Due to erosion, fossils from the Mesozoic Era are largely missing from my native Illinois. Despite no dinosaur discoveries, Paleontologists are still pretty sure they were here – reinforced by species of the same dinos found above and below us. One of these is a theropod called Dryptosaurus; a dinosaur I’d never heard of until last week after receiving my monthly newsletter from national horror host, Svengoolie. In it, the man who designed a gorgeous replica of the animal was posing next to it at a museum I’d never heard of despite being just an hour north of me. It was time for another Prehistoric Pit Stop…
Lake County, Illinois is made up of picturesque communities with a good portion resting along Lake Michigan itself. The County is aptly named – not only because of the Great Lake but the 170 other lakes and rivers within. The Bess Bower Dunn Museum is in Libertyville and, though small by Chicago standards, packs an impressive punch nonetheless. It features a nice array of fossils and artifacts from Lake County – be it from the Pioneer days, the Civil War, or prehistory.
My son and I got an early start, arriving just after it opened at 10 am. Parking was free and the cost of admission minimal ($6 for me and $3 for my son). Once you enter the building, the museum is left of the lobby with a small gift shop, eating area (consisting of a few tables and a vending machine), and information desk sharing the same room. Our Dryptosaurus was also there, overlooking potential diners. It was stunning in person with amazing detail – especially its scales and feathers.
The dinosaur was designed by Tyler Keillor and Steve Furnwtt who specialize in preparing fossils as well as bringing many of them to “life” via fleshy recreations. Thankfully, they’re also both fellow Svengoolie fans and Keillor sent the MeTV host a photo of himself wearing his T-shirt and posing next to the Dryptosaurus. The newsletter made its way to my inbox last Tuesday and by the end of the week, I was standing in front of it myself. I should mention, this was built at Acme Design in Elgin, Illinois who is no stranger to dinosaurs. In addition to this model, they also created a replica of Spinosaurus featured on a 2014 NOVA special titled “Bigger than T-Rex.” I have friends there and stopped by to see it a few years back.
After passing the Dryptosaurus, there are a couple glass cases holding fossils. Much of the Chicago area was once a Silurian reef and it’s not uncommon to find fossils of aquatic plants from that period. I live ten minutes from the Thornton Quarry and have come across many plant fossils growing up. I also found a Trilobite fossil in my backyard back when I was eight years old and playing with my STAR WARS action figures.
Once you turn the corner, you enter their prehistoric room; highlighted by animals from Illinois’ past. These include Dire wolves, giant short-faced bears, as well as Smilodon.
Everyone close to me knows I love elephants so I was particularly pleased to see this museum devote some attention to mammoths and mastodons. They even had a big sandbox full of teeth and bones, where aspiring paleontologists can do some digging of their own. This place was very kid-friendly and I’m guessing a popular field trip destination for local schools.
There were a couple of dinosaurs as well including another Dryptosaurus replica – this one just the head but still very impressive.
The rest of museum was dedicated to humans from prehistory on up. Like the Field Museum in Chicago, they offered a large hut that kids could play in. As you continue moving to other rooms, you’re treated to even more artifacts from the area from after it was settled by the Europeans and on through the Civil War.
We only stayed about an hour but had a great time. If you’re in the area it’s worth a quick prehistoric pit stop – and where else are you going to find a life-like Dryptosaurus?