For fans of natural history museums, New York’s American Museum of Natural History, DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of History, and London’s Natural Museum of History draw the masses when it comes to tourists and locals alike. But just past Boston’s Harvard Yard sits a hidden gem of a museum in its own right– the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Its mission: “…to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it, sparking curiosity and a spirit of discovery in people of all ages.”
Animals and Plants and Rocks, Oh My!
Established relatively recently (in 1998) the museum is the “public face of three research museums”—in one fairly intimate space. The Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum are all represented—and that means there’s plenty to see and learn about animals, plants and minerals of all sorts.
The Earth and Planetary sciences gallery allowed my daughter to realize that a rock is not just a rock. Minerals and gems from around the world are on display, including a massive 16-hundred pound amethyst geode. The colors and textures had us awed and amazed that they were straight from nature, and in many cases, were so unusual looking, one would feel as if they were from another planet. That out of space feeling is encouraged as kids have the chance to touch real meteorites and watch educational videos.
Creepy and Crawly to the Cute and Cuddly
From microscopic mites to king crabs, butterflies, giant wood spiders, tarantulas, millipedes and much more will have kids and parents ah-ing and oo-ing and leaning in to learn.
From New England’s Forest to Africa and Beyond
Old growth forests are highlighted in the New England Forest display, where you’ll experience the nature and animals found in the region. The Africa Gallery had my daughter grabbing for the camera to take pictures of the “cool animals”—from birds to monkeys to hippos, and others we’d never seen before.
Fossils explaining the history of vertebrates are bountiful, and young dinosaur lovers will have plenty to look at, yet even the youngest visitors were still interested by the time they reached the Great Mammal Hall, the oldest gallery in the museum, where three whale skeletons suspended from the ceiling kept the experience looking up.
One thing unique to this museum is the Ware Collection of Glass Flowers. Encompassing an entire room, these glass models of different plants were created in the 1800’s and are so realistic that it’s hard to believe they aren’t the real thing—and they’re made of glass. The botanical models were created for teaching, but are truly pieces of art to be appreciated.
The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm and in addition to the permanent exhibits and temporary displays also features lectures, classes and events—make sure to check the website. As the museum curators encourage visitors to “look closer, dig deeper,” they’ve made sure there’s plenty for all to see.