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The American Museum of Natural History’s Gem Room: An Elegy for Parents and Kids

geode

Credit: Simon Vozick-Levinson

Every cozy and slightly shabby place ends up being refurbished, with an attendant loss of soul, in my native New York City— land of a thousand demolitions. This holds especially true for family-friendly places that weren’t designed to be family-friendly, but just happened to be so.

So allow me a moment to say goodbye to one such special place, a place I visited only three days ago with my own family: the gem room of the American Museum of Natural History. Gothamist and others reported that starting next week, the room will be closed down for a major renovation.

Known by families around the world for its dinosaur skeletons, animal dioramas and “Big Whale!” in the words of my child, the famous museum also boasted this literal treasure trove. Its value didn’t just arise because of the geodes and gems that shone in their display cases throughout these rooms–it’s because of the carpeted stairs, ramps and other structures that were the perfect place for tiny people to explore and practice independence, in safety and with wonder.

I myself worked on my walking, climbing and imagining skills here as a little girl–it was by far my preferred room in the vast museum (the dinosaurs and even the whale scared me a bit until I was older).

And twice now, I’ve brought my son and let him loose on the floor, watching him crawl and cruise and then walk and climb. He can even touch the rough and smooth geodes–one of the few things you can really feel in a “look-only” museum.

Both as a kid and as a parent decades later, I can say ours was never the only stroller parked on top of the ramp. In fact, I’m pretty sure the guards there are positioned as much to tell little kids to be careful as they were to protect world-famous jewels from would-be thieves.

The new renovation looks like it will be sleek, and far less inviting for playing and toddling around. It’s a loss for New York’s parents and all the tourists with kids who come through.

Raise a sippy cup with me to all the well-worn, shabby places that disappear in the name of progress.

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