have never seen victorian concrete models of dinosaurs in Central Park. This is because they were never made. It is a long and political story which I will not go into much detail on, but in 1871, with the new and corupt local government seeing no financial gain in Hawkins exhibition, hired men broke into his studio, destroying the six models already completed with sledge hammers, and bueried them.

Above, my inpression of Laelaps in the style and appearance of Hawkins reconstructions.

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