It was a nice day in spring, almost 20 years ago. There was a dinosaur exhibition traveling around the world and for a couple of months it was closer to home, somewhere in the Netherlands. I don’t remember the name, the location or all that much about the exhibition at all. I do have some distinct memories of the fossilized bones of an apatosaurus (which my spell checker wishes to “correct” to brontosaurus), but I’m not quite sure if that was at the same exhibition. To cut the reminiscing about which bones belong to which exhibition short, however, let me continue with the story.
We got out of the car and walked to the entrance of the location hosting the dinosaur exhibition. The large banners showing pictures of artist’s impressions of dinosaurs and pictures of dinosaur skeletons already excited me, so I probably jumped around and said something like “Mom! Dad! Look, pictures of dinosaurs!” The ticket office was as boring as ticket offices patently are, but this didn’t dim my enthusiasm. As I struggled not to embarrass my parents by screaming loudly and enthusiastically about the dinosaur treasures awaiting us, my father finished buying our tickets. I probably still gained free entrance to most museums, exhibitions and the like in those days.
As we entered the exhibition, we didn’t immediately hit on all the bony goodness of fossils. It was merely a fairly boring main hall from which you could go in several directions to actually enjoy skeletal delight. However, there was a fake life-like tyrannosaurus rex at the other end of the hall. Although we’d come there to enjoy vertebrate fossils, I was quite willing to give reconstructions a chance, and besides it was the most real thing we’d seen so far. I asked my mother if I could enjoy the anonymous’ artist’s work, got permission, and sprinted toward the t-rex to gaze at the marvels of reconstruction in what was supposed to be some kind of natural (plastic) environment.
The first thing I noticed, while still running toward it, was that the skin looked surprisingly much like real lizards. I had expected it to look more plasticly, perhaps more similar to my own toy dinosaurs. I slowed down somewhat because the t-rex was starting to tower over me. I doubt it was any more than 1/5th the size of a real t-rex, but I was quite small myself. But before I had slowed down enough to stop the t-rex turned its head toward me. I froze. I thought a thousand things at once in the following less than half a second. Weren’t dinosaurs extinct? But this one looked awful realistic; that would explain a lot. The WNF was always talking about animals that could go extinct, is this – as it lowered its upper body toward me my mind entered a blank. Fight or flight kicked in. You want to fight? I’m here to save your ass from extinction, pal, so you better beha- the t-rex opened its mouth and roared. I doubt I ever ran as fast as I did right then and there. As I sought cover behind my parents the t-rex stopped roaring. “Mommy, daddy, that t-rex-” I said while I pointed at it with a shaking finger. My parents laughed, and both took one of my hands. My mother pointed out that the t-rex hadn’t come after me, and it had stopped moving or making any noise.
I wasn’t as eager to visit the exhibition anymore. That creepy dinosaur was guarding the entrance hall. However, my curiosity got the best of me, so it didn’t take my parents long to convince me to look at the mechanical dinosaur some more. After I carefully positioned myself behind my parents, we walked toward the theropod. When we were close enough, the t-rex repeated his earlier shenanigans in the exact same manner, a clear sign of a machine; unless by some fluke this were an autistic carnivore. After realizing that it was motion-triggered and only had a limited range of motion, I silently gawked at the awesomeness of the creators of the realistic t-rex.