Theory of Revolution Darwin Broke New Ground; Exhibit Goes Old-School
Byline: Robert McCoppin
What: An exhibit about British naturalist Charles Darwin's life and his theory of evolution
When: Today through Jan. 1, 2008
Where: The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Cost: $19 for adults, $14 for seniors and students with ID, $9 for children ages 4-11; includes admission to the museum
Information: (312) 922-9410 or fieldmuseum.org/darwin
Considering how ground-breaking Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was, the new Field Museum exhibit about his life is positively old-school.
Compared to blood-splattered murder scenes at the Museum of Science and Industry's "CSI," or even the design-your-own T-Rex at the Field's latest dinosaur exhibit, "Darwin" offers nothing flashy.
Instead, "Darwin" is built on his prized possessions: a magnifying glass; a Bible and gun he took on his crucial around- the-world journey; and several display cases of nothing but letters.
If it doesn't sound sexy, it isn't meant to be.
"It is an artifact-heavy exhibit," Field Museum President John McCarter Jr. said.
Knowing that it can't compete with the latest high-tech media toys to attract crowds, McCarter said, the traveling exhibit, developed by the American Museum of Natural History in New York with help from the Field and other museums, relies on rare, treasured objects to tell its story.
The centerpiece of "Darwin" is a room of animals representing what Darwin encountered on his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle that began in 1831, when Darwin was just 22.
Live animals include a green iguana and South American horned frogs (the giant tortoises the exhibit had in New York weren't available in Chicago), while models include the blue-footed booby and orange crabs.
Their unique adaptations to their habitat led Darwin to formulate his theory that animals changed to adapt to their environment.
Despite a staid presentation that might bore young children, some visual displays show striking similarities between animals, such as the bone structure of human hands and whale flippers, or the embryos of a horse and a mouse.
The exhibit also highlights several little-known aspects of Darwin's life:
- He married his first cousin, a member of the Wedgwood china family.
- When Darwin's 10-year-old daughter, Annie, died of tuberculosis, it shook his religious faith. Her box of childhood possessions is on display.
- To avoid controversy, Darwin planned not to publish his theory until after his death. When British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace came up with a similar theory, Darwin was forced to go public as well.
Both men presented their papers in 1858, but while Wallace continued his work in the field, Darwin stayed in his study, (which was re-created for the exhibit), and wrote "On the Origins of Species," which became an influential best-seller. …