For years, the Natural History Museum at Kansas University has been billed as one of the state's top tourist attractions, with an attendance of around 200,000 people per year.
But the museum's director, Leonard Krishtalka, acknowledged Wednesday that the number is an "urban legend" and said the actual number may be closer to between 50,000 and 70,000 people per year.
He said he doesn't know where the figure of 200,000 visitors came from, but that it was already in circulation when he came to the museum in 1995.
"That kept being reported in all sorts of publications, and so we used that number. We certainly are hoping to arrive at a much more accurate number now," he said.
Krishtalka said he couldn't pinpoint when staff first began to suspect that the number was inaccurate. "I think we began wondering about the accuracy of the figure a number of years ago, and we started taking steps to try to get an accurate count by installing counters in different doorways," he said. "The figures were all over the place. They were not believable, so we are trying again now" with a different kind of counter.
The "200,000 visitors" figure found its way into a 2000 grant application with the Arkansas-based Frueauff Foundation for $30,000 to establish a hands-on children's learning center in the museum. Other sources cite different figures: The Natural History Museum's home page says it has 50,000 visitors per year, and the home page for KU's museum-studies program says it has more than 100,000 visitors annually.
In an article last month in the Journal-World, Krishtalka cited the museum's status as one of the state's top five tourism draws in Kansas, while discussing the possibility that a KU-affiliated museum may someday be built in Olathe.
"I'm not interested in who are the top attractions in Kansas. We are the best attraction for the best science in Kansas," Krishtalka said Wednesday. "There has never, ever been an intentional misuse of attendance figures by the museum. There has been a history of a very difficult task of getting an accurate count."
Officials at the Kansas Department of Commerce said they no longer compile lists of the state's top tourist attractions.