Roaming with the dinosaurs: Beneski Museum a popular destination since reopening in June

  • Angelo Sabatalo and Cynthia Sabatalo, of Millbury, visit the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College which has recently reopened after two years. The couple had been monitoring the museum and were excited to visit when it reopened. "It may not have the quantity of other places but the quality is fantastic," said Angelo. "Its a jewel," said Cynthia. Fred Venne. the Museum Educator, said," The public has come back more quickly then we anticipated." Over the last two years Venne explained, the museum has had 5,000 student and staff visitors. since they have reopened on June 15 they have had that same number in the last 5 weeks. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Angelo Sabatalo and Cynthia Sabatalo of Millbury visit the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College, which reopened in June after being closed the past two years. The couple had been monitoring the museum and were excited to visit when it reopened. “It may not have the quantity of other places, but the quality is fantastic,” said Angelo. “Its a jewel,” said Cynthia. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2022

AMHERST — Drawers filled with various objects, including bones, minerals and other artifacts, were waiting to be discovered as Olivia DiPiero got onto a stool and pulled their handles to reveal what’s inside.

“I love history,” said Olivia, 8, a Florence resident visiting the Beneski Museum of Natural History on the Amherst College campus early this month.

While she appreciated the surprises she encountered inside the cabinets, Olivia said she was also excited to again see the full-scale dinosaur skeletons and the large mamothus columbi, or Columbian mammoth, whose fossil skeleton towers above everything else.

For Olivia, it was the second time at Beneski after a school field trip she went on a few years ago. She was accompanied by her aunt Denise Surdoval, visiting from Sparta, New Jersey. Surdoval said this was her first foray to Beneski, noting that the visit was on her niece’s list of things to do this week.

“I’m impressed with the organization and artful way everything is put together,” Surdoval said. “It’s so pleasing to the eye.”

Surdoval said even though it’s a small museum, she was impressed with its material, including the Hitchcock Ichnology Collection, the largest display of dinosaur tracks in the world, discovered in the 19th century by paleontologist Edward Hitchcock.

Numerous visitors have been returning to the museum, which is free and open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays, following its full reopening on June 15.

Over the course of the day, groups of prospective students and their parents touring the campus make the Beneski one of their stops, where they listen to brief presentations by Fred Venne, the museum’s educator, and Ariana Ravitch, a student intern at the college, about what’s contained on the three levels and the 200,000 artifacts, including meteorites, though just a small percentage of these are on display.

Venne said there has been a significant surge in interest in visiting, coming after the spring when the museum received hundreds of emails asking about the reopening.

“The public has come back more quickly than we anticipated,” Venne said.

Over the last two years, he said, the museum had just 5,000 student and staff visitors. Since reopening to the public about five weeks ago, another 5,000 people have come through the doors.

Venne said the latest Jurassic Park movie, and the selection of the podokesaurus holyokensis as the state dinosaur in the spring, may have helped drive interest in what Beneski has to offer.

Also visiting recently was Becky Colo of Templeton, who came with her husband, James, and three boys, Luke, Nick and Zack. A teacher in Fitchburg, Colo said this was the first time she has been to Beneski since the onset of the pandemic.

While on field trips her classes have focused on exploring the creatures and geology of the ice age, she said her young boys were likely to be most interested in the various dinosaurs on the lowest level of the museum, including the triceratops, gryposaurus, diplodocus and dryosaurus, and the head of a tyrannosaurus rex.

“I love it,” Colo said of the museum. “There are so many different things to learn about in such a small area.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.