It wasn’t all that long ago we heard the news that the Field Museum’s chatty, sarcastic murderbird SUE the T. Rex was going on a little hiatus from the limelight. The announcement was made that SUE would be moving from Stanley Field Hall, where they’d been one of the first things greeting visitors in the massive museum since their arrival to the Field Museum in 1997. Reactions were mixed, as some thought that this valuable fossil, which is the most complete (and largest) T. Rex skeleton in the world, should stay front and center to visitors from all over the world, and were upset that the massive predator would be in storage until 2019.
SUE and her team at the Field were quick to reassure Field Museum fans and visitors that SUE would still be active on their Twitter account, and that the move would prove beneficial, too, featuring SUE in a more scientifically appropriate way. So, we watched and waited, peering through the tiny window to see how the suite was coming along. Fortunately for us, the Field Museum and the aforementioned apex predator, the suite life came sooner than expected, and starting today, visitors to the Field Museum can visit SUE in their brand new home on the second floor.
We were there for the media unveiling on Wednesday, and the excitement was palpable, even for staff members. SUE’s importance to the museum is hard to understate, and their return even earlier than previously expected seemed almost like an early Christmas gift. If there was any doubt if the new suite would suit, lay those doubts to rest. SUE’s new home is simply stunning. No longer does Stanley Field hall dwarf the dinosaur. Instead, SUE is the focal point of a beautifully simple room designed to show them off. Better yet, SUE’s new pose is more scientifically appropriate to the posture they’d have assumed in life, and the addition of the newly identified gastralia bones in their abdomen give them a new sense of mass. As Pete Makovicky, a curator and one of the Field’s paleontologists on the project commented, “You can actually picture yourself strung out like in a hammock there and be like ‘Yeah, several of me could fit in there, no problem.’”
For some, like the Field Museum’s Bill Simpson, Head of Geological Collections and Collections Manager for Fossil Vertebrates, SUE’s arrival in this new “private suite” is more like a homecoming. “This is always where SUE was supposed to be,” Simpson said. “This was a courtyard, one of six built into the museum back before it was air conditioned, allowing light and air down to the exhibits, and over time we’ve been filling in these courtyards, we call them lightwells.” Simpson continues, “This is the northeast lightwell and the last of them to be filled in, and we just didn’t fill it in in time to put SUE in there, but this was always the plan, for this to be SUE’s hall–it’s right in the middle of our Evolving Planet exhibition, so it seemed appropriate they be here. So it’s like the project is, years later, coming to fruition.”
No matter how long the wait was to get SUE in their own private suite, it seems to have been worth the wait. SUE’s new digs are spacious, simple, and tell their story well. Visitors will first walk in to see SUE’s actual skull, now much closer to the rest of them, toothy grin ready to greet you. It’s a great chance to get a closeup look at a T. Rex and see what it’d be like if you could come face to face with one, but the reason for keeping the skull separate has nothing to do with structural concerns or even appearances. It stays separate for the purposes of research. Though the Field Museum’s full of wonderful things to teach people about natural history, it’s also an active research institution, and put simply, SUE’s skull is incredibly valuable to scientists who wish to learn more about these animals. In keeping the skull in a separate case, it can more easily be removed when scientists wish to study it.
What’s wonderful about the new SUE exhibit is that visitors will be able to study the bones in more detail too. Every 20 minutes, the ambient sounds of the flora and fauna that would’ve surrounded SUE (as well as SUE’s own menacing growls) die down a bit for a presentation on them. Lights come up and highlight, in turn, many of the unique features of the bones, from the holes in the jaw that may have come from an infected animal to various other features on the fossils which can tell us more not only about how SUE lived, but how T. Rex in general lived.
SUE’s new home is every bit a place of honor. They are front and center, with everything centered around telling the story of how they lived and died, what types of creatures and plants surrounded them, what happened to them in their lifespan, and how they came to be at the Field Museum. Great care was taken to literally and figuratively highlight this magnificent find, with every mural, placed object, animation and voiceover, and even if you were previously a SUE devotee, it’s likely there’s something new to see or learn about them.
“I think SUE has become not only an icon for the museum,” Simpson said, when talking about their importance to the Field, “but also for the city itself. We had Michael Jordan and now we have SUE.” We couldn’t agree more. There are few people I’ve talked to who have visited Chicago and the Field Museum who don’t remember their first encounter with SUE, and, given her social media voice, few who haven’t enjoyed the sardonic, smile-inducing banter they produce on Twitter.
With the holiday upcoming and SUE’s celebrity status, the staff at the Field Museum expect a full house once the exhibit opens today, and because of that, are instituting a timed entry ticket system to allow the maximum amount of visitors to get the full experience. There’s no extra charge for these tickets, but you will need to plan in advance what time you’ll be able to come by, as the holiday weekend will surely be packed, and it’s likely that trend will continue into the new year.
We couldn’t be happier to see SUE back out amongst the other amazing specimens at the Field Museum, and though we know to expect a crowd, heartily recommend making the journey out to the Field Museum to welcome them back into the limelight. SUE’s new suite opens to the public today, Friday, December 21, and, at least for now, requires timed tickets for entry. For more information on this, please click here.