If you've had the occasion to visit the National Zoo lately, you might have noticed that something was missing. Not sure? Ok, I'll give you a hint. He's 27 feet long, was named after a dinosaur in the 1956 children's book The Enormous Egg, by Oliver Butterworth, later appeared in the 1967 NBC TV adaptation of the book, and, until recently, resided in the back of the Zoo, near the hospital. Give up? It's "Uncle Beazley," the beloved Smithsonian Institution triceratops who has been making his way around the Mall for decades.
Well, the good news is that "Uncle Beazley" will be returning to the Zoo tomorrow morning. The better news is that he looks amazing. So where has "Uncle Beazley" been these past few months? Well, according to Supervisory Horticulturist Teresa Vetick, he was getting a much needed makeover. "We noticed that he lost the sparkle in his eye and he started to fade," Vetick says. So, this winter, they sent him to the Office of Exhibits Central, where the model shop "worked their magic on him" and now, he's prepared to return to the Zoo looking better than ever. So how did "Uncle Beazley" end up at the Zoo in the first place?
"Uncle Beazley" was built by artist Louis Paul Jonas in 1967 and was later donated to the Zoo by the Sinclair Oil Company. Over the years, "Uncle Beazley" has gotten around. He made his first Mall appearance at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (now known as the Anacostia Community Museum) before heading over to the Natural History Museum where he resided until he was moved to the Rhino Yard at the National Zoo in 1994. "I'd like to think he's become a hit," says Vetick. "Everybody loves him. People remember him from being on the Mall when they were kids, so everybody is excited to see him." Fortuitously, "Uncle Beazley" came to the Smithsonian when S. Dillon Ripley (1913-2001) served as Secretary.
"It was typical of the S. Dillon Ripley era to do fun things like that—to make the museums approachable for children," says Pamela M. Henson, director of the Institutional History Division. "Ripley talked about how, as a child in Paris during the summers, he would play in the Tuilleries gardens, ride the carousel, and then go into the Louvre to see the art. He wanted activities for children on the Mall that enlivened the museum experience and let them just have fun." And for many years, "Uncle Beazley" has been a part of that.
Made of fiberglass, "Uncle Beazley" has been patched and given a new coat of UV and weather resistant paint—no small feat for a this life-size, nine-foot-wide, nine-foot-high statue. In addition to a new look, "Uncle Beazley" will also enjoy some new digs—a garden, complete with flowers and shrubbery, dedicated to the memory of Herman and Evelyn Strock, by their daughter, Mara Strock, whose generous donation made this restoration possible.
See "Uncle Beazley" at the Zoo starting tomorrow, May 4, 2011. This post has been updated to include a photograph of the new and improved "Uncle Beazley."