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Archive for Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Dyche Hall marks centennial year

KU museum offers vibrant history

December 16, 2003

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The 100-year-old bear skulls in the Kansas University Natural History Museum might seem like archaic artifacts.

But using new DNA technology, researchers are using the skulls to help determine what caused the extinction of a bear species.

The project is just one sign that even though Dyche Hall turns 100 years old this year -- and some of its specimens are older than that -- the collections it houses are far from irrelevant.

"To some people, the specimens are dead animals in drawers," said Leonard Krishtalka, the museum's director. "But what they really are is a library of life. They document existence for past researchers, current researchers and future researchers."

The museum celebrated the building's 100th anniversary with an invitation-only reception Dec. 5.

The Historic Mount Oread Fund also helped finance a book, compiled by Carol Shankel and Barbara Watkins, that commemorates the centennial. It is for sale at the museum and local bookstores.

And a new exhibit on the fifth floor of Dyche Hall offers a glimpse into the vast collection -- the museum and its research center have more than 7 million specimens -- and into the bygone days of science.

The exhibit includes a pressed daisy collected in 1861 by Francis Snow, the former chancellor who taught math and science at KU. It also includes animals preserved in ethanol and glycerin, many of which have been around as long as the building.

And at one end is a rusty harpoon used by Lewis Lindsay Dyche, a world-renowned professor whose expeditions helped lay the groundwork for the museum's collections.

Tom Riggs, from Liberty, Mo., walks near the fossilized skeleton of
xiphactinus, which cruised in surface waters of the oceans in the
late Cretaceous period more than 65 million years ago. Dyche Hall,
which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, is home to many
fossilized and stuffed creatures. Riggs viewed many of the museum's
exhibits Friday at Kansas University.

Tom Riggs, from Liberty, Mo., walks near the fossilized skeleton of xiphactinus, which cruised in surface waters of the oceans in the late Cretaceous period more than 65 million years ago. Dyche Hall, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, is home to many fossilized and stuffed creatures. Riggs viewed many of the museum's exhibits Friday at Kansas University.

Although some of the methods of science have advanced over the years, Brad Kemp, assistant museum director, said the exhibit was meant to show that the basics of science weren't much different than they were 100 years ago.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," he said.

'Signature structure'

The entrance to the museum has the date 1901, when the stone was carved, but the building wasn't dedicated until 1903. The Legislature spent $75,000 on the project.

It is one of the oldest buildings on campus. Spooner Hall, constructed in 1894, still stands across the street. The only other structure older is the 1887 Powerhouse, which has been partially demolished to construct a new Hall Center for the Humanities.






The names of four famous scientists -- Edward Drinker Cope, Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley -- grace the building. Two others -- Asa Gray and John James Audubon -- on the building's north side were covered by an 1963 expansion of Dyche Hall.

The ornate construction also included 12 original "grotesques," a cousin to gargoyles. Eight remain on the building.

Inside, scientists installed the large panorama of taxidermic animals that exists as a centerpiece today. Dyche had exhibited the panorama at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

A combination of those factors later led Thomas A. Gaines, author of "The Campus as a Work of Art," to call Dyche Hall the "signature structure" at KU.

A close-up of an ornamental element of Dyche Hall's exterior.

A close-up of an ornamental element of Dyche Hall's exterior.

Watkins, co-editor of the new book, said she agreed with the assessment.

"It's a fascinating building, and the building has a fascinating history," she said. "(The architecture) is a reflection of the time, in part, but more than that it's a reflection of the vision of the architects."

Building challenges

But not all is perfect at Dyche Hall.

The museum's collections are packed in the building, and researchers and specimens have overflowed into five other campus buildings.

Dyche is so old it's a challenge to control the temperature, and new grants in the area of bioinformatics -- using collection data and high-tech computers to track populations -- have made technology wiring an issue.

Brad Kemp, assistant director of the Kansas Natural History Museum,
is helping to spearhead the celebratory activities for Dyche Hall's
centennial. Dedicated in 1903, the building is one of the oldest on
KU's campus.

Brad Kemp, assistant director of the Kansas Natural History Museum, is helping to spearhead the celebratory activities for Dyche Hall's centennial. Dedicated in 1903, the building is one of the oldest on KU's campus.

Goals for the KU First campaign by the KU Endowment Association include about $20 million for a new building to exhibit the museum's dinosaurs, but that money has yet to be raised.

Despite those imperfections, Krishtalka said he was proud to be part of the museum's tradition.

"I love this building," he said. "I'd rather be in this building with all of its faults than most other buildings on campus."

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