Great Apes & Griffins


  You may know Kraken the sea monster only from the SeaWorld roller coaster in Orlando, but at the American Museum of Natural History, you can learn the science behind imaginary creatures in Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids — a glorious new exhibit that takes a scientific approach to legend.

Armoured Pegasus, carved in wood, and on display in “Mythic Creatures”

   What will wow visitors of all ages are the giant re-creations: a gleaming 10-foot unicorn; a colorful 120-foot-long Chinese parade dragon, used in Chinatown to celebrate the new year; and a colossal model of a green dragon.  This exhibit is great for kids, but parents of easily frightened children, dwarfed by the tremendous models, should be prepared for some anxious moments.

   Preserved specimens and fossils prove how these creatures were misidentified — the horn of a narwhal became the unicorn, a giant ape gave rise to Yeti and Bigfoot.  The vampire-like chupacabra was said to eat the blood of animals, but the museum text explains that sometimes seemingly healthy animals die, and insects eat their blood.

   Kids can participate in legend-making. They can turn a wheel of a ‘mythoscope’ and see how a manatee morphs into a mermaid, and make dolphins jump out of the water in unison— which led to the myth of the giant sea creature.  Children can also build a griffin with magnetic bones, and use a computer touch screen to create a dragon that then flies through a landscape on an overhead monitor.

   There are also opportunities to touch a giant ape’s teeth and a narwhal whale tusk, and to see video clips of scientists and model builders. Fans of Eragon books can watch an interview with author Christopher Paolini.

   The exhibit is divided into four section:  Water: Creatures of the Deep; Land: Creatures of the Earth; Air: Creatures of the Sky; and Dragons: Creatures of Power.  Each explores the cultural traditions behind different monsters:  the European explorers who spread rumors of sea serpents, and the Greek fossil remains that led to the legend of the griffin.  There are also artifacts that incorporate mythic creatures:  coins, pottery, illustrations and swords.

   Special events in conjunction with the exhibit include a “Mythic Weekend” on June 24 and a week-long summer camp in July.

   Mythic Creatures runs through January 6, 2008, and admission is by timed ticket only.

Where:  79th Street and Central Park West
When:  Open daily, 10am–5:45pm
How much:  $21, adults; $16, students and seniors; $12, children; includes museum admission.
For more info:  (212) 769-5100;