Effort seeks to save closed museum’s relics

Faculty, alumni mount campaign to preserve collection

By: Jeff Milgram
   Faculty and alumni supporters of Princeton University’s now-closed Guyot Hall Natural History Museum are enlisting school teachers and students in their campaign to save the museum’s collection.
   The supporters have taken out a paid advertisement in a local newspaper urging students, teachers and parents to send their comments on the museum closing to an e-mail address. Messages will then be forwarded to the university administration.
   "Some day there may be another museum, but the university administration has not said what it will be like or in how many years it will open," the ad reads.
   The museum was closed over the Labor Day weekend. The exhibits are being disassembled, university spokeswoman Marilyn Marks said Thursday.
   The university wants to use the space for offices for the Princeton Environmental Institute, which is now scattered in several locations.
   Ms. Marks said the university is studying options for preserving the collection.
   "Our response is still that this is an important renovation and we’re doing this for our research and teaching," Ms. Marks said Thursday. "We’re still proceeding with our renovation plan."
   While the university says it will move the exhibits to "a new and better space," some faculty members and alumni fear the collection will be scattered. They also fear that some of the more fragile exhibits will be damaged during disassembly and storage.
   In August, the supporters asked alumni of the Geosciences Department to send letters opposing the museum closure to university President Harold T. Shapiro and other campus administrators.
   "First and foremost, this letter is not a plea to keep the present museum exhibits in place – many of which are 50 to 100 years old – rather it is to save the museum space as well as the collections, so that the vision of a modern earth science museum can be accomplished in this unique and magnificent space – a space once destroyed will be beyond future recovery," said the letter that went out to geoscience alumni.
   "In April, we had a museum designer come from Boston to look at the existing space and the collections," the letter read. "The conclusion was that the present space is remarkable and that the displays could easily be brought up to current museum standards for science education outreach."
   "I think the important issue is the role the museum space plays in public outreach and in making science and geology accessible to a wide range of visitors," said Lisa A. Rossbacher, president of Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., who received her doctorate at Princeton in 1983. "I believe schools like Princeton have a special responsibility to introduce the public, and particularly young students, to the wonders of the natural world, and the museum has always been an excellent place for this to happen. Once the space is converted to other use, it will almost certainly be lost for this special purpose forever."
   Lydia K. Fox, chairwoman of the Geosciences Department at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., who graduated from Princeton in 1981, wrote President Shapiro:
   "The Guyot Hall museum is a valuable asset to the university. One of the benefits is its location, at the entrance to the Department of Geosciences. As the chair of a geosciences department, I would love to have such a museum to attract attention from the local public!"
   The museum was first housed in Nassau Hall. It was moved to Guyot Hall in 1905.
   A report commissioned by the university, completed in August, said about 1,000 school children visit the museum each year on field trips and between 20 and 40 individuals, mostly family groups, visit the museum each day.
   Professor Lincoln Hollister, one of the faculty defenders of the museum, said the report, compiled by consultants Barbara Smith Grandstaff and David Parris of the New Jersey State Museum, said it would cost about $1 million to take apart and then reassemble the allasaurus dinosaur skeleton alone. The report also said a large, stuffed Irish elk is damaged and susceptible to more damage, Professor Hollister said.