It’s the End of the School Year as I Know It

This has been the last full week of school for my kiddos this year and they have pretty mixed feelings about it. On one hand they’re looking forward to fun days at the pool, family vacation, and the more relaxed vibe of summer. They’ll be able to stay up a little longer and sleep in a little later, and then there will be summer camps and trips to visit grandparents and all kinds of fun. My oldest son who has been counting down the months, weeks, days, and now hours is ready for it.

But for my youngest son, the end of the school year might as well be the end of the world. He’s shed a few tears these last couple of weeks. It’s been a really great second grade year with an absolutely wonderful teacher and even though we love our school and I am confident that his third grade experience will be great, too, he’s not been easy to convince. Transitions are hard for him and the end of the school year is one step closer to the unknown.

Nostradamus predicted the end in 1999, but it seems maybe he wasn't so certain, because he also thought the year 3797 a likely candidate for a fiery apocalypse. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Nostradamus predicted the end in 1999, but it seems maybe he wasn’t so certain, because he also thought the year 3797 a likely candidate for a fiery apocalypse. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Really, I don’t think his perspective is all that unusual because throughout human history, there has been a recurring obsession with one looming transition in the fate of humanity: the end of the world.

According to Wikipedia (surely the most reliable source of information regarding all things eschatological), there have been approximately 148 failed end-of-the-world predictions since people started to realize it might be fun to count them. According to other “experts” there may be as many as 400 end-of-the-world predictions in all of recorded human history. Either way, that’s a lot.

Images from the Mayan long calendar that ends December 21, 2012, which proved a little unnerving until December 22, 2012 dawned. By Maudslay (Cyrus Thomas (1904) Mayan calendar Systems II) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Images from the Mayan long calendar that ends December 21, 2012, which proved a little unnerving until December 22, 2012 dawned. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

But don’t worry, because Wikipedia also helpfully points out that “no predicted apocalyptic events have occurred so far.” What a relief!

The obsession with the end of it all stretches  back at least as far as the Assyrians. According to this 2009 Smithsonian article, a clay tablet dating to 2800 B.C states: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

Personally, I suspect the translation might be a little rough, either that or the “prophecy” has been misunderstood by scholars and the stone tablets really is nothing more than the discarded notes of a popular Assyrian standup comedian. It also seems likely that the existence of said “tablet” may have actually been made up in 1979.

Still, there’s something that keeps us humans guessing that the end is upon us. Whether it comes from religious conviction, scientific understanding, or from societal pessimism, our fate seems always to speed on toward some sort of transition and that fills us with a little bit of anxiety.

Some even less optimistic scientists say there's a 0.3% chance the world my be destroyed by an asteroid on March 16, 2880. So if you have plans that day, you might want to be prepared with a plan B. photo credit: BENNU’S JOURNEY via photopin (license)

Some even less optimistic scientists say there’s a 0.3% chance the world my be destroyed by an asteroid on March 16, 2880. So if you have plans that day, you might want to be prepared with a plan B. photo credit: BENNU’S JOURNEY via photopin (license)

And just because the end has failed to arrive maybe as many as 400 times, we may not be out of the woods just yet because there are currently at least 15 predictions open for consideration, from the interpretation of the series of blood moon eclipses in 2014 and 2015 that places the end of the world in September of this year (perhaps not coincidentally, just after the start of my son’s third grade year) to the insistence of numerous truly alarmist scientists who insist the sun will consume the earth a mere 5 billion years from next Tuesday, give or take an hour or two.

So perhaps the end is upon us, but I’m not going to worry about it too much. Most likely I have some fun summer days with my kiddos to look forward to. And despite the tears of yesterday, this morning my son told me he’s decided even though he’s sad second grade is ending, he isn’t going to be afraid of third grade, because, “[He does] this ever year, and then the next year turns out the be the funnest ever.”

As we plunge into summer break next week, it may be the end of the world as he knows it, but, all in all, I think he feels fine.

This Mermaid’s Gotta Swim

On a sunny summer day in 1908, on the crowded Revere Beach in Boston, Massachusetts, Australian swimming sensation Annette Kellerman tangled with the law. As young ladies splashed among the waves with their pretty bathing dresses and bloomers, the 21-year-old Kellerman set out for a swim in a one-piece men’s bathing suit that revealed a good portion of her thighs.

Annette Kellerman in her shocking swimwear, with stockings, for decency's sake because this is a family friendly blog after all.  Public Domain

Annette Kellerman in her shocking swimwear, with stockings for decency’s sake because this is a family friendly blog after all. Public Domain

Dubbed the “Australian Mermaid,” Kellerman was in the midst of an American tour in which she wowed crowds with her diving stunts and with her form-fitting bathing suit (initially with stockings for full leg coverage). When she was arrested in Boston for indecent exposure, she simply explained to the judge that she couldn’t “swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothes line.”

The judge agreed and Kellerman went on her way toward a career not just as a Vaudeville performer, but also as a movie actress (including playing the lead in A Daughter of the Gods, in which she bared much more than her thighs), and as a health and fitness guru. One Harvard professor (who somehow managed to make a living out of studying the female form, the sly dog) even determined that she was the “perfect woman” because her measurements so closely mirrored the Venus de Milo.

She was a woman way beyond her time, which was after all, a time when women sometimes still used bathing machines (a kind of wheeled dressing room) to enter the water without anyone seeing their voluminous precursors to the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikini.

So I suppose womankind owes Ms. Kellerman a debt of gratitude. But as I stole a little time from this busy week of end-of-the-year school programs and projects so I could do some peaceful shopping for a new swimming suit or two before I start spending pretty much every afternoon at the pool with my kids, I found myself wishing for a little more fabric, or maybe some bloomers, or even a dressing room on wheels.

Just a super duper fun day at the beach.

A bathing machine. And just a super duper fun day at the beach! Public Domain

There’s little that can shake a woman’s confidence in her own physical beauty more than looking at herself in a mirror, in bad lighting, wearing little more than her underwear. Still, I’m a swimmer. The sport is one of my great loves and I am eager every spring to get outside and hit the water, whether I resemble the Venus de Milo or not.

Perfect woman or not, I have better arms.   By Tom King (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Perfect woman or not, I have better arms. By Tom King (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

But like Kellerman, I’m pretty practical about my swimwear. I will get out there and brave the racks of the kinds of swimsuits  that run the very real risk of falling off in the water and probably ought to get their wearers arrested in Boston for indecent exposure, so  I can find a suit that will allow me to move like the American mermaid I was meant to be.

And I think Annette Kellerman would approve. Because even though she was never shy about displaying her own beauty for the world, she was first and foremost a proponent of women’s physical fitness. As such I suspect her attitude toward the teeny-weeny dental floss bikinis available today would be similar to that of her attitude toward the bathing dresses of the early 20th century.

About those she had this to say: “There are two kinds of bathing suits, those for use in the water, and those that are unfit for use except on dry land. If you are going to swim, wear a water bathing suit. But if you are merely going to play on the beach and pose for your camera friends, you may safely wear the dry land variety.”

I think I’ll stick with the water kind, because no one is getting near me with a camera. And this mermaid’s gotta swim.

Better than a Pulitzer: The Creative Blogger Award

On May 7, 1912, a few months after the death of Joseph Pulitzer, Columbia University set the plans in motion for establishing the Pulitzer Prize as stipulated in the journalist’s will. Five years later, on June 4, 1917 the Prize Board named the first recipients of that honor, awarding prizes in four categories: history, biography, reporting, and newspaper editorial.

Born in Mako, Hungary, the well educated Joseph Pulitzer fell into his journalism career the way most people do, by well-timed networking at a public chess match. But it wasn’t luck that brought him success as the owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and later as owner of The New York World.

Joesph Pulitzer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joesph Pulitzer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It was hard work and the kind of business savvy that pairs hard news with sensationalized stories, exaggerations, and occasionally stuff that’s just plain made up. And it was also his unfailing belief that a free press and the freedom of creative expression was central to the success of a free society. He once stated, “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery.”

For Pulitzer, free expression and a free press would always be the watchdog that would protect people from government abuses, calling to account politicians who act in their own interest rather than that of the nation they represent. His ideals stand firmly against suppression of speech, whether deemed prudent or not, and demand that all voices can be heard.

And so he established a school for journalism and a system for awarding excellence in journalism and other creative pursuits, with a particular emphasis on works that in some way serve the betterment of humanity, particularly exposure of government corruption and injustice.

Pulitzer also had the foresight to recognize that society would evolve over the years and so he gave the Board authority to expand the award categories as they deemed appropriate. Since the award was first established, it’s expanded at various times to include, among other things, telegraphic reporting, poetry, music, and feature photography. And since 1995, it’s been adapting to the expansion of online news outlets.

Even so, to the best of my knowledge, there is not yet a category for independent practical history blogs, despite the fact that they tend to pair history with sensational stories, exaggerations, and occasionally stuff that’s just plain made up. And who knows, they may even lead to the betterment of humanity.

But that’s okay, because bloggers are pretty good about recognizing the efforts of other bloggers. Of course blogs cover a wide variety of topics and there are about a million different reasons a writer might turn to blogging. But whatever the purpose, a blog is an unfettered creative outlet with the potential to influence society. We should recognize one another in our creative efforts.

That's prettier than a Pulitzer medal.

That’s prettier than a Pulitzer medal.

That’s why I am extremely grateful, on this 103rd anniversary of the day Columbia University first approved plans to establish the Pulitzer Prize and in this week when I celebrate the third anniversary of my silly little blog, to accept the Creative Blogger Award.

Like most blog awards this one comes with a few rules. First, thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog. Second, share five things about yourself. Third, nominate 10 -15 more creative blogs.

Thank you very much to Susan Roberts of Susan’s Musings for the kind nomination.

Five things about me:

1. My fourth grader’s teacher sends an e-mail every week asking parents to remind students they need to practice their recorders. I’ve never reminded him. Not once. And I never will.

2. I once spent a few months working as a dog trainer for a major pet supply retailer. At the time I was a cat person. Actually I still am a cat person. Seriously, it’s a strong preference. Just don’t tell my dog because it would hurt his feelings and he’s pretty sweet.

3. When I was sixteen, my grandmother offered me a piece of sage advice. She said, “If you have to fall in love and marry someone, he might as well be a farmer.” My husband isn’t a farmer, but Grandma always liked him anyway.

4. I read a lot of literary fiction, upscale historical fiction, and narrative nonfiction, but I have a serious weakness for young adult dystopian fiction. I can’t help myself. It doesn’t even have to be well written. And I will set aside just about any great literary work currently on my “to read” shelf in favor of one.

5. The very first home cooked meal I made after my husband and I were married was macaroni and cheese. From a box. He thanked me and ate it with a smile. Now that’s a keeper! And thankfully, I have since become a better cook. Though my kids still prefer the boxed mac ‘n’ cheese.

Nominees:

Victo Dolore

I Didn’t Have My Glasses On

Childhood Relived

Know-It-All

Notes From a Hermitage

Loni Found Herself

Russel Ray Photos

Ponies and Martinis

The Armchair Sommelier

Storyshucker

Baltimore through Stanley’s Eyes

In 1964, Stanley Lambchop had a tragic accident. Just that day his father had given him a new bulletin board to hang on the wall of his room and as he slept, the bulletin board fell, squashing him. Luckily young Stanley survived the near tragedy, but it left him changed. Poor Stanley had become flat. The Lambchop family had enough spunk to transform Stanley’s new disability into an opportunity and soon he found himself posing as a painting on the wall of the local art gallery where he assisted the police in catching a burglar.

By User:Miwillans (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Miwillans (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is the plot of children author Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley. The character would go on to have five more crazy adventures during the author’s lifetime, and since Brown’s death in 2003, has been guided by other authors through at least a dozen more. But Stanley’s biggest adventure was orchestrated in 1995 by third grade teacher Dale Hubert of Ontario.

Hubert assigned his students to design a Flat Stanley and send him through the mail in order to both practice writing letters, and to learn about the various places Stanley visited. Recipients of Stanley were asked to report back on his adventures and include pictures of Stanley in various locations along the way.

The assignment was a great success and earned Hubert the 2001 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. Soon the Flat Stanley Project spread and now teachers all over the world participate in it with their students. My youngest son’s class is working on a Flat Stanley Project right now and a week or so ago, he received his first pictures.

I want to share a few of them with you because his Stanley traveled to visit a friend of mine in the Baltimore area. I know in the past few days we’ve all seen a lot of images of Baltimore, of protest demonstrations, of violence against police, and of buildings engulfed in flames. So, I thought maybe it would do us all some good to see the place in a different light, as a beautiful city full of a rich heritage and deep-rooted history.

Fort McHenry. Famed for its role in the War of 1812, and site of inspiration for Francis Scott Key's poem

Fort McHenry. Famed for its role in the War of 1812, and site of inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” which would become “The Star Spangled Banner,” a song that can be well sung by maybe 1% of the US population, but is nonetheless loved by all.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Completed in 1992, this is the first of the new old (or retro) baseball stadiums that have since swept the nation. Yesterday it became the place where the Baltimore Orioles offered imaginary autographs to absent fans and defeated the White Sox with no one there to watch.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Completed in 1992, this is the first of the new old (or retro) baseball stadiums that have since swept the nation. Yesterday it became the place where the Baltimore Orioles offered imaginary autographs to absent fans and defeated the White Sox with no one there to watch.

Washington Monument. Designed by Robert Mills, also the designer of the monument in DC, the Washington Monument in Baltimore was the first to be planned in honor of the first US president, making this one of the oldest giant stone phalli in the nation.

Washington Monument. Designed by Robert Mills, also the designer of the monument in DC, the Washington Monument in Baltimore was the first to be planned in honor of the first US president, making this one of the oldest giant stone phalli in the nation.

Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.It was in this house, built around 1830, where Edgar Allan Poe lived for a time with his aunt Maria Clemm and his ten year old cousin, who he would one day marry, but not until she reached the ripe of age of 13.

Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.It was in this house, built around 1830, where Edgar Allan Poe lived for a time with his aunt Maria Clemm and his ten year old cousin, who he would one day marry, but not until she reached the ripe old age of 13.

Hi ho! The Fourth and Final Voyage of Kermit the Frog

Christopher Columbus, famed explorer who kind of resembles Fozzie Bear. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On September 18, 1502, on his fourth and final voyage to the New World (which he still stubbornly insisted was Asia, because by then he was becoming a little floopy) Christopher Columbus arrived in what would come to be known as Costa Rica. I say “arrived” because “discovered” is certainly the wrong word, as he was warmly greeted by canoes full of Carib Indians, representing one of four indigenous tribes living in the area at the time.

In fact, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of human occupation in Costa Rica dating back at least 10,000 years. A large variety of tools, weapons, metal work, and even remnants of an ancient city complete with aqueducts indicate that many cultures may have come, gone, and coexisted through the area.

By Tim Ross (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This tree frog from Costa Rica resembles Kermit the Frog when the pollen count is really high. By Tim Ross (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But its rich history of human diversity isn’t all that makes the country so fascinating, because representing just one third of one percent of Earth’s landmass, Costa Rica contains approximately four percent of the species that exist on the entire planet. It boasts the highest density of biodiversity of any country in the world, with hundreds of species that, outside of captivity, can only be found there.

And Costa Rica is home to somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 species of amphibians. Eighty-five percent of those are frogs. It’s got the poison dart frogs, the famous red-eyed tree frog, the giant toad, and the rainforest rocket frog, which at a length of about half and inch is not the smallest frog in the world, but it does have the coolest name.

And now there’s one more frog in Costa Rica, because recently researcher Brian Kubicki found a previously undiscovered glass frog he named Hyalinobatrachium dianae. Like in so much of the world, Costa Rican species are being stressed by rapid environmental change and the country has already lost many frog species to extinction. So to discover a new one is pretty exciting.

photo credit: Kermit the Frog - Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - 2012-05-15 via photopin (license)

Hyalinobatrachium dianae, a newly identified species of glass frog. Oh, wait, no that’s a Muppet. photo credit: Kermit the Frog – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – 2012-05-15 via photopin (license)

Especially when the Internet decides that new species looks like Kermit the Frog. And it does, kind of, at least in the same way that if you put a domestic pig in a blonde wig and taught it karate, it would totally resemble Miss Piggy.

The new frog does have similar coloring to Kermit, except on its belly where its skin is nearly transparent so you can see all of its internal organs. It also has big white eyes that bug out of its head, and like its Muppet counterpart, H. dianae plays the banjo and harbors a not-so-secret wish to make it big in showbiz.

So the only real question remaining is what is Kermit the Frog doing in Costa Rica? Because as everyone who has seen the straight-to-video classic Kermit’s Swamp Years knows (and judging by the reviews that could be as many as a dozen people or more), Kermit is originally from the swamps of the Deep South, not Costa Rica.

The answer to the question may lie in the years he spent as a hard-hitting investigative journalist at Sesame Street News. As something of a hard-hitting investigative journalist myself, I have uncovered footage from Kermit’s past that may explain the link between the famous Muppet and this new little glass frog now taking the Internet by storm, a link drawn straight through the famous explorer Christopher Columbus who accidentally stumbled onto Costa Rica so many years ago. Enjoy!

The Certainty of Death and Taxes

As of yesterday, another income tax season has come to a close here in the US. CPA’s who haven’t been home in months can finally return to the family dinner table. And at long last city sidewalks are free from the invasion of creepy sign-spinning Statues of Liberty beckoning to us from the side of the road.

The Statue of LIbertry wearing a fur-lined hood is creepy enough. In my town where it's been warm the last few days, one Mr. Liberty has been wearing shorts under his robe. I hope.  photo credit: Income tax of liberty via photopin (license)

Actually it might not be a bad idea to tax Statue of Liberty hats. photopin (license)photo credit: Income tax of liberty via photopin (license)

No matter how we feel about the way our taxes are collected and spent and whether some of us should be paying more or some of us less, I’m guessing none of us particularly enjoys the income tax process. The laws are complicated, and growing more so all the time. The effort expended in calculating it all expands from year to year at an unbelievably stupid rate.

But as Benjamin Franklin famously said, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except for death and taxes.” It’s something we have to deal with. Failure to file will net us fines and legal battles. So any readers out there who are law-abiding US taxpayers, I want to offer a hearty congratulations for successfully slugging through another year and getting it done. You may be tired. A few of you may have even been up past your bedtime so you could sneak in just before the deadline. If so, rub your blurry eyes, grab a cup of coffee, draw a deep breath, and realize it could be worse.

Because in 1798, for Englishman John Collins, it was much worse. Collins was busy at work with a printing plate, producing linen hat labels for anxious customers when he learned just how serious the business of taxation could be. The plate was readied, the linen damp and awaiting its impression, and Collins’s hand was covered in ink. That’s when he was arrested for forgery.

What he had been trying to pull off was a sneak around England’s tax on men’s hats. Introduced by Parliament in 1784, it was designed to be a kind of income tax because in theory, the wealthy would own several expensive hats, while the poor may own one cheap hat, if any at all.

Ladies' hats were tax exempt. Even those made of fruit. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ladies’ hats were tax exempt. Even those made of fruit. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To sell hats required a license that cost two pounds in London (or five shillings in the countryside) and gave the seller the right to post a sign reading: “Dealer in Hats by Retail.” A hat costing up to four shillings carried a tax bill of three pence and as the cost of the hat increased, so did the tax, with hats greater than twelve shillings demanding a hefty 2-shilling tax. Penalties for hats without a tax labels affixed to the linings fell both to the seller and the wearer.

No hat is worth that. photo credit: The End of the Line via photopin (license)

The hat tax was perhaps better than the window tax, the disastrous effects of which can still be seen in the large number of bricked-up windows gracing English buildings, but it turns out Englishmen were almost as fond of the hat tax as the citizens of the former British colonies in America had been of the English tea tax just a few years earlier. Removal and reuse of stamps was common and punishable. In the early days of the law, retailers attempted to change the language they used to refer to their wares, causing revisions that broadened the definition of a hat. Still the unpopular hat tax was widely ignored, hard to enforce, and was finally repealed in 1811.

Unfortunately that came after John Collins was caught forging tax labels. He got more than a fine or a legal battle. To forge a hat tax label in England in 1798 was a capital crime. Poor John Collins learned that there were certainties he couldn’t escape when he evaded taxes and met with death.

Your Favorite Dinosaur and the Lie Your Science Teachers May Not Have Told You After All.

In 1870, renowned paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope published a description of a newly discovered giant plesiosaur (an extinct aquatic reptile that a reader less informed than you might mistakenly refer to as a dinosaur). Unfortunately, he’d failed to place the head on the right part of the body, sticking the skull to the end of the creature’s long tail.

oc marsh

Othniel Charles Marsh, respected paleontologist, winner of the bone war, and maybe kind of behaved like a squabbling child. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Surely after a while, Cope would have figured out his mistake, but he didn’t manage to do so before renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh (the judgment of whose parents I have to question because they named their kid “Othniel”) gleefully pointed out the mistake for the world to see. The two men weren’t on great terms to begin with, as rumors circulated that Marsh had once paid Cope’s field crew to send anything they found to Marsh instead.

Once insult was added to injury, the great Bone Wars began, with two of the most prominent paleontologists in North America behaving like squabbling children. The rivalry raged for twenty years resulting in great advances in the field, which before this period had discovered only eighteen dinosaur species on the continent. Between the two men, they described and named over 130 new species of dinosaur.

But as beneficial as it may have been, this feverish pace of scientific discovery had some drawbacks, too. The paleontologists’ dig teams were known to spy on each other, steal fossils from one another, vandalize one another’s dig sites, or even dynamite their own to keep anyone else from digging there. And then there were the mistakes of the men themselves that occasionally found their way into work that was rushed to publication.

Edward Drinker Cope, respected paleontologist, second-place in the bone war, and also maybe a little bit of a squabbling child. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Edward Drinker Cope, respected paleontologist, second-place in the bone war, and also maybe behaved like a little bit of a squabbling child. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Marsh “won” the bone wars, discovering about eighty North American dinosaurs to Cope’s fifty between the years of 1870 and 1890, but had the two men lived so long, Cope might have gotten the last laugh. In 1877, Marsh described a long-necked herbivorous dinosaur he called Apatosaurus. Just two years later, he unearthed another long-necked dino he called Brontosaurus. Trouble is that in 1903, paleontologist Elmer Riggs determined Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were really the same species. I imagine Cope was laughing in Heaven.

Because life isn’t fair, and sometimes parents decide to name their son Othniel, the earlier name had precedent. And so, since the year 1903, there has been no such thing as a brontosaurus. No friendly leaf-eating, lumbering, earth-shaking, and, let’s face it, small-brained brontosaurs. And despite what you may have learned from the Flintstones, no brontosaurus burgers or brontosaurus ribs either.

Brontosaurus (but later Apatosaurus, and now brontosaurus again) skeleton displayed with the wrong head at the Carnegie Natural Museum of Natural History. By Dinosaurs, by William Diller Matthew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Brontosaurus (but later Apatosaurus, and now brontosaurus again) skeleton displayed with the wrong head.
By Dinosaurs, by William Diller Matthew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How can this be? I know, I know, because when I attended elementary school in the 1980’s, Brontosaurus featured prominently in my science books. And the name was featured in museums up until the 1970’s, when paleontologists discovered the head Marsh had placed on his original “Brontosaurus” actually belonged to yet another species. And again, Cope was laughing in Heaven.

Even the US postal service got itself into a heap of trouble when as recently as 1989 it issued a series of stamps featuring popular dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Pteranodon, and Brontosaurus. To be fair, though, the USPS was probably using an elementary school science textbook as a reference.

So why did the name persist for so long? Well, according to Matt Lamanna, paleontologist and curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Brontosaurus is just a really cool name. It means “thunder lizard,” evoking the ominous thumping and quaking at the creature’s approach. In contrast, Apatosaur means “deceptive lizard,” which I guess evokes the desire for the creature to pose as a different species so it can go by a cooler name.

Personally, I miss the brontosaurus. Or at least I did. Because earlier this week a team of researchers from the Nova University of Lisbon in Portugal revealed that a comprehensive comparative analysis of dino bones has led them to the undeniable conclusion that Brontosaurus was a separate species after all.

Real or not, the "thunder lizard" has captured our imaginations and our hearts. photo credit: brontosaurus in party hat via photopin (license)

Real or not, the “thunder lizard” has captured our imaginations and our hearts. photo credit: brontosaurus in party hat via photopin (license)

So break out the old text books, reissue the dino stamps, and grill up some stoneage burgers, because the Thunder Lizard is back. I guess Cope didn’t get the last laugh after all. Smiling in Heaven now, the indisputable victor of the bone wars is O.C. Marsh, which is how he’s most often referred to in the literature, because it’s a much cooler name than Othniel.