Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Feb 04, 2015 / 0 comments

I’ve wanted to be a paleontologist since I was six years old. In addition to the Barbie dolls and Legos I played with, my parents would buy me books on dinosaurs and plastic dinosaur toys because I was so fascinated by these larger-than-life creatures that once walked the earth. When the first movie of Jurassic Park came out in theatres in 1993, three years later as my story begins, my love for dinosaurs only intensified. So I wrote a letter; not just any letter of course—this was a letter written before the internet era and snail mail was my only option as a nine year old. This letter was handwritten for the Director at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The letter expressed my passion and deep devotion to the world of dinosaurs and how I hoped to meet a paleontologist and visit the museum one day. A couple weeks later, and much to mine and my parent’s surprise, the director wrote back to me encouraging my passion and education for dinosaurs and with free admission for me and my family to visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History!


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


I nearly cried and to this day, more than 20 years later, I will never forget the kindness of the director’s note and actions or the awesomeness of that very special day that we visited the museum.  I remember by the end of that amazing day, my parents bought me a fossil kit. I’m a very sentimental person and I can tell you how I regarded the fossil that I discovered [even though I knew it was fake]—it was my discovery and my wonderful memory of the best day a kid could ever ask for—and that for me, was a treasure.


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


As a native to Pittsburgh, I can’t say enough how incredible this city is and all that it has to offer! I probably have mentioned before how it took me living away from here for different reasons to really appreciate it and I’m so glad that I get to wake up in this gorgeous place every day. I feel this deep love and pride for Pittsburgh. I want to tell everyone about it and show people who have never been here before, just how wonderful a place this Iron City really is!

On my one year work anniversary in early January, working for the University of Pittsburgh, my husband Fernando and I decided to have a day to explore the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This was my husband’s first time visiting, and for me, it had been more than 20 years since I last visited. I love telling people my story about the museum and the nostalgia that I feel when I get to share it; it fills me up with happiness and much love for this museum.


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


As we approached the model landmark sculpture of a Diplodocus dinosaur named Dippy [which had a black and yellowish/gold scarf on!], our adrenaline rushed at what we’d find inside this world-renowned museum. It can take hours to get through this incredible paragon filled with exhibits of not only dinosaurs, minerals and gems, and wildlife from all the different continents of the world, but also special exhibits on ancient Egyptian culture and Native Americans. Connected to the museum is also entry to the Carnegie Museum of Art featuring architecture, contemporary art, photography, decorative arts and designs, contemporary glass, Japanese prints. and even local Pittsburgh artists’ work.


Dippy welcomes visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh


Heiroglyphs, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh


Native American exhibit, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh

There are four permanent exhibitions at the museum: A Tlingit Totem Pole by Tommy Joseph, which is on the third floor, outside the Polar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life. The totem pole is based on a true story shared by the Eagle Clan, where only certain Clans can tell the tradition of storytelling, where certain stories belonged to specific Clans. Another permanent exhibition and easily a favorite of mine, is Dinosaurs in Their Time, which is located on the first floor. It’s the first permanent exhibition in the world to feature scientifically accurate, immersive environments spanning the Mesozoic Era—the Age of Dinosaurs—arranged chronologically and filled with actively posed original fossil specimens. In the spring of 2005, the century-old Dinosaur Hall was closed for two years for renovation and construction that resulted in the historic and magnificent Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibit that showcased the dinosaurs in dramatic but accurate poses amidst hundreds of plant and animal species that shared their environments.


Dinosaurs in their time. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh


The Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems is another permanent exhibition housed on the first floor. It showcases the Wertz Hall of Gems & Jewelry, which is a new signature exhibit area dedicated to gems, crystals, and precious stones. These pieces come from the museum’s collection—many which have never been on permanent display—loans from private individuals, gemstone vendors, and traveling exhibitions from other museum collections.


Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh


The last permanent exhibition is Population Impact, located on the third floor alcove. This exhibition shows the effects that changing ecosystems have on our world’s seven billion humans. Through the use of graphics, specimens, satellite images, case studies, and more are explored through this exhibition.

Every year, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History also feature exhibitions that are temporary. For example, from November 8, 2014-April 26, 2015 in the R.P. Simmons Family Gallery, the Scientific Art of Charles R. Knight features paleontological paintings of artist Charles Robert Knight (1874-1953) that include some of the most recognizable dinosaur images of the 20th Century. Another example is from August 30, 2014-March 30, 2015 in the R.P. Simmons Family Gallery called Finding the Words. This exhibit features unique contributions to the dialogue about race and anti-racism during the 1950s.


Dinosaur, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh


Wildlife exhibit. Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

There are also programs that are featured at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History that are more interactive exhibitions that are great for families with children; with hands-on, fully accessible science areas, the Bonehunters Quarry (where you dig for fossils like real paleontologists!), the Discovery Basecamp (explore over 10,000 objects in their educational collection), and the Natural History Discover Carts & Exploration Stations (investigate real and replica specimens and artifacts in the museum galleries), are all free with museum admission unless otherwise noted on the website.


Arctic World. Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

On weekend visits, there are three tours that are currently available too: the Dinosaurs in Their Time tours with highlights including two colossal Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons, a mother and juvenile Apatosaurus, and world-famous Diplodocus Carnegii. A Natural History tour that allows visitors to get up close and personal with various exhibitions, galleries, artifacts, and specimens all around the museum, and the last tour, a Behind-the-Scenes: Shells & Research tour that allows explorers to look at the weird and wonderful collection of mollusks. Visit their website to view exhibition extras in Geology and Paleontology, Wildlife and Ecology, Historic Extras, and Anthropology (including Life in Ancient Egypt and the American Indians).

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History two interdisciplinary Centers (Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems and Center for Evolutionary Studies), is the very vision that the helps to not only conduct research and present work but also enriches ways that the public can engage with the museum. Through field studies and collection-based scientific research, the scientists and researchers of the museum are generating new knowledge and promoting stewardship of Earth and its natural resources. There’s continuous research being done on the topics of: anthropology, birds, botany, herpetology (Amphibians and Reptiles); invertebrate paleontology, invertebrate zoology, mammals, minerals, mollusks, Powdermill Nature Reserve, and vertebrate paleontology. 


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and among the top natural history museums in the country! It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity.


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has many offerings for children and families of all ages, ranging from birthday parties, homeschool classes, overnight programs, and a Youth Naturalist Institute for students in grades 5-8 interested in environmental science and the natural world. For more information on these programs and offerings, please call 412-622-3288 or email programregistration[at]carnegiemuseums.org

Once a month, visitors can take part in the Super Science Series and explore through hands-on activities and experiments, demonstrations, family-friendly activities, and discussions with museum experts. All activities are free with museum admission. For example, Saturday, February 21st, Creaturefest will be allow participants to make their own creature after discovering more about rare prehistoric and contemporary creatures in the Carnegie collection. Illustrator Mark Klinger will talk about how he brings fossils to life through pictures.

Additionally, the museum has many lectures and workshops, events, teen programs, group visits for adults and schools and many educator resources (like teacher loyalty programs!), exhibition extras, and adopt-a-bird bands.


Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has something for everyone. The many floors of exhibitions and artifacts will keep you occupied for an entire day’s visit, but you’ll definitely want to go back and explore the museum further. My husband and I were both entranced by this museum. We can’t wait to take our children and families with us as our family grows and see how much more the museum continues to become enhanced. I love this museum. I have the best memory of a Director who brought my childhood dreams to life by giving me and my family free admission so that we could explore this majestic museum. When I first visited the museum in the early ‘90s, it was before the Internet-Era and email, when going to the library meant searching through card catalogues, and gas was a little over a $1.00. Times have changed, but still our yearning for discovery of the past is intriguing, and it’s in museums like this one, where so many of the mysteries of our Earth and the people who inhabited it over time, come to life through various exhibits and displays.


Paleo Lab. Exploring Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


If you are ever in the Pittsburgh area, make sure you plan a visit to this grandiose museum. The museum is closed on Tuesdays but open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays; and Noon-5p.m. Sundays.

Regular admission includes same-day access to both Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Art:
Adults $17.95
Seniors (65+) $14.95
Students with ID and children 3-18--$11.95
Members and children under 3 are Free
Admission after 4 p.m. on Thursdays is $10 per adult/senior and $5 per student/child

Discounts are available for AAA members, Pennsylvania ACCESS/EBT Card, Active Military Personnel, Port Authority Transit Riders, and local university students with valid ID. Group discounts are also available. Free admission for Bank of America and Merrill Lynch customers and employees is also available by presenting a valid credit/debit card or proof of employment with photo ID.

No food or drink is permitted in the galleries but there are several options to re-fuel during your visit:
Carnegie Café’--quality self-service dining
Fossil Fuels—soups, salads, sandwiches, and coffee bar
Wine & Snack Bar—wine, pop, and light healthy snacks
Sculpture Court—accommodates those who packed their own lunch and wanted to sit outside.

The museum is accessible for visitors with disabilities and other special needs. Strollers and wheelchairs are available in the first floor coatroom near the Forum Gallery, free of charge, on a first-come, first-served basis. Elevators and ramps for easier accessibility, changing tables in restrooms for young children, and closed captioning is offered on video presentations.


The museum is located at 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA in Oakland, in the east end of the City of Pittsburgh (Allegheny County). They are within walking distance of Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, and Magee Women’s Hospital. The museum operates a six-level parking facility for cars and small vans. The lot is located directly behind the museum and may be accessed from the intersection of Forbes Avenue and South Craig Street for a cash only parking fee.

If you’re interested in volunteering or interning with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, email questions at volunteers[at]carnegiemuseums.org or call 412-622-3359. Volunteers support almost every department at the museum, from greeting visitors, conducting data entry, marketing and surveys, and working behind the scenes. Another volunteer opportunity is located at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, working with critically-ill children and their families, providing museum knowledge and expertise. Interested volunteers need to be available Wednesdays with flexible time commitments. Volunteers interested in environmental research center in the Laurel Highlands can help with mailings, data management, summer children’s programs, and cleanup. Internships are all unpaid and competitive, so apply early! All volunteers and interns enjoy free admission to all four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh; a subscription to CARNEGIE magazine; discounts on parking, classes, food service, gift shops, and networking, recognition, enrichment, and social opportunities; educational sessions and training; and the opportunity to share skills and gain new ones while finding new friends and peers with similar interests.


For more information about the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, visit their website: www.carnegiemnh.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carnegiemnh
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CarnegieMNH
Instagram: http://instagram.com/carnegiemnh
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/carnegiemnh



Learn more about Pittsburgh in our Exploring Pittsburgh Series.




Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.

All photos courtesy and copyright Stasia and Fernando Lopez

Note: This time, we received media passes to explore and share the Museum - thank you!