Inspiring wonder again: Peabody Museum reopens

The Yale Peabody Museum on Tuesday opened its doors to guests following a transformative four-year renovation.

First graders, walking double file, rounded a corner into the Yale Peabody Museum’s Burke Hall of Dinosaurs and were awestruck.

Eyes widened, jaws dropped, and little fingers pointed upwards at the Brontosaurus skeleton standing in their path. One little girl pressed both hands over her heart and beamed at the towering sauropod. For its part, the Brontosaurus curved its neck as if peering around the corner to greet the kids.

Two busloads of students from New Haven’s public schools — Family Academy of Multilingual Exploration (FAME) and Augusta Lewis Troup School — were the first guests to enter the reimagined Peabody on March 26, the museum’s opening day following a transformative four-year renovation. For the occasion, the students were granted access to the museum 30 minutes before its doors opened to the public.

That first glimpse of the mighty Brontosaurus, whose nearly complete skeleton was discovered in Wyoming in 1879, was as dazzling to the older kids as it was to the FAME first graders.

The second I saw it my eyes lit up,” said Sofi Robles, 10, a fifth grader at Troup. “I knew dinosaurs were big, but I didn’t know they were that big. I love it!”

(Photos by Dan Renzetti)

The historic renovation transformed the Peabody — which now offers free admission for all visitors — into a dynamic center of participatory learning, groundbreaking research, and more accessible exhibitions.

And as ever, the beloved museum once again presents the ever-changing story of life on Earth to a new generation of schoolchildren, university students, and museumgoers from New Haven, the region, and the world.

It’s an awesome new space that is particularly inspiring because it’s so welcoming to the community,” said New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, standing in front of the Stegosaurus mount. “To see the look on the kids’ faces as they came in was special.

The fact that tickets are now free opens the space to so many people that previously wouldn’t be able to access it and makes a real statement about the university’s values and the Peabody’s values in wanting to lean into the New Haven community to make sure that everyone benefits from this incredible asset,” he added.  

Elicker greeted the schoolkids with Peabody Director David Skelly, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and Madeline Negrón, the superintendent of New Haven public schools.

The renovation project, made possible by a landmark $160 million gift from philanthropist Edward P. Bass ’68, more than doubled the museum’s exhibition spaces, added 10 classrooms equipped with the latest audio-visual technology, and paved the way for a new education center for K-12 students from the New Haven area. Through the generous support of Bass and other donors, the Peabody joins the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art in offering free public admission in perpetuity.

The museum will use a reservation system for the first 30 days after opening to manage anticipated crowds. Guests can pre-book visits on the Peabody’s website.

On opening day, Gary and Marcia Coen drove to campus from Bethany, Connecticut, to visit the museum, which was founded in 1866 and has occupied its present building on Whitney Avenue since 1925. The couple was feeling nostalgic as they roamed the galleries.

It’s just fantastic,” Marcia Coen said. “I came here as a kid. I took my kids here. My grandkids have come here. I’ve been looking forward to this for so long.”

During the four-year hiatus, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, and other examples of the Peabody’s famed dinosaur and prehistoric mammal fossils were cleaned, mended, and remounted in dynamic new poses that reflect the modern scientific consensus that dinosaurs were alert and lively animals, not the plodding brutes depicted in old textbooks and 20th-century popular culture.

I can’t believe the tail,” said Gary Coen, standing underneath the Brontosaurus tail, which stretches over guests’ heads. “It used to drag on the floor.”

The exhibition galleries, now represented on three floors instead of two, are also brighter and easier to navigate. The third-floor galleries, including the David Friend Hall mineral and gem gallery, will open on a phased schedule later this spring.

The renovation created new space for exhibiting more of the museum’s cultural, anthropological, and other scientific collections, including never-before displayed artifacts and contemporary art. For instance, “Eternal Cities,” a mixed-media artwork by New Haven-based Syrian artist Mohamad Hafez on view on the second floor, evokes the urban heritage of Syria and Iraq through three-dimensional replicas of objects in the Peabody’s collection.

Throughout the museum, exhibit labels and other text were tailored to be more accessible and interesting to a wider range of audiences. Museum ambassadors will be stationed alongside exhibits to share insights, answer questions, and create a sense of belonging for all communities.

Following their encounter with the Brontosaurus, FAME’s first graders gathered around Jim Sirch, an education coordinator at the Peabody, who showed them meteorite specimens along with examples of objects people might confuse with meteorites, which he called “meteor-wrongs.”

The kids just got to touch a meteorite that is 4.567 billion years old,” Sirch said, holding the specimen. “It’s the age of the solar system.

It’s great to be teaching folks here in the museum again,” he added. “It’s my passion.”

During her visit, fifth-grader Robles was entranced by a full model of a dodo bird, a large, flightless bird that went extinct hundreds of years ago, displayed in a first-floor gallery examining humanity’s impact on the planet.

It’s amazing discovering new things that walked this Earth,” said Robles.

Just before the students returned to their buses, Skelly thanked them for visiting.

Does anybody here know what Brontosaurus means?” he asked the first graders, stumping them. “Thunder lizard. Is that a good name?”

Several proclaimed it an excellent name. Skelly urged them all to return with their families.

We’re looking forward to seeing you again,” he said. “Go back and tell your friends that we want you all to visit us.”

Hours of Operation:
Mondays - Closed
Tuesdays through Saturdays - 10am to 5pm
Sundays - 12pm to 5pm

Reserve a Time to Visit:

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