The Mystery of Louisville’s Missing Dinosaur: SOLVED!

Join us as we explore the history, significance
and current whereabouts of Louisville’s Sinclair Triceratops!

She was always my favorite when I was a kid and
now that I see her, she’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw

Dr. Alan Grant, “Jurassic Park” (1993)

Welcome back, Louisville Monster Kids, it’s The
Phantom of the Ville
taking you back to a time when dinosaurs ruled the Ville.
Well, not that far back. There was a time, however, not so long ago when one
famous, life-sized triceratops sculpture brought awe and joy to generations of
Louisville’s monster loving kids. Almost every kid that grew up loving monsters
started that lifelong affair by loving the ones that really existed and roamed
the primordial Earth 65 million years ago.

I first remember encountering the Louisville
Triceratops as a young child when it was located at the Louisville Zoo. Already
a dinosaur obsessed little Phantom, seeing the life-sized beast for the first
time in its natural glory amid the all the other animals at the Zoo was
something I’ve never forgotten. Kids were naturally drawn to it. Some of the
older kids even climbed on it! This was the 1970’s and parents didn’t fuss so
much over our safety. I guess they figured if we fell off the dinosaur and broke
a couple of bones, we’d learn not to climb on prehistoric creatures in the
future. I remember my dad hoisted me up so I could climb onto the dinosaur’s
shoulders for a photo op. Glorious!

Years later, the Louisville Triceratops was moved
to the Louisville Science Center downtown where it stayed for many years. For
years it sat in the Yarmuth Garden near the back entrance to the Science Center
until one day it was moved into the parking lot beneath the buzzing expressway
where it was chained down to keep it from escaping. Finally, it was moved right
next to the parking attendant’s booth where anyone entering the Science Center’s
parking lot could see it.

I think it’s possible for something to be so
omnipresent, even something as big as a dinosaur, that it becomes invisible to
local eyes. I passed that creature so many times over the course of my life that
I ceased to even notice it. Then one day a few years ago I was visiting the
Science Center with my niece and she says, “Where’s the dinosaur?” It was gone!
Where did it go? Rumors on the Internet suggested someone with a flatbed truck
had stolen it in the dark of night, but surely somebody would notice a dinosaur
sitting in someones back yard, and it’s not the kind of thing you can sell on
eBay. Other rumors guessed it must be stored somewhere within the Science
Center’s private collection.

After a year of looking, I finally found it, but
before I reveal its current location and condition, I think it’s important to
tell you where it came from and why it’s an important cultural piece of
Louisville history.

The Louisville Triceratops was created by famous
Hungarian nature sculptor, Louis Paul Jonas, along with eight other life-sized
dinosaurs for a massive and popular exhibit at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
The pavilion was called “Sinclair Dinoland,” and was sponsored by the Sinclair
Oil Corporation who had first sponsored another dinosaur exhibit at the Chicago
World’s Fair of 1934 for which they built a two ton, animated “brontosaurus” in
an attempt to draw a public correlation between petroleum deposits and the age
of the “Thunder Lizards.” That exhibit became so popular that Sinclair began
using the image of the dinosaur as a corporate logo and began selling plastic
and inflatable dinosaur toys at all of their gas stations.

When given the chance to get the attention of the
world in 1964, Sinclair built their elaborate Dinoland at the World’s Fair and
sold “Sinclair and the Exciting World of Dinosaurs” brochures and plastic
miniature versions of their dinosaurs in Mold-O-Rama machines where you would
insert your money and watch the high tech gizmo pour colored, liquid plastic
into a heated mold and make you a personal souvenir in just a couple of minutes.
Our Louisville Triceratops was prominently featured in Dinoland (SEE PICS) in
battle with the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex! Millions of tourists marveled at our
triceratops during the Fair and afterward.

After the World’s Fair closed in 1965, the
Sinclair Dinosaurs took their act on the road. The company knew they had a good
promotional thing going so they hauled all nine dinosaurs around the country on
the back of flatbed trucks. They toured the country again in 1967 and 1968,
setting up in the parking lots of shopping centers and malls, before finally
being offered to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., who declined
their ownership. In the spirit of the World’s Fair, each of the nine dinosaurs
were then gifted to different US cities to use for their own purposes in museums
and zoos.

Both the 70 foot Brontosaurus and the T-Rex ended
up in Dinosaur Park in Glenrose, Texas. The Anklyosaurus also went to Texas,
where it is still in the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The Stegosaurus
currently resides outside the Visitor Center at the Dinosaur National Monument
in Harpers Corner, Utah. The Corythosaurus is at the Riverside Park & Zoo in
Independence, Kansas. The Struthiomimus went to the Milwaukee County Museum in
Wisconsin. The Trachodon resides at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois and
the whereabouts of the Ornitholestes is unknown.

So where is the Sinclair Triceratops that was
gifted to Louisville in the early 1970’s? Sadly, this piece of World’s Fair and
Louisville (pre)history no longer resides at either the Louisville Zoo or the
Louisville Science Center, but it is currently still apparently under stewardship of the
Louisville Science Center. My search for the missing dinosaur drove me to the
Internet searching for clues, and a tip from a local dino-fanatic had me
searching the northwestern part of downtown on Google Earth where I found it.
You can see it from space!

Just around the corner from The Louisville
Stigmatorium (which I wrote about last week), you’ll find the Louisville
Triceratops sitting in a small field of grass near the back parking lot of the
Great Northern Manufacturing Co. at 901 S 15th Street. Apparently,
Great Northern is storing the dinosaur for the Louisville Science Center, but
the years of sitting outside in the weather have taken a toll on the once great
creature. The paint is severely worn and there are cracks on the tip of one of
his horns and the tail. It’s a testament to how well this beast was built,
however, that it has lasted this long.

I don’t blame the Louisville Science Center at all
for the predicament that our beloved triceratops is in. It’s huge. It takes up a
lot of space and badly needs restoration. I doubt the budget of a non-profit
organization would allow such expense for a forgotten, locally invisible relic
of the 1960’s. Here’s the problem, in my ghostly opinion: Nobody in our city
knows what it is or where it came from. I certainly didn’t until I did the
research. What the Louisville Triceratops needs, after a little TLC restoration
and a new coat of paint, is a place where it can be enjoyed by all of our
citizens with a commemorative plaque in front of it explaining its origins so
folks can learn about its cultural history and why they should care.

The question of actual ownership of the dinosaur
will need to be worked out before it can be saved. Does the City of Louisville
own the triceratops or does the non-profit organization that runs the Science
Center who acquired it after changing names from the Louisville Museum of
Natural History & Science? I don’t have the answer, but I encourage anyone
who reads this and cares to try and find out. Call the city government and ask.
Call the Science Center and politely inquire about the missing dinosaur. I think
the only way to save and restore this piece of Louisville monster history is to
have enough people show interest in it so that the city has no choice but to
look into options for bringing it out of the shadows.


I know some very talented artists and craftsmen
here in this city that stand ready to put the work into restoring this dinosaur
to it’s original condition, and will do it for only the cost of materials, but
they’ll only get the chance if its current caretakers actually start to care

Until the day that this dinosaur again rules the
Ville, I will look back fondly on this majestic creature and hope some of you
will as well. This is The Phantom of Ville heading back to the Jurassic Era
until next week!
The Phantom of The Ville

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