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Fossil Hall at Smithsonian Says Farewell, For Now

Apr 28, 2014 02:56 PM EDT

The Fossil Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is now closed for a five-year, $48 million renovation.

Before the more than 2,000 species are taken down, thousands of people crammed into the exhibit to say one final farewell. There were "red carpet" photo ops with the fossils, a dino-themed film festival and experts posted everywhere to discuss all things extinct.

"It's an iconic, favorite space," museum director Kirk Johnson said, according to The Washington Post. "People have made a lot of memories here."

The Fossil Hall - which is actually a collection of smaller halls, including the dino decor - is closing to make room for a newly acquired Tyrranosurus rex skeleton - one of the most complete ever unearthed - which will be the centerpiece of a new 31,000-square-foot fossil and dinosaur exhibit scheduled to open in 2019. The new exhibit will be the result of the largest and most extensive renovation in the museum's history, financed largely by David H. Koch, who gave $35 million to the project.

"The Nation's T. rex," as Smithsonian officials call it, was delivered via a 53-foot FedEx truck just two weeks ago, and is on a 50-year loan from the Army Corps of Engineers. But, the famous fossil must stay behind closed doors for the next five years until the hall's renovation is complete - a necessary update, Johnson said.

"We're moving forward and building an amazing new exhibit. You should never dwell on the past - unless you're a paleontologist."

During the upgrade, other iconic pieces will still be on display, like the Hope Diamond and the gigantic African bush elephant.

Each of the more than 2,000 specimens in the Fossil Hall will be painstakingly disassembled and then examined and prepared for exhibit using modern techniques. "And some of those 2,000 are comprised of 200 bones," Siobhan Starrs, the Natural History Museum's exhibition project manager, added.

The process is a lengthy one, but a delicate one as well.

"It's the nation's collection. We'll take a lot of caution," Starrs said.

A replica of the Triceratops named Hatcher and a life-size facsimile of the Tyrannosaurus rex Stan, will be on display by Memorial Day weekend, part of the temporary "Last American Dinosaurs" exhibit. And the Rex Room, where scientists are studying the famous T. Rex fossil, will remain open for visitors.

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