The worlds first theme park

The opportunity that presented itself to Owen was the relocation of Thomas Paxton's world-famous Crystal Palace from the 1851 Great Exhibition site at Kensington in central London to the rapidly growing suburb of Sydenham in the south of the city. With his royal connections and the ear of Prince Albert, Owen grasped his chance to put his concept of the dinosaurs into practice by recreating them as lifesize models. The whole scheme was very ambitious: there was a 'greenfield' site that could be landscaped with real rock strata. A lake was to be created and filled with fossil crocodiles and an island built on which the dinosaurs were to be 'safely' marooned and surrounded by appropriate vegetation.

Within a decade of inventing the dinosaurs, Owen, who well knew the value of publicity, made what must be one of the biggest coups in terms of scientific publicity in the whole of the nineteenth century. He redefined the concept and appearance of his invention and transformed Mantell's 'lowly, creeping', serpent-like creature into something much more ponderous and imperious, as befitted the new Victorian era. Mantell's Iguanodon was remodelled as a curious chimaera with a stance rather like a mammalian rhinoceros. Owen realised that the structure of the dinosaur pelvis showed that they were not like lizards with legs sticking out to one side, but that the legs were brought close in under the body to support the huge bulk with its massive tail and head. The creature was given a typical reptilian scaly skin and a rather baleful stare, curiously like Queen Victoria in her old age. Owen calculated that his Iguanodon might be as much as six times the size of an elephant.

Apart from Iguanodon, there were two other dinosaurs, Hyleosaurus and Buckland's Megalosaurus, and even more ancient amphibian labyrinthodont and younger Tertiary and Quaternary mammals, altogether representing a broad sweep of ancient life. But the ancient menagerie was never fully completed: there was a planned life-size restoration of an American mastodon, but funds were cut off by the Crystal Palace company.

The models were created by the artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, under Owen's supervision, and the construction process was closely trailed and illustrated in the popular journals of the day. Famously, on New Year's day 1853, a celebratory seven-course dinner for the great and the good of the day was held within the cast of the Iguanodon, surrounded by a panoply of heroes' names - Buckland, Cuvier, Owen and Mantell. The idea may have come from another earlier famous fossil dinner in 1801, held in his Philadelphia museum by American artist and museum owner, Charles Willson Peale. Dinner for 12 was held inside the partly reconstructed skeleton of a mastodon, which Peale had excavated. Patriotic toasts were made with rousing choruses of Yankee Doodle.

The Crystal Palace invitation card, drawn by Hawkins, had its text written on the outstretched wing of a flying reptile. Again, the occasion was pictured in the London Illustrated News, giving further publicity to the project. Attended by

In 1853 the Illustrated London News showed the lifesize model dinosaurs and other extinct animals under construction in Waterhouse Hawkins studio at the relocated Crystal Palace in Sydenham, south London.

the likes of Charles Lyell and of course Owen, there was an elaborately joky 'fossiliferous' menu and special song composed for the occasion:

A thousand ages underground, His skeleton had lain, But now his body's big and round And there's life in him again!

His bones like Adam's wrapped in clay his ribs of iron stout, where is the brute alive today That dares turn him out.

Beneath his hide he's got inside The souls of living men, Who dares our Saurian now deride With life in him again?

with the chorus:

The jolly old beast Is not deceased There's life in him again!

The chorus presumably referred to the dinosaur, but it may also have been a dig at Owen. He managed to sound the only sour note of the evening by publicly attacking Hawkins for getting the Iguanodon wrong, which was a bit rich considering he was supposed to have been supervising the construction. Owen was probably covering his own back, as recently fossil footprints had been found, which suggested that Iguanodon walked upright on its two hind legs. Owen seems to have been a thoroughly unpleasant man and few of his contemporaries had a good word for him, but nevertheless his anatomical talent does have to be acknowledged.

The grand reopening of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham on June 10th, 1854 by Queen Victoria drew a crowd of 40,000. The first theme park in the world was open to an incredulous public and it went on to draw an average two million visitors a year until the end of the century. More engraved illustrations were reproduced in the popular press, including Punch, the famous satirical magazine of the day. Here, a Victorian top-hatted father is portrayed, intent on improving his young son's mind by visiting the antediluvian reptiles. The child is screaming with horror but, unperturbed, the father walks on and the punch-line reads: 'Master Tom strongly objects to having his mind improved'. The giant models have recently been renovated and are still to be seen at Sydenham, so young minds can continue to be improved by viewing them, although Paxton's wonderful Crystal Palace was unfortunately burned down in 1936.

News of the huge success of the venture soon spread and Hawkins was invited to New York for a repeat performance in Central Park. He set up his studio and began producing an even more ambitious scheme with many more fossil reconstructions. Unfortunately, it fell foul of local politics and came to nothing, although some of the completed models are reputed to have been broken up and buried in the park; despite some modern searches nothing has been turned up.

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

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