Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A dinosaur named Sue

It's my second day on the job as a summer intern for the Rapid City Journal. I've had the privilege today to see a (nearly) living tribute to Johnny Cash's song "A Boy Named Sue." This one, however, takes the form of a 65 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex. Found about 18 years ago 15 miles from Faith, South Dakota, the most complete, intact and well-preserved t-rex skeleton was found. Unfortunately, because it was found on an Indian Reservation, a legal battle ensued, Sue (named for the paleontologist who found it) was put into storage for a time until she was sold at an auction to the Field Museum of Chicago for $8.4 million. That's an expensive set of bones.

Since that time, three traveling exhibits of Sue were created to show him or her (the sex is still unknown) off to the world. One is an international exhibit where currently it is on display in Dubai. Another is a permanent display in Florida at Dino Land or something like that. The last exhibit travels throughout the United States and for the first time will come to back home to Faith for four months.

I drove up with a photographer and videographer to see Sue get put together. A team from the Field Museum had flown in that morning to assemble it for the opening reception Friday. Daryl Van Essen, the main assembly man (I forget his title), compared it to putting Legos together. Maybe a giant set of Legos. Five other men from Faith helped out, but Daryl and Hector, the other Field Museum guy, were the experts. I was looking up from below the 16 foot high hip bone; one challenge caused a dancing movement of Sue as the team moved the hip bone around to secure the two leg bones. It was quite amusing.

However, it was taking a bit of our time (nearly 2 hours since we had arrived) and they were only at the rib cage. They had about four more pieces to go. Plus, the fumes from the propane tank on the forklift were getting to me.

We finished our interviewing and then went to the Sinclair across the street. I started talking with the cashier about Sue and then an older gentlemen walked in swearing about the cones protecting the newly painted cross walk. Rita, the cashier, asked the man about Sue. He chattered away about when Sue was first discovered, about being there and getting to know the paleontologists and especially Sue.

"She was a cute little bugger," he said with a twinkle in his eye. I had to laugh. But my comrades were anxious to leave so we adiosed and left for Rapid City.

No need for a Jurassic Park when we have one right here in South Dakota.