Starting Friday, May 26, the Glazer Children’s Museum will unveil not just a record-breaking dinosaur, but also the museum’s largest custom-curated exhibit since it opened in 2010.
It is named for Big John, a skeleton of the largest triceratops ever uncovered. It’s the star of the new exhibit that in addition to a colossal skeleton also has several interactive stations that let visitors learn about fossils, compare the weight of Big John’s head (771 pounds) to that of a grizzly bear (500 pounds) and have fun with dino art.
The dinosaur exhibit will be included with museum admission, but registration will be required because they will be doing timed entries. Adults no longer need to have a kid with them to visit the children’s museum. Tickets and reservations are available at bigjohndino.com.
Here’s what you’ll find.
Meet Big John
The space on the third floor of the museum isn’t visible when you first get off the elevator. The hallway leading to the entrance is stocked with educational story boards. There’s a replica of Big John’s huge thigh bone that visitors can touch, and a large poster that tells the story of Big John’s discovery in South Dakota in 2014 and the paleontologist who found him.
There’s even a color-coded map of the dig site so you can see how all the scattered pieces were found.
Then you turn a corner and enter through a faux stone archway for what Pam Hillestad, vice president of play and learning for the museum, calls “the aha moment.”
The 26-foot-long dinosaur stands 10 feet tall, the size of an RV. The fossil not only made history as the largest triceratops ever uncovered, but made history again in 2021 when it fetched a record $7.7 million at an auction in Paris, the most ever paid for ancient bones that weren’t from a T. rex. Big John was purchased by Tampa entrepreneur Sidd Pagidipati, chairperson of Ayon Capital and Better Health Group. He is lending Big John to the museum for the next three years.
Once you enter, you’ll be greeted by educators such as Madai Favaro, who sported a safari hat and a microphone when we visited. She introduced some fun facts about Big John and gave a simplified explanation of how fossilization occurs.
Tunnel underneath a dinosaur
The large stage that Big John is posed on looms large. The museum has added tunnels underneath that allow visitors to creep through the roomy crawlspace. There are two observation bubbles that let you get an even closer look from underneath the skeleton.
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Close to the entrance is a corner cordoned off for toddlers with soft toys to play with and mirrored dinosaur footprints. A bench encircles the area so parents can have a seat while the little ones are contained.
Solve a skeleton puzzle
One of the more popular stations when we toured with a kindergarten class recently was a wall puzzle of Big John’s bones.
The pieces have magnets, and there’s a dramatic moment once the puzzle is complete. Wait 30 seconds and you’ll hear a rumbling and all the pieces will drop loudly into the bin below.
Compare your weight to a dinosaur
Museum CEO Sarah Cole said one of her favorite parts of the “Who Weighs More?” station is when she sees kids do some problem-solving and they realize it will take several people to make the light on the scale climb.
Located next to a replica of Big John’s skull, visitors can see that the skull weighs 771 pounds, much more than the skulls of large dogs or panda bears.
“I love when the light goes on and they start shopping for more people or some large adults to get the scale up,” Cole said. “I try not to get insulted when they come for me.”
Hatch your own dinosaur
One of the most popular stops was the Screening Station, where coloring pages of dinosaurs and crayons are set up.
Once the dinosaur is colored, the picture gets scanned into a wall projector. A moment later, an egg appears on the screen, the dino hatches and the drawing comes to life. If there’s a long line, guests can also send their image via a mobile phone.
Pro tip: Use some distinctive colors like yellow horns on a green body to make your dinosaur look different from the others. Also, write the name of the artist with a very dark crayon so it will be easier to see. The name written on the paper hangs over the dinosaur as it roams across the jungle scene.
Scattered throughout the exhibit are explanatory designs, such as what a dinosaur eats with some fossils kids can touch. There’s also a close-up picture from his frill that asks, “Can you spot his injury?” It explains how scientists think that the puncture wound in his frill likely came from a fight with another dinosaur, and that it showed signs of healing.
There’s also an expansive display explaining how fossils are formed with pieces of petrified wood, leaves and bones that kids can touch.
If you go to the Glazer Children’s Museum
Glazer Children’s Museum: The interactive museum’s new dinosaur exhibit is centered around the record-breaking triceratops known as Big John. It opens Friday, May 26. It is included with admission but timed tickets are required and can be found at bigjohndino.com.
Admission: $18, age 1 and younger free; $2 off for military, first responders, educators and seniors. 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. 813-443-3861. glazermuseum.org.