Every summer, a wonderful holiday called the “4th of July” is celebrated in America and it is a joyous time filled with parties and barbecues, and street parades to celebrate America’s independence from Britain in 1776. And do you know another historic event that happened on the 4th of July in 1899? Why, the discovery of “Dippy the Dinosaur,” of course! What? You’ve never heard of “Dippy the Dinosaur?” Well, let’s put on our wings, pack some peanut butter sandwiches, and get ready for a long flight ahead – all the way to London – the wonderful city by the sea in England. Let’s take flight and fly as fast as we can across mountains and valleys and a big blue ocean to the bustling island – the jewel of the United Kingdom.
The night is cool and we glide along on a powerful jet stream – the air whipping our wings and bumping us along past huge fluffy clouds and sparkling stars. I don’t know about you, but sometimes these bumpy flights can make me a little “sea sick” – or air sick. It’s a good thing I didn’t have too much to eat before we took off!
Ahhh, there – down below us – see those twinkling city lights and bright red buses? We have arrived in London! Let’s land over there on the grass by that big, long building that looks like a cathedral or a palace. What is it, you ask? It’s the Natural History Museum and you are going to LOVE it! It has all sorts of neat things like space rocks and models of prehistoric humans – and DINOSAURS! And the biggest dinosaur of all in here is DIPPY!!! Let’s hurry and go inside!
Wow – there’s a stegosaurus skeleton in the lobby! It’s way bigger than us and has huge, rock-like spikes along its back! Its jaws are open and gaping at us and his spiky tail is raised high behind him. He looks like he’s VERY hungry and would like to eat us for lunch! I’m glad I didn’t live near him during the Jurassic period! Those prehistoric people must have been very brave. And what’s that behind the stegosaurus? It’s an escalator going up into a big, red, glowing ball. The sign says it is the planet Saturn! Wow – only in London can you find a planet behind a dinosaur’s butt!
Let’s ride the escalator – I’m tired of flying – and see where it takes us.
Up we go, hearing the roar of the dinosaur behind us as we slowly approach and go into the big red planet. This is so neat – it’s like a tunnel ride at Disneyland!
The escalator takes us to the second floor and we follow the signs to find Dippy. I’m so excited! This dinosaur is called a Diplodocus Carnegii and it is named after Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American steel tycoon – or businessman – who paid for a hunt to find dinosaurs in Wyoming, USA!!! But what is a Diplodocus? Well, let’s find out! Up ahead is a sign that tells us to go down this corridor and around that corner into a big room.
Oh, my word – that is one HUGE dinosaur! In front of us stands a gigantic skeleton of Dippy the Dinosaur! He is so tall and so long he takes up the whole side of the museum it seems! He is lit in blue light and looks truly magnificent! His head almost touches the ceiling WAY above our heads. We are so small next to him – we only come up to his shin! He has a long neck like a giraffe, 4 tall legs, and a tail that is so long it almost touches the back of the room. He looks like a Brontosaurus! Have you ever seen them in picture books or dinosaur movies – the dinosaurs that can stretch their necks high up into the tall trees to eat leaves and fruit? The plaque next to Dippy states that he was discovered near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, on the 4th of July 1899! That must have been one amazing celebration! It says Dippy weighs 3,300 pounds, is 22 feet high and 70 feet long. Wow – I wonder how much he weighed with all his skin on!!! The plaque says he is 145-156 million years old and that he and his other diplodocus friends roamed the US Midwest during the end of the Jurassic period. He is very similar to other sauropods – or dinosaurs like him – such as the Brachiosaurus and Brontosaurus.
A tour guide comes into the room and he states that Dippy has 80 vertebrae – or bones – in his tail and that his tail may have been used for defense – to swat away other dinosaurs who were trying to attack him. His tail may have made a cracking sound like a whip and he may have used it for balance while standing on his rear legs to reach high tree tops for food. Can you imagine a dinosaur sitting on his tail? Some other scientists state that his long tail might balance his long neck so he doesn’t topple over! It’s kind of like a seesaw – you need the same weight on either side or it just slams down!
And look, there’s a large claw on each of his front feet. Maybe that was to dig for roots or to help him move around, like when we put spikes on our tires.
If I crane my neck, I can see his head far above me. He has peg-like teeth pointing forward in his open mouth. The tour guide states these teeth helped strip leaves off branches and his teeth fell out every month and were replaced by new teeth. That’s a lot of visits by the tooth fairy! The guide states Dippy liked to eat leaves from the trees or soft water plants from riverbeds. Boy, he would have to do A LOT of eating to fill that big belly!
His front legs are slightly lower than his back legs – like cats. Maybe that’s to help him bend low to eat plants on the ground.
Since Dippy is a bunch of bones today, we have to imagine what his skin looked like. The guide states that fossils found near Dippy had impressions – or marks – left from his skin. These marks showed that he had narrow pointed spines about 7” long on his tail and maybe on his back and neck. These were probably to stop other dinosaurs from attacking him. He had scaly skin like a crocodile with different shapes of scales – rectangle, dome, square, and others – depending on where they were on his body. This probably protected him from heat and bugs. He was so huge that the sun was shining on him all day long! That would have been a painful sunburn if he didn’t have those scales!
But how did Dippy get here in this museum in London? The guide states that he was found in Wyoming by Andrew Carnegie’s archeologists – those are people who dig for fossils and dinosaurs. This was such an amazing find that Mr. Carnegie wanted to share it with the world. So, he made plaster casts of Dippy and sent these casts around the world – to London, Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Bologna, St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Madrid, and Mexico City in the early 1900’s! This was during a time called the “Bone Wars,” when everyone was rushing to find a dinosaur.
Dippy is the most famous dinosaur in the world and the first dinosaur many people had ever seen. King Edward VII of England was amazed when he saw a sketch of Dippy in Andrew Carnegie’s home and that’s how Dippy was gifted to London!
Dippy even has a poem written about him. It goes:
Crowned heads of Europe
All make a royal fuss
Over Uncle Andy
And his old diplodocus!
Dippy has traveled all over the world and been put on display for millions to see. During World War II, he was taken apart, put in crates, and stored in the museum basement during the bombing of London. Poor Dippy was buried again!
But we are so lucky to see him today in all his glory! He must have been an AMAZING dinosaur in his time, roaming the plains of the US, his feet making thundering sounds and shaking the ground as he searched for food or went to the watering hole. I wonder what kind of sounds he made? Maybe a big roar like a lion – or a high screech like a bugle with that long neck.
What do you think of Dippy and diplodocuses? Would you have liked to live in the Jurassic period with Dippy? Which dinosaur is your favorite and why? Do you think a big asteroid crashed into Earth and destroyed all the dinosaurs?
Did you know that other animals are going extinct every day due to people expanding into their land and erecting more buildings, destroying the forests for lumber, or polluting the seas with trash? What can you do to help these other creatures?
Animals, like the dinosaurs, can go extinct at any time, which is why we have to be careful how we treat the earth and the animals which live on it. What can you do to help these creatures who are near extinction?
Maybe on the 4th of July every year we could make a donation to a fund that helps save our wildlife, seas, and forests. Wouldn’t that be a great way to honor Dippy and save other species? I think Dippy is an amazing reminder that we must work to save all the endangered species struggling to survive today. Who knew a prehistoric dinosaur could help save other wildlife millions of years in the future?!