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.
I first visited the museum for its five-year anniversary celebration after hearing about it at a meeting of the Dallas Paleontological Society. They have since inaugurated a regular event christened Permian Fest, a muti-day events with lectures, workshops, and shopping to celebrate the local paleofauna in all its forms. I have had a lot of fun at both events, and of course at the museum itself. The staff at the Whiteside really know how to wring every last ounce of value out of their venue, and it’s always worth a visit.
When I first visited, I was pleasantly surprised by the museum’s layout. Although the Whiteside is certainly on the smaller side 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 several sections: Permian and Mesozoic fossils in the front hall, taxidermied animals and Cenezoic fossils in the second hall, a live animal “Zoo-seum” featuring mostly reptiles and various bugs, the Lindgren Hall of Ichthyology, and finally the fossil prep lab.
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. Upon entering the museum, a fearsome Dimetrodon greets visitors, literally standing in the spotlight in a fantastic use of space. It is surrounded by several partially prepared plaster jackets with individual Dimetrodon specimens, each of which is given a fun personal name. They are flanked on one side by the ever grumpy Edaphosaurus (the other Permian sailback), with Eryops, Seymouria, and Diadectes on the other.
A Mesozoic section sits behind the main cast of Permian species, and features several fossil mounts and life reconstructions. The Tyrannosaurus head always impresses, as does the Triceratops skull opposing it. A recent addition as of my last visit is a medium sized Tylosaurus skull, which looks just as fierce as its counterparts in this area.
The Lindgren Hall of Ichthyology primarily highlights the incredible fish specimens from Fossil Lake, Wyoming, though it also has a section on modern sportfish and prehistoric sharks. The freshwater shark Xenacanthus & “boomerang-headed” salamander Diplocaulus which used to sit alongside their peers from the Texas Red Beds now reside here instead. Xenacanthus also makes an appearance in Sharks: A 400 Million Year Journey by Ted Rechlin, and Discovering Sharks by Julius Csotonyi, the latter of which happens to feature a reproduction of a mural that hangs 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 xenacanthid sharks seem to have formed a large part of its diet.
Speaking of Bob Bakker, he happens to be an adjunct director of the museum, and was heavily involved in the establishment of it. Happily for paleonerds, that means he generally attends all their special events, and I have had the pleasure of seeing him both times I have visited, though I have yet to personally say hi. Maybe next time!
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. 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.
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 have bought several Safari models from them, including a Dimetrodon appropriately enough. During Permian Fest 2023, Evelyn Vollmer provided limited edition 3D printed casts of several Whiteside specimens: the maxilla of Myria the Dimetrodon, and a Diplocaulus skull.
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! 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! If you’re itching to visit a museum but find this place a little too out of your way, consider also checking out Dinosaur Valley State Park, the SWAU Dinosaur Science Museum, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Texas Through Time, the Heard Natural Science Museum, and the Mayborn Museum. Until next time…