World’s Fair dinosaur returns to Kentucky Science Center

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The dinosaur known as Lottie is getting ready for her close-up.

On a recent wet morning, all eyes were on the life-size statue of the triceratops, from the worn and discolored horns on its head to its stubby tail.

Crews were preparing to move the nearly 5,000-pound fiberglass figurine for a long-awaited restoration.

It had been some time since Lottie had been the center of such fanfare, having been hidden in the California neighborhood among warehouses and factories, out of the public eye.

She began life in the spotlight alongside a pack of prehistoric pals at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, a spectacle attended by some 50 million people.

And after the fair, their stardom continued as people across the country flocked to malls and showrooms to marvel at the lifelike dinosaur models on nationwide tours.

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Over her six decades, Lottie managed to escape extinction. Longtime Louisvillians may remember her on display at the Louisville Zoo in the 1970s and later at various locations outside the downtown back of the Kentucky Science Center.

But for the past 15 years, the triceratops has been largely out of sight, dumped on a patch of grass next to some nondescript warehouse.

Out of mind, she wasn’t.

She’s become something of a cross between a faded memory and a local legend, amassing a following on social media, including a website and Facebook page created in the hope that the Cretaceous-era dino would be moved to a more suitable home.

For Kentucky Science Center staff, restoring the triceratops to a space where the public could once again enjoy it has long been a desire.

“It’s a crime to have him here,” Amy Parish, spokeswoman for the center, said outside the warehouse. “It should be available for the townspeople to enjoy and not just rot.”

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That wish came true last year when science center management prioritized the project and committed $55,000 to restore the dinosaur and bring it back to the downtown museum, this time atop the tower. elevator connected to the pedestrian walkway leading from the parking lot to the science center.

After months of planning, in early July, it was finally time to take Lottie in for her much-needed makeover.

She was showing her age on this wet morning when Padgett Inc. workers came to hoist her onto a flatbed truck bound for the Weber Group’s Sellersburg, Indiana, shops.

Raw patches on one leg stand out from the others. Small chips and cracks stain his skin. Its yellows, blues and oranges are muted and dull.

And its rear, where its tail was cut off years ago, ends in a jagged edge that exposes its hollow interior.

The weathered, faded silhouette has seen better days.

Yet standing next to the nearly 10-foot-tall, 26-foot-long dinosaur has the imagination running wild. Although her kind hasn’t walked the earth for some 65 million years, for a moment you almost forget that she’s made of fiberglass, not flesh.

It’s a story

Lottie is a “big dick”. And Parish means that with great affection.

In museum parlance, it’s an attraction that really draws the “oohs and ahhs” from the public.

“It’s a big, super exciting thing that pulls you in,” she said.

The problem is that the Louisville triceratops was not treated as such. Although this has not always been the case.

Triceratops roamed the present-day United States approximately 66 to 68 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. Lottie entered the scene more recently, chosen shortly before the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

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The oil company Sinclair commissioned nine fiberglass dinosaurs (the long-necked Apatosaurus, had been part of Sinclair’s brand image since the 1930s) to promote their fossil fuel in a major display at the fair.

They were made in Hudson, New York, by famous animal sculptor and taxidermist Louis Paul Jonas, in consultation with paleontologists.

The dinosaurs arrived at the fair’s Dinoland pavilion by barge, traveling about 125 miles down the Hudson River, including a trip past Manhattan for cheering onlookers.

About 50 million people attended the fair in 1964-65. Viewers at Dinoland reportedly saw the triceratops, with an animatronic head that moved up and down, facing the Tyrannosaurus Rex along a winding forest path.

They could take a piece of the fair with them thanks to the “Mold-A-Rama” machine that produced miniature plastic versions of the dinos for 25 cents.

After the fair, and with the animatronic features removed, the models hit the road, touring cities across the United States.

Courier Journal records show that dinosaurs passed through the city in 1966 (in what is now St. Matthews Mall) and 1968 (in what is now Indian Trail Square Mall).

They returned in 1970, this time on display at the Louisville Zoological Gardens (now the Louisville Zoo) for the conclusion of a national tour.

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This would be the last time the Sinclair Oil dinosaurs appeared together, as they were donated to museums and institutions across the country.

Lottie remained at the zoo until 1979, Parish said, when she was turned over to the Museum of Natural History and Science, now the Kentucky Science Center.

And there she remained for three decades, battling the elements at the back of the main street attraction. The Courier Journal records show schoolchildren sitting in its shadow as they dug for artifacts.

In March 1997, Lottie was moved into the parking lot and covered knee-deep in flooding from the Ohio River, which reached its highest level since 1964. The newspaper reported at the time that a hole had been drilled into his leg to prevent him from floating in the flood waters.

The Museum Plaza development — a project to build a 62-story skyscraper that would include offices, a hotel, condominiums, an arts center, and retail and dining venues — sent Lottie to set up near the train tracks around 2008, Parish said.

And although the project fell through due to funding issues in 2011, Lottie never found her way back to the parking lot.

Try to save the triceratops

Lottie’s place outside the fenced-in warehouse was not suitable for Rocko Jerome, a writer from Louisville who learned of the existence and backstory of the triceratops about five years ago.

Seduced by her story and appalled by her treatment, he and a few like-minded friends founded Operation CAR LOT (Community Action Rescue Louisville’s Own Triceratops) and started a Facebook page.

Dubbing the figure Lottie, the group hoped to generate community interest and support to restore the dinosaur and move it to a more visible home.

“I love Louisville, and it bothers me that we have something so cool and don’t do anything about it as a city,” Jerome told the Courier Journal. “I want us to be better than that with something like this.”

Over the years, Jerome has jumped at every opportunity to talk about Lottie, running to the California court to show her off. The group quietly worked with local businesses and the museum to brainstorm new futures for the dinosaur.

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Plans seemed to be coming to fruition for a renovation and relocation, Jerome said, but the coronavirus pandemic hit and soon after, the movement around the police killing of Breonna Taylor erupted.

“I didn’t feel like with everything going on, it made sense to make a big deal out of this dinosaur, as much as I love it,” he said.

Hearing of Lottie’s new plans, Jerome said he was delighted that she was finding a stable new home, in public view, away from the dangers of the parking lot where she had stood for a long time.

He hopes the public will not only be able to gaze at the model – as his mother did on her 10th birthday when the Sinclair statues visited Louisville in 1968 – but also learn about her unexpected history.

As for her name, the museum is planning a naming contest, after which she will have her unofficial nickname retired. Even if it will not change much for Jerome.

“She will always be Lottie to me.”

Lottie’s New Life

With hydraulic help, Lottie took off.

Straps wrapped around the front and back of her torso cradled her as a crane swung her onto the flatbed trailer. Horned and tailed workers stabilized her as she landed, then tied her tight for her journey to Indiana.

Richard Hoopengardner, senior director of operations at the Kentucky Science Center, watched as the triceratops embarked on its new journey. It was the biggest step yet in the project he had been planning since winter.

Before she was chased away, he blew up the trunk of her car, pulling out the end of her fractured tail, her core of metal piping exposed.

He’s kept it in his office for about a decade, ever since he started with the nonprofit downtown science center.

“I didn’t want to lose him,” Hoopengardner said.

Soon she was walking down Broadway and crossing the Ohio River. She’ll be back downtown in about a month, freshly patched and painted.

Museum officials plan to hold an unveiling party and offer the public a chance to see her up close before she takes her place atop the Washington Street Elevator Tower.

There, with a new lighting system, it will regain its place in the spotlight.

Where are the other World’s Fair dinosaurs?

Eight of the nine dinosaurs that appeared at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York are listed. The figure of an Ornitholestes was reportedly stolen and has not been found.

Trachodon: Brookfield Zoo in Illinois

Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus: Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas

Stegosaurus: Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, Utah

Corythosaurus: Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas

Ankylosaurus: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Struthomimus: Milwaukee Public Museum

Source: Sinclair Oil Corp.

Business journalist Matthew Glowicki can be reached at [email protected], 502-582-4000 or on Twitter @mattglo.

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