The American Museum of Natural History's entrance along Central Park West is shrouded no more. Gone are the scaffolds and enormous drapes through which visitors passed during the three-year, $40 million renovation of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, the 1936 tribute to the man often called the Conservation President for his legacy of preserving the nation's wilderness and its wildlife. We know now what the hype is all about after taking a guided tour of the memorial and the refurbished Hall of North American Mammals. (Though not part of the memorial, the hall reopens to the public on the same day.) Here are five great ways to introduce your crew to an amazing New Yorker, his contagious love of the natural world and the institution we just named the best NYC museum for kids to visit.
Be part of the museum's opening-day party
The AMNH is feting the newly renovated Roosevelt Memorial with a family-friendly opening-day shindig on Saturday, October 27, what would have been the 154th birthday of the nation's 26th president. Kids can watch live-animal presentations featuring owls, falcons and hawks; learn about Central Park's birds with expert-led tours in the park; take part in hands-on activities like leaf-printing or starting a nature journal; watch performances by the Central Park Zoo's Wildlife Theater; and listen to music by a ragtime pianist. The museum is also holding a special edition of its annual Identification Day: Have the kids bring in a plant, feather or other unidentified natural specimen and the museum's mammologists, ornithologists and botanists will figure out just what it is.
Get to know Teddy Roosevelt
Introduce the younger set to the president who not only did more to conserve the nation's lands and wildlife than any other in U.S. history but virtually invented the conservation movement itself. Thenew exhibit in the lower level of the memorial chronicles TR's life, from his beginnings as a nature-loving NYC kid to a naturalist, an explorer and a statesman.One diorama replicates the woods Teddy would traverse on bird-watching walks as a boy, while another showcases artifacts he brought back from places like New Mexico's Chaco Canyon and Brazil, on view at the museum for the very first time. Video loops, including excerpts from Ken Burns's The National Parks: America's Best Idea, capture how vital Roosevelt's role was in shaping the nation's conservation policy. A new, decidedly touchable bronze statue of TR makes the perfect photo opwith your own naturalist-in-training.
Hunt for animals on Central Park West
Have the kids find and identify the 18 bas-relief animal sculptures depicted on the 126-foot-long frieze, among them zebra, wolves and panthers. They're much clearer than ever to the human eye thanks to the redo's meticulous work. While on the front steps, show the kids how many "careers" Roosevelt had: Engraved in the facade are an endless stream of words—scientist, naturalist, explorer, scholar—that describe the man's multifaceted talents. If it's dark by the time you leave you'll notice another great addition: new lighting, which gradually grows in strength as night falls to illuminate the magnificent restoration.
Ogle the murals in the rotunda
The museum's iconic Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda may not look much different at first glance, and the kids will be glad to see their old friends—the ferocious Barosaurus mother protecting her offspring from the attacking Allosaurus—just the way they remember them. (See if they notice the one difference: Visitors can now walk between the two combatants.) But once you look up, the three exquisite oil-on-linen murals on the walls will make you wonder if they're not brand-new, so striking are their vivid colors. Have the kids guess which mural depicts Roosevelt's expedition to Africa, which his travels to the River of Doubt and the building of the Panama Canal, and which the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and made Roosevelt the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Reintroduce the kids to North American mammals
Thanks to a supergenerous gift, the dioramas of the Hall of North American Mammals underwent a restoration at the same time as the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, and the result is a more kid-friendly experience than ever. Signs not only tell visitors what animal they are seeing—say, bison and pronghorn or Alaskan brown bears—but also how imperiled the animals are and what obstacles they face in their natural habitats. Though most of the dioramas remain the same, a number of taxidermied animals, such as the bison, underwent a special color restoration to bring back pigment lost over time to the effects of antiquated UV lighting. And there is one new exhibit, that of a Mexico-dwelling jaguar, which is well worth seeking out. Its majestic animals set against a backdrop of the Sonoran Desert at dusk is awe-inspiring, and a quintessentially TR reminder that preserving animal species necessitates preserving the landscapes they roam.