The Field Museum's 10 Hidden Gems | Midwest Living

The Field Museum's 10 Hidden Gems

Most visitors to Chicago's Field Museum squeeze in only a fraction of the 480,000 artifacts on display. Here are 10 don't-miss finds.
  • Photo Courtesy of Field Museum

    Hidden treasures

    Chicago visitors can't help but notice the lamppost banners trumpeting the Field Museum's blockbuster exhibits. But this massive natural history treasure, which opened in 1893, also promises pay dirt for explorers eager to peel away from the crowd. Click ahead for 10 of our favorite hidden gems.

    Field Museum

  • The King of Pop

    Well, not really, but the limestone bust in the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit bears an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson, complete with black eyeliner, high cheekbones, pursed lips and crumbling nose. The New Kingdom period sculpture is encased with rings, necklaces, beaded combs and amulets

  • Mold-a-Rama

    Outside the McDonald's, you'll find four of the few remaining 1950s-era machines whose molds fill with molten wax and split apart, revealing a perfectly formed mini dino. A spatula dislodges the steaming, bloodred beast before it slides into the pick-up trough, tail first. Still warm, the souvenir smells like new crayons ($2).

  • Fossilized bugs

    Use one of the magnifying glasses and study insects trapped in tree resin in the Small Treasures Gallery. Some of the bugs in the amber time capsules are older than Sue, the museum's famous T. rex. You'll see tennis-ball-size Goliath beetles and exotic butterflies with tie-dye-like wing designs.

  • Bushman's hand

    Place your tiny hand in the massive bronze-cast hand of Bushman, the 550-pound lowland gorilla who lived at the Lincoln Park Zoo from 1930 to 1951. Bushman's dung-hurling antics, shows of strength (stretching car tires like rubber bands) and virility (he fathered the nation's first successful gorilla captive breeding program) made him a Chicago celebrity.

  • Wall of shoes

    Most of the shoes in the Common Concerns, Different Responses exhibit date from the 19th and 20th centuries and show how people protect -- and ornament -- their feet. You'll see strappy Egyptian sandals, Siberian fish skin boots, Turkish stilt shoes, tiny Chinese shoes for bound feet, firefighters' boots, stilettos and more.

    A recent day at the museum sums up how this exhibit affects people. A mom with three girls says, "These are the shoes I've been wanting to show you!" Meanwhile, a school-age boy does a header into the case, and his concerned father gets distracted by Michael Jordan's Nikes.

  • Nkondi

    It looks like a cool piece of reproduction primitive art some people put in their gardens. But the message behind the nkondi in the Africa exhibit is much more profound.

    Rather than holding a grudge after a dispute over, say, property, the Bakongo people of central Africa used this nail-studded figure centuries ago to mark the end of conflicts. After a fight, the men involved would drive a nail into the nkondi and bury their differences.

    Its message lives on. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta chose this piece to represent the Field Museum for a special exhibit during the 1996 Olympic Games.

  • Fossils underfoot

    Look down for fossils imbedded in the Stanley Field Hall's gray limestone floor. Docent Thomas Delahunty uses a laser pointer to help visitors spot screw-shape Archimedes, willowy crinoids (called sea lilies), coral and trilobites. The stone comes from quarries in Carthage, Missouri, where there was a prehistoric sea.

  • Evolving Planet murals

    Created from 1926 to 1930, Charles Knight's 23 nature paintings on the walls capture lifelike qualities of a slew of dinosaurs, mastodons and saber-tooth tigers. They're cool, but here's what makes them amazing: The artist was legally blind.

  • Photo Courtesy of Field Museum

    Romance among the rocks

    Enterprising men eager to pop the question can head to the renovated Grainger Hall of Gems. The bride-to-be's ring sparkles in a display case (identical to other cases holding 600 gems and 150 jewelry pieces from the museum). The groom "breaks" into the case and pops the question ($350).

  • The Maori house

    A little house high in the corner of the Traveling the Pacific exhibit means an awful lot to a faraway group of people. The Maori tribal people of New Zealand -- known for their tongue-wagging haka dance -- built this meetinghouse in 1881. It fell into disrepair; the Field Museum bought it in 1905, moved it to Chicago and reconstructed it in 1993. Today, it's one of the few Maori homes left in the world.

    Maori descendants, some of whom have visited here, reverently say a home has a life of its own: The roof beam is the backbone, the rafters are ribs, the windows are eyes. When you look at this home that way, it takes on new meaning.

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