Above: Waterhouse Hawkins’ concept drawing for the would-be Paleozoic Museum, featuring extinct American fauna (including Hadrosaurus, Laelaps [today known as Dryptosaurus] and Mosasaurus)
This morning I received a somewhat beat-up copy of the children’s book The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins and I was astonished to learn that some of his work may still remain underground in Central Park somewhere. While most documentaries/discussions of Hawkins’ work focus on the dinosaurs he designed for the Crystal Palace in London and the famous dinner in his Iguanadon, I had never heard the second part of the story. After Hawkins came to America and designed the reconstruction of Hadrosaurus, a Paleozoic Museum (essentially a 2nd Crystal Palace) was to be built in Central Park, Hawkins working on the dinosaurs that would be the star attractions.
The infamous Boss Tweed, however, said that the museum was a waste of money and stopped its construction. Hawkins and the public spoke out against him, and so Tweed (feeling somewhat threatened by remarks Hawkins made during a speech) had some of his henchmen vandalize Hawkins’ studio, smashing the dinosaurs and burying some in Central Park. Some of the pieces were recovered, but many likely remain, the children’s book ending with a somewhat whimsical hypothesis of what it might look like if we could see under the soil where the dinosaurs are lying. It would be wonderful of some of these ancient beasts could be somehow recovered, and I am surprised I had not heard about this earlier from the AMNH or Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, but I have no idea how someone would undertake such a project. In the book Wild Nights by Anne Matthews, the author tells how (at least as of 2001) there is still work being done in order to locate the ornate pieces of the original Penn Station in the muck and mire of the New Jersey Meadowlands, likely a far easier task than finding bits and pieces of old dinosaurs. And yet, I wonder, is there no way to recover Hawkins work? There are now many devices that can be used to locate underground objects and I think it would be an honorable undertaking to find the smashed bits of Hawkins work and put them on display (even if in more pieces than he intended). I do not find it likely that such a project will ever come to pass, but it does make me wonder what monstrous beasts are waiting to be discovered just under the Central Park soil.