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1853- Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Sir Richard Owen hold a dinner party inside a life-sized model of Iguanodon

December 30, 2022

On New Year's Eve of 1853, renowned sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and influential paleontologist Sir Richard Owens celebrated the completion of the "Crystal Palace Dinosaurs" by holding a banquet inside the life-size model of an Iguanodon.

The Crystal Palace

Originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Crystal Palace was a structure first erected in Hyde Park in London. Constructed of 4,000 tons of iron and 900,000 square feet of glass, the Palace, initially meant to be temporary, was met with awe by both the world at large and locals. Because of this, following the end of the Great Exhibition, rather than tearing down the building, it was moved to a more permanent location in Sydenham Hill in South London. Soon after, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned by the Crystal Palace Company to create the world's first life-sized models of extinct species.

After Hawkins decided to include dinosaurs in the exhibition, he contacted Sir Richard Owens, then one of the foremost paleontologists, for his assistance in designing the models. Following their completion, the two went on to host a New Year's Eve dinner inside the largest model, the Iguanodon. Owen sat at the head of the table, inside the skull of the best, while Hawkins delivered a short speech to their guests about the construction process.

Scientific Scrutiny, Disrepair, and Reconstruction

As the science of paleontology matured and more fossils were unearthed, the models were found to be increasingly inaccurate. Over the decades, the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs fell into disrepair and were almost forgotten following a blaze that destroyed the Crystal Palace in 1936. In the early 2000, however, the models, and the surrounding garden, received extensive reconstruction, and a permanent bridge to Dinosaur Island was completed in 2021.


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