The Whiteside Museum of Natural History

Like any good dinosaur lover, I could spend all my free time at natural history museums. I’m always on the lookout for new places to visit, especially smaller local museums that may not get as much exposure as more famous institutions. I also happen live a few hours’ drive away from the town of Seymour, near the world famous Texas Red Beds, a very important geologic formation dating back to the Permian Period. Most people don’t know the Permian for anything more than Dimetrodon, but luckily for them, the Red Beds probably have more Dimetrodon fossils than anywhere else in the world! These riches led to the creation of the Whiteside Museum of Natural History in 2013, to help preserve the local fossil heritage of the region right in the town of Seymour.

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View of the mural in the back parking lot.
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View from the front, near the Dimetrodon statue. The event was more crowded than it looks here. It was a very hot day, so most people either stayed inside the museum or sat listening to the music in the shade.

I first heard about the museum at a meeting of the Dallas Paleontological Society, and have looked for an excuse to get out to Seymour ever since. Now, I personally could drive all day just to visit an interesting fossil cabinet, but as the stay-at-home father of two young boys, I find it more than a little difficult to just take off on a long car trip on a whim. As it happens, last month the Whiteside Museum threw an anniversary festival to celebrate its fifth year of operation, with free admission, food, activities, and live music! This seemed like the perfect opportunity, so off we went, dragging my parents and a friend of mine with me.

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Dimetrodon (L) and Edaphosaurus (R). I wore my wonderful fossil pins from David Orr on my hat, but sadly nobody seemed to notice. With a Dimetrodon on one and a trilobite on the other, I thought they made the perfect accessories for a trip to a Permian Museum!

The activities looked fun enough, but consummate fossil nerd that I am, I hardly paid attention to them in favor of absorbing as much of the exhibits as possible. A fearsome Dimetrodon greeted us as we entered, literally standing in the spotlight in a fantastic use of space. As I explored, I found that though theĀ  Whiteside is certainly rather small as museums go, it delivers plenty of bang for your buck. Multiple times I found myself thinking I’d reached the back, only to round a corner and find that it continued on, until I finally came to the fossil preparation lab at the very end. The museum is split into four main sections: Permian and Mesozoic fossils in the main hall, taxidermied animals, trophy fish, and Cenezoic fossils in the second hall, a live animal “Zoo-seum” featuring mostly reptiles and various bugs, and the fossil prep lab.

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The well-known giant amphibian Eryops squats near its skull in the background, while the transtitional reptilomorph Seymouria accompanies a recreated skeleton in the foreground. Yes, it takes its name from the town!

The main hall mostly features the local paleontological stars, the Permian inhabitants of the nearby Red Beds. Plenty of life reconstructions augment the fossils on display. The skeleton of “Bonnie” the Dimetrodon sits opposite her life model, flanked on one side by the ever grumpy Edaphosaurus (the other Permian sailback), with Eryops, Seymouria, and more on the other side. A few obligatory dinosaurs sit in the back of the hall, with a giant Triceratops skull looming behind the Dimetrodon, Fallen Kingdom style.

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I want to know who sculpted this Tyrannosaurus head! That’s pretty impressive.
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The spiny, freshwater shark, Xenacanthus, and the boomerang head salamander, Diplocaulus.

With Shark Week coming up, I hope you’ll forgive me if I share this picture of their Xenacanthus model as a blatant excuse to link to some of my previous posts on the subject. I reviewed the Safari Ltd. Prehistoric Sharks Toob which features this freshwater shark in toy form. It also makes an appearance in Paleo Sharks, as well as Discovering Sharks (review due later this month). The latter book features a painting by Julius Csotonyi that happens to hang in the Whiteside Museum itself, dramatizing the research of world-famous paleontologist Bob Bakker who suggests that Dimetrodon may have frequented the riverside more often than previously thought, as the freshwater shark Xenacanthus seems to have formed a large part of its diet.

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Speaking of Bob Bakker, I was beyond excited to find that the man himself was in attendance! While the fossil prep lab normally has a designated guest space with windows into the lab where guests can watch scientists at work, on this occasion the doors were open, & Dr. Bakker, along with museum staff, entertained and educated guests behind the scenes, up close and personal with the fossil under study. As might be expected, Dr. Bakker was completely mobbed by fans, and by the time I finally summoned the courage to muscle my way in to say hi, he had already decided to finally give in to his exhaustion and excuse himself for a very late lunch. Oh well, better luck next time for me, I guess! I’m still a little dazed to think I was even in the same room with him though, so I guess I got about as much of my celebrity fix as I really needed.

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Some very impressive dinosaur origami by Travis Nolan on display. Follow his Instagram for more!

I don’t want to spoil too much more of the museum, so I suppose I should start to wrap things up. I certainly enjoyed myself here, and I’m sure any fan of prehistory will as well. I’m not sure how much the youngest kids will get out of it, as my four year old began to lose interest towards the end of our visit. Although I’m definitely more obsessed with this stuff than he is, the heat at the outside activities seems to have affected his demeanor as much as anything else, so I guess the jury’s out on exactly how toddler friendly it is. I definitely recommend the Whiteside Museum to anybody else, however. Despite the small size, it has plenty to see, and it champions an underrepresented period of Earth’s history every bit as interesting as the time of the dinosaurs.

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LOOK AT ALL THOSE SAFARI MODELS I’M IN HEAVEN

As an avid collector of dinosaur toys and models, I should also take a minute to praise the Whiteside Museum for their fantastic gift shop! I’ve come to realize that quality is not as much of a given in museum gift shops as I had previously assumed (the offerings at the much larger museums I currently live near leave much to be desired), so I definitely appreciate seeing a little thought go into the toy selection. Not only do they have one of the better stocks of Safari Ltd. models I’ve seen in a long time, even the more generic items like plush toys looked far better than they often do (as in, they actually look somewhat like the real thing rather than baby Godzillas). I of course couldn’t leave without getting a few things myself, and ended up purchasing a Dimetrodon and Malawisaurus by Safari Ltd. for souvenirs. I’d say I should review both of them in turn, but I doubt I have much to say about them that the Dino Toy Blog hasn’t already covered!

All in all, I really enjoyed my time at the Whiteside Museum of Natural History. I only wish I lived closer; I’d visit all the time if I could! I’m pleased to wrap up my first ever museum review with a satisfied Dino Dad Stomp of Approval! If you’d like to learn more about this era in Earth’s history, I suggest checking out my recent review of Abby Howard’s Ocean Renegades! Until next time…

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