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The Day The Dinosaur Ate Me

How old was I when the dinosaur ate me?

I must have been about nine years old. I dimly recall holding Dad’s hand as he walked me up the steps of the massive original entrance to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

I remember looking up, up and further up at the huge bronze door, one of a triad. “Imposing” is an understatement. The facade could have been the home of “Conan the Barbarian” for all its dark gray mythic splendor.

To a kid of nine, it was just b-i-g.

We had not come to Pittsburgh to see the museum. Back in probably 1952, Dad and his two brothers would not have taken the 3.5-hour drive from Warren for that highbrow pursuit.

No, a half-mile west across Schenley Park stood another imposing structure, Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. It was staffed by Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner, future 1960s Pirates World Champion heroes Dick Groat and Bob Friend and even a no-hit backup catcher named Joe Garagiola, later famed as an announcer and pal of baseball immortal Yogi Berra.

The Pirates were the attraction we had come to see.

That meant an overnight stay in a pre-modern hotel. Bathrooms were not in rooms. They were at the ends of each floor’s hallways. Primitive, eh?

But before the hotel, before the game, we had to go to the museum. Why? I have a one-word assumption: Mom. The Bonavita brothers would drink, eat junk food, smoke and be joyously loud; that was normal. I bet Mom insisted that I get at least a taste of refined education as a counterinfluence.

Anyway, there we were, at those huge bronze doors.

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Last week, 68 years later, I stood at the same spot, viewing those same doors. The doors looked smaller but still imposing.

They did not open for me, not in 2020. Today’s entrance is a block east, athwart a new wing featuring fountains and a glassed-in plaza.

As I walked in that direction, I smiled. Then I laughed out loud, remembering 1952.

Behind those doors back then was a ticket thingie off to the left. Then, straight ahead, there were three more huge doors. We opened the middle door. Dad pulled my hand to help me into what was then the main atrium.

WAAH!

I cried. No, I yelled!

There, leering at me, head bent down toward me, soulless eye sockets fixated on me, mouth agape to eat me all up in one huge bite, was a massive skeleton of a DINOSAUR!

At age nine, I might have known that museums held old stuff.

But nobody told me about a DINOSAUR! Ready to EAT ME NOW!

I remember crying. Screeching. Bolting around and bumping into Dad, still holding my hand.

“IWANNAGOHOMENOWWWW!”

I might have said that. I might have said something else.

What I was, however, was clear: I was terrified.

Dad, embarrassed, tried to get me to act more grown-up.

Dad’s brothers, always on the alert to razz a sibling, roared with laughter at Dad’s unmanly son.

I cried. Dad got redder.

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The memory fades at that point, but last week, I was still laughing out loud through the new entrance.

Today, the dinosaurs do not affront you suddenly. The new entrance is all about open spaces, lots of light, friendly staff and cheery exhibits.

The dinosaurs are still there, including Dippy the Brontosaurus (herbivore) and at least two versions of meat-eater Tyrannosaurus rex, the child-chomping monster of my nightmares.

Last week, having hours to kill while in Pittsburgh, I remembered the long-ago museum. I killed those hours delightfully, even revisiting a stuffed (not mounted; stuffed) lion and giant bison. Back in the day, the lion had been posed to eat a camel and its Arab rider. Now, camel and rider are being refurbished, but the lion remains, scruffier than modern mounted specimens.

“I remember this,” I said to a bright-eyed young staffer.

“Tell me more,” she suggested. That was invitation enough. I reminisced, then looked around. Behold! Several staffers had gathered at that uncrowded hour. I had an audience! I told them about changes, and much that has not changed. And they even called me, “Sir!” Who could ask for anything more?

I walked the half-mile to the Forbes Field site and sat on a bench in front of the slice of left field outfield wall over which the Bucs’ Bill Mazeroski hit that immortal 1960 World Series finale home run to whip the heavily favored New York Yankees; that team included Yogi Berra. Small world.

I have no memory of the 1952 game. I have a hunch that I conned the adults into an extra treat to soothe my frazzled nerves.

Back in 1952, oh, how I had cried!

Last month in 2020, oh, how I laughed!

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.

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