Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, SD

Libraryman uses his awesome powers to shrink himself and then pose for a dramatic shot from within the very maw of the terrible beast.
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Dinosaur Park
Dinosaur Park is one of the most elaborate examples of roadside sculpture in the state of South Dakota and an excellent example of vernacular public art. Mount Rushmore, about 20 miles southwest of Rapid City, became the site of the great carvings of four American presidents who played a major role in westward expansion. That sculpture was first dedicated in 1930, and by 1935, some 200,000 visitors had visited the unfinished monument. These statistics were not lost on the promoters of Rapid City. Tourism was big business, and the chamber of commerce was eager to make the connection between one successful sculpture and another.

The idea of dinosaurs as the subject of a new sculpture came from Dr. C. C. O'Hara, the retired president of the South Dakota School of Mines and a paleontologist who was fascinated by the prehistoric dinosaur remains he had found in the Badlands of South Dakota. Others also liked the idea. The creation of concrete dinosaurs hit three nerves in the American aesthetic—a sense of the history of the West, an enjoyment of things larger than life, and a secret pleasure in being frightened. Dinosaur Park, located on a prominent hill above the town, was dedicated on May 22, 1936.

All five of the original dinosaurs were built in identical fashion. The frames are composed of two-inch-diameter black iron pipe set in concrete. Around the central frame, body forms consist of a steel skeleton covered with wire mesh to which the concrete skin is applied. Oral tradition has it that the park's dinosaurs originally were gray, but today they are painted vivid green, with touches of pinkish red. Built to authentic size, the measurements of the five dinosaurs are as follows:

    1. Triceratops—27 feet long, 11 feet high, 40-inch horns
    2. Tyrannosaurus Rex—35 feet long, 16 feet high, 4-foot-long head
    3. Brontosaurus—80 feet long and 28 feet high
    4. Stegosaurus—11 feet long and 7 feet high
    5. Trachodon—33 feet long and 17 feet 6 inches high.

The brontosaurus, the largest of the dinosaurs, is visible for many miles and has become a local landmark.

In The Colossus of Roads, art historian Karal Ann Marling explains the appeal of the awesomely large prehistoric animals in this way: "Humor and fakery create situations that appear 'dangerous, horrible or uncanny' and then disperse the sensation of terror with the sudden realization that the whole thing was a hoax."

Quoted from the National Park Service National Register of Historic Places web page.





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