St. Cloud hosts a T. Rex named Sue

A dino named Sue
An exact replica of Sue, which is billed as the largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex is on display at the Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud. The replica stands at more than 12 feet tall and 42 feet long.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

An exact replica of what's billed as the largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex is on display at the Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud.

The exhibit opened on Sunday, and museum officials hope it draws a big crowd.

The replica of Sue stands at more than 12 feet tall and 42 feet long from head to tail.

Kids pointed upward in excitement at the "T. Rex Named Sue" as they walked into her display area Sunday, and a few children instinctively roared like a dinosaur.

LeRoy Callais brought his son Rees to the exhibition for his 4th birthday.

"I can't believe how big the tail is!" said Rees.

Another visitor, Shane Yankovec, 12, said this is the biggest dinosaur he's ever seen in a museum.

Visits dinosaur exhibit
Shane Yankovec, 12, visited the T. rex exhibit at the Stearns History Museum on Sunday, its opening day.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

"When I heard it was going to be 12 feet tall at the hips, I knew what it was going to look like," said Yankovec. "My swimming pool at my school is that deep."

Shane collects fossils, mainly from marine dinosaurs. His sister Bethany, 10, has been fascinated with dinosaurs since she was little.

"I really want to be a paleontologist, because you get a chance of discovering a new kind of species of dinosaurs. And I really like how cool the bones look and stuff," she said.

Sue is named after Sue Hendrickson, the paleontologist who found her nearly 20 years ago. Sue's fossils are on permanent display at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Two cast replicas of Sue's bones travel around the world. The one in St. Cloud is a bilingual exhibition in English and Spanish.

Cause of death?
Sue died at about age 28, according to archeologists. The average T. rex lived to about 32. The holes in her jaw suggest she could have died of a pathological disease.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

The exhibit doesn't just attract kids. Mark Callahan of Minneapolis has closely followed the story of Sue, from the 1990 discovery in South Dakota to the seven-year legal battle over who owned her fossils. So Callahan enjoyed every minute of seeing Sue up close.

"Just pure power," Callahan said. "I can't believe the amount of damage that she went through in her life. If you look closely at her, you see broken bones that have healed. You see possible bite marks. She didn't live an easy life."

Callahan was also impressed that a small museum scored such a big exhibition.

Charlene Akers has been director of the Stearns History Museum for the past five months. She had already established a relationship with The Field Museum while she directed another museum in Texas.

"In mid July, I received an e-mail saying, 'Charlene, do you want Sue?' And I ran out of the office screaming," Akers recalled. "Everyone that's been in the museum business knows you want Sue, because she is such an audience getter."

Exhibit
The T. rex exhibit opened to the public at the Stearns History Museum on Sunday. It runs until early January 2010.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

The Field Museum's Web site says Sue has increased year-over-year attendance at museums between 15 percent and more than 900 percent.

Akers says Sue draws a crowd because people are fascinated with the distant past. Sue's fossils date back 67 million years.

Akers says the Stearns museum is the second smallest venue to host Sue. The smallest was in Faith, S.D., where the fossils were found on land that was part of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

Sue's gender is unknown. But Akers says scientists speculate she's female because of her wide hips.

Daryl Van Essen, production supervisor for traveling exhibitions at The Field Museum, adds that in some dinosaur species, larger ones tended to be female. Van Essen says Sue's skeletal remains are about 90 percent complete, with more than 200 individual bones.

"The skull was crushed and mashed. It was actually swept underneath her body," said Van Essen. "There used to be a river there. So they speculate that when she died she curled up, and as she was buried under the water, her head went underneath her hip. So they found her hip first and then they found her head underneath that."

Van Essen says Sue's bones have growth rings just like trees, and they tell us she was 28 years old at the time of her death. He says the average T. rex lived about 32 years. He says Sue may have died because of her age, or the holes in her jaw suggest she could have died of a pathological disease.

Sue's debut in St. Cloud on Sunday drew a small crowd. Museum director Charlene Akers anticipates the exhibit will draw more than 22,000 museum visitors, including many people from surrounding states, by the end of the exhibition in early January 2010.

This is the second time Minnesota has hosted this traveling exhibition. It also came to the Science Museum in St. Paul in 2000.

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