This Day in History – December 31st, 1853

You may have amazing plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve, but are they so amazing as to involve a life sized dinosaur?

Dinosaur Dinner

In the late 1840s, Sir Richard Owen commissioned Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a British artist and amateur scientist, to build the first life-size sculptures of dinosaurs based on speculations by Owen and Gideon Mantell, the British paleontologist who had done the first work on Iguanodons. Hawkins created them for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, and after the close of the exhibition helped to transport them in 1852 to Sydenham, a suburb south of London, where an enlarged version of the Crystal Palace was rebuilt on what became Crystal Palace Park. The dinosaur sculptures were made of iron skeletons and fashioned from bricks and concrete, a hybrid form that evoked both the prefabricated steel-and-glass structures that comprised the original Crystal Palace as well as the brick and mortar of traditional English architecture.

Dinosaur Dinner 2Hawkins imagined that visitors would encounter his sculptures by moving through a series of islands in the park which, when followed, would simulate a walk through millions of years of prehistoric time. A pair of Hawkins’s glorious Iguanodons, one standing erect while the other sits on its haunches, cozily resting one of its front paws on a little tree, still occupies a small island in the eastern quadrant of Crystal Palace Park. The standing Iguanodon had a fleeting moment of fame when Hawkins transformed it into the venue for a private New Year’s Eve dinner party for prominent naturalists of the day on December 31st, 1853. He positioned the mold for the standing Iguanodon sculpture beneath a striped tent, carefully removed the top layer to create an opening in its back, and inserted a dinner table complete with china, silver, and candles into the open space.

Flourish 3

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