A Peek at the Past

Long before the grand Benjamin Franklin Parkway was built, the Academy of Natural Sciences was drawing tourists to the site with the first dinosaur skeleton ever displayed.

Hadrosaurus foulkii attracted such crowds in 1869 that the museum decided to charge an admission fee for the first time: 10 cents. Ah, the good old days.

The evolution of life is an integral part of the Academy’s research. These butterflies and host plants in A Peek at the Past help illustrate botanist Tatyana Livshultz’ study on the evolutionary relationship between certain butterfly species and their host plants. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS

Today, as Philadelphia celebrates the centennial of Philly’s version of the Champs-Élysées, the Academy presents A Peek at the Past, A Look Toward the Future, an intimate exhibit that illustrates a century of progress at the parkway’s first cultural institution and offers a glimpse of our future focus.

The exhibit opened yesterday and will be on view through October 2018 to coincide with the Parkway 100 celebration. A Peek at the Past occupies four large display cases outside of Dinosaur Hall.

It is not large, but it is rich with archival materials, research specimens, scientific equipment, and the unexpected—Bolivar’s foot.

Visitors will witness the dramatic changes to the museum’s architecture and exhibitions, discover famous Academy members, explore Academy scientists’ current work, and glean where the next century will take us.

Arrangement and photo by Lauren Duguid/ANS

This image offers a composite peek at some of the objects you’ll see in the exhibit:

Foot – These foot bones belonged to Bolivar, a famous, enormous Asian elephant that lived at the Philadelphia Zoo in the late 19th century. When it died in 1908, its remains were donated to the Academy.

Antique microscope – This beautiful brass microscope belonged to Academy ecologist Dr. Ruth Patrick (1907-2013), a pioneer in studying the health of freshwater streams and rivers.

Photo – Shows Bolivar’s mounted skin and articulated skeleton were put on display at the Academy from 1908-1918, drawing huge crowds to see the famous elephant that they has seen in life at the zoo. ANS Archives Coll. 49.

Shells – These are mussel shells from the Delaware River watershed. Mussels are key indicators of the health of a water body and are closely monitored by Academy scientists.

Glass jar – Inside is a zebra pleco, Hypancistrus zebra,  a catfish found only in the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon River. These catfish will probably soon be extinct in the wild, largely as a result of a massive damming project in the region.

Post by Carolyn Belardo