Rediscovering the New York City Dinosaurs that Traveled Down the Hudson River.

By Marcia Anderson

Photo by Bill Cotter

Photo by Bill Cotter

Back in 1964, my parents drove their pompano peach station wagon into NYC for my first memories of the Big Apple. They took me to the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. I was nine years old.

For those who were not alive for the World’s Fair popular era (1791 through the 1960’s), they were huge expositions, where many countries sponsored exhibit buildings and companies showed off their latest technologies and upcoming products in futuristic exhibits. The New York World’s Fair featured 140 pavilions spread over 646 acres of land, and over 44 million people attended its exhibits in just one year.

Prior to the late 1930’s, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was a swamp and ash dump immortalized as “a valley of ashes” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The fair site originally consisted of ashes from coal-burning furnaces, as well as horse manure and garbage, and was known as the “Corona Ash Dumps.” It was converted into the fair site, which is now known as Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. My mom and dad had visited the site almost 25 years prior to me, as children themselves, to the first NY World’s Fair in 1939-40. That was the second largest American World’s Fair of all time. The 1964-65 exposition was the second World’s Fair in the same Queens location. Both World’s Fairs in New York (1939–40 and 1964–65) have the distinction of being the only two-year world expositions in history. World’s Fairs still exist, but not at the frequency and scale that they once were.

Photo by Bill Cotter

Photo by Bill Cotter

I still remember walking into the Sinclair Oil Corporation’s Dinoland exhibit. It featured life-size replicas of nine different dinosaurs, including an Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) which took me back 65 million years and has remained with me ever since.The dinosaur exhibit was designed to point out the correlation between the petroleum deposits believed to have been formed at the time of the dinosaurs. The Brontosaurus is parodied in the Toy Story films as being the logo for the DinoCo gas station chain. At the time of both NY World’s Fairs, the Sinclair Oil Corporation was a New York petroleum corporation.

How did the dinosaurs get to Queens? The Sinclair dinosaur statues were originally created for the 1939-40 World’s Fair and were later reused in the Primeval World diorama at Disneyland. The 1964-65 statues were created in Mahopac, New York and included a Tyrannosaurus rex, the horned Triceratops, the plated Stegosaurus and the lovable Apatosaurus. The dinosaurs took three years to build with a team of paleontologists, engineers and robotics experts who gave them life by integrating cutting edge animatronics. Upon completion, the dinosaurs were barged 125 miles down the Hudson River to the site of New York’s World’s Fair. When the fair ended, their animatronics were removed and the dinosaurs were sent on a national tour which included the 1966 Macy’s Day Parade! A giant balloon of the Sinclair Dino appeared that year and continued to be a part of the parade until the late 1970’s.

I still have the brochure from the World’s Fair exhibit, Sinclair and the Exciting World of Dinosaurs, in a box in my attic, along with a replica ‘Dino.’ In hindsight, that exhibit had a tremendous impact on my life, so much so, that I eventually became a geology professor, teaching university students about the historical geology of our planet for 15 years. I still go fossil hunting whenever possible.

Photo by Bill Cotter

Photo by Bill Cotter

Where are the dinosaurs now? Is there really a Lost World? The dinosaurs were never lost, just relocated. The creatures were offered to the Smithsonian Institution, but were turned down. The dinosaurs were then retired and dispersed to different parks. While working for the EPA in Texas, I took a daytrip to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, TX, about 100 miles southwest of Dallas, to view dinosaur footprints. Much to my amazement, I was also able to revisit my childhood dinosaur friends, Apatosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex. They were permanently put out to pasture in Texas, just like many of the nation’s racehorses. They are still around after over 65 million, plus four score years!

Photo by Marcia Anderson

Photo by Marcia Anderson

Where do the other New York World’s Fair dinosaurs reside? Triceratops is in the Museum of Science & Industry in Louisville, KY; Stegosaurus went to the Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, UT; Corythosaurus is in Independence, KS; Ankylosaurus lives in the Houston, TX Museum of Natural Science; Struthiomimus went to the Milwaukee, WI Public Museum; and Trachodon lives in the Brookfield, IL Zoo. Sadly, Ornitholestes was stolen and never recovered.

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