Dinosaur exhibit to roar to life at Smithsonian

This is a sneak peak of the T. rex attack on a Triceratops that will be displayed in the National Museum of Natural History’s renovated fossil hall set to open in 2019. (Courtesy Smithsonian)
This is a sneak peak of the T. rex attack on a Triceratops that will be displayed in the National Museum of Natural History’s renovated fossil hall set to open in 2019. (Courtesy Smithsonian) (Tyrannosaurus rex (vertebra cast/Gary Mulcahey)
The skull cast pictured is from the Wankel T. rex, and its fossilized remains will be put on display in the renovated fossil hall set to open at the National Museum of Natural History in June 2019. (WTOP/ Kristi King)
The skull cast pictured is from the Wankel T. rex. Its fossilized remains will be put on display in the renovated fossil hall set to open at the National Museum of Natural History in June 2019. (WTOP/ Kristi King) (WTOP/ Kristi King)
While the renovation of the National Museum of Natural History’s fossil hall is underway, the FossilLab allows visitors to see museum staff and volunteers at work. (WTOP/ Kristi King)
While the renovation of the National Museum of Natural History’s fossil hall is underway, the FossilLab allows visitors to see museum staff and volunteers at work. (WTOP/ Kristi King) (WTOP/ Kristi King)
Discovered by Kathy Wankel in 1988 near Fort Peck Reservoir in eastern Montana, 80 to 85 percent of the Wankel T. rex remains were recovered. That makes it one of the most complete T. rex specimens ever unearthed. (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies)
Discovered by Kathy Wankel in 1988 near Fort Peck Reservoir in eastern Montana, 80 to 85 percent of the Wankel T. rex remains were recovered. That makes it one of the most complete T. rex specimens ever unearthed. (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies) (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies)
First put on display at the Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies in 2005 in Bozeman, Montana, the Wankel T. rex was exhibited in the "death pose" from the riverbed where it died 656 million years ago. (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies)
First put on display at the Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies in 2005 in Bozeman, Montana, the Wankel T. rex was exhibited in the “death pose” from the riverbed where it died 656 million years ago. (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies) (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies)
The National Museum of Natural History welcomed "the nation's T. rex" to the Smithsonian Institution on April 15, 2014. It is on loan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick with the Army Corps of Engineers joined the National Museum of Natural History Sant Director Kirk Johnson for the unveiling of the creature's femur bone. (Photo by James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution)
The National Museum of Natural History welcomed “the nation’s T. rex” to the Smithsonian Institution on April 15, 2014. It is on loan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick with the Army Corps of Engineers joined the National Museum of Natural History Sant Director Kirk Johnson for the unveiling of the creature’s femur bone. (Photo by James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution) (James Di Loreto/James Di Loreto)
The current T. rex on display in the temporary dinosaur and fossil hall at the National Museum of Natural History is a resin copy of a real fossil. (WTOP/ Kristi King)
The current T. rex on display in the temporary dinosaur and fossil hall at the National Museum of Natural History is a resin copy of a real fossil. (WTOP/ Kristi King) (WTOP/ Kristi King)
(1/7)
This is a sneak peak of the T. rex attack on a Triceratops that will be displayed in the National Museum of Natural History’s renovated fossil hall set to open in 2019. (Courtesy Smithsonian)
The skull cast pictured is from the Wankel T. rex, and its fossilized remains will be put on display in the renovated fossil hall set to open at the National Museum of Natural History in June 2019. (WTOP/ Kristi King)
While the renovation of the National Museum of Natural History’s fossil hall is underway, the FossilLab allows visitors to see museum staff and volunteers at work. (WTOP/ Kristi King)
Discovered by Kathy Wankel in 1988 near Fort Peck Reservoir in eastern Montana, 80 to 85 percent of the Wankel T. rex remains were recovered. That makes it one of the most complete T. rex specimens ever unearthed. (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies)
First put on display at the Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies in 2005 in Bozeman, Montana, the Wankel T. rex was exhibited in the "death pose" from the riverbed where it died 656 million years ago. (Courtesy Museum of the Rockies)
The National Museum of Natural History welcomed "the nation's T. rex" to the Smithsonian Institution on April 15, 2014. It is on loan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick with the Army Corps of Engineers joined the National Museum of Natural History Sant Director Kirk Johnson for the unveiling of the creature's femur bone. (Photo by James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution)
The current T. rex on display in the temporary dinosaur and fossil hall at the National Museum of Natural History is a resin copy of a real fossil. (WTOP/ Kristi King)

WASHINGTON — Get ready for the Tyrannosaurus rex vs. Triceratops smackdown that is set to be a featured display in the upcoming dinosaur and fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall.

“The T. rex from Montana is the anchor of the biggest deal we’ve ever done,” the museum’s Sant Director Kirk Johnson said. “In about 15 months, we’re opening the largest renovation this museum has ever seen.”

What the Smithsonian has dubbed “the nation’s T. rex” was delivered to D.C. in 2014, a few years after Johnson was named director and learned that the museum didn’t have an actual fossil of a T. rex, only a replica of one.

“What? We don’t have a Tyrannosaurs rex? That is absurd!” Johnson remembers saying.

So, he arranged to get one on loan from the Army Corps of Engineers that manages a property in eastern Montana that is rich in dinosaurs.

“The point of a museum is that we are the place in our culture where we keep and preserve the real stuff of planet Earth — the amazing stuff,” Johnson said.

Called the Hall of Extinct Monsters when it opened in 1911, the new dinosaur and fossil hall exhibition is slated to open in June 2019 and will tell the tale of the entire history of life on Earth.

Renovations, now complete, included support being added under the structure of the building to help hold up the massive dinosaurs to be put on display.

Sant Director Kirk Johnson is pictured here in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in D.C. (WTOP/Kristi King)

To make room for renovations, the old fossil hall had to be deconstructed. See time lapse footage of that break down here.

Modern 3-D scans and digital posing technology have allowed skeletal mounts to be built to display the animals in ways showing the grace and movement of living animals as opposed to standing there like big bricks, Johnson said.

“And now, in the next couple months, we’re going to start moving the skeletons in and installing them,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be an incredible process of installation and construction over the next 15 months to get this thing ready.”

A self-proclaimed “museum guy” since he was 5 years old, Johnson started collecting fossils when he was a kid.

“I actually didn’t get into dinosaurs until I found one myself, which happened when I was about 23-years-old,” Johnson said. “One day, I stumbled upon a triceratops skull out in the field in North Dakota, and I’m like, ‘wow, that’s pretty cool.'”

Now he is working at a frequently-visited natural history museum in D.C. and awaiting next year’s opening of the new permanent dinosaur and fossil hall.

To that, he said: “It’s fabulous.”


Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2018 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up