Fast on the Field
Ditch the docents and use our one-hour itineraries to score a quick fix at one
of Chicago's biggest-
The Field Museum might seem a bit intimidating with 34 permanent exhibitions housed in 300,000 square feet of space. Catch the must-see highlights on these tours that showcase two very different sides of the museum.
Confront the Field’s big, bad and occasionally gory side.
Start in Stanley Field Hall: The museum’s most famous tough dame, Sue the T. rex (1), resides here. Get a good look at her; she’s the most complete and best-preserved T. rex ever discovered. From there, head to the west arcades to check out the taxidermic “Mammals of Asia (2).” Whiz past the fierce hyenas, tigers and bears (oh, my) and at the end of the hall you’ll find what President Teddy Roosevelt called “the most famous lions in history.” The Tsavo lions (3) snared their place in the history books by lunching on 140 British-hired railroad workers in 1898. “The lions stopped the British Empire in its tracks,” says Bruce Patterson, the Field’s MacArthur curator of mammals. “Entire nations had tried and failed at that.”
Zoom back out to the main hall and take a right, toward “Inside Ancient Egypt (4),” where the exhibit will lead you up the spiral staircase, before you head back down another staircase to see a leathery-skinned mummy, children’s coffins, mummified birds and other artifacts. You’re now on the ground floor, where upon exiting, you should make a left turn and visit the (stuffed) Bushman (5), the first gorilla ever on display in the U.S. When the handsome beast was rumored to be on his deathbed in 1950, more than 120,000 visitors lined up outside Lincoln Park Zoo in a single day to see him. Just to your right is the Man-eater of Mfuwe (6), another lion with a taste for human flesh. This one terrorized Zambia’s Luangwa River Valley in 1991. After he paraded through the streets flaunting a bag of his sixth victim’s clothing, residents were convinced the creature was a demon.
Now go back upstairs, turn right and head up the staircase near the south entrance. Then turn right and walk past the Hall of Gems for the final stop on the tour. Enter “Pacific Spirits (7),” a showcase of aboriginal Australian, Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian cultures. Browse elaborate ceremonial carvings, spears and frightening masks, and get a lesson on cannibalism.
...AND THE BEAUTIFUL
Get an eyeful of the Field’s cutest animals and most coveted baubles.Start in Stanley Field Hall near the north entrance. Walk toward Sue for a peek before heading to the “Nature Walk (1)” and “Messages from the Wilderness (2)” displays, featuring a stuffed Mexican grizzly, now extinct.
Leave the animal kingdom behind for a while and retrace your steps a bit until you get to the main hall. Turn right and enter the Old Kingdom tomb of the pharaoh’s son Unis-ankh for “Inside Ancient Egypt,” where scarabs, gold and stealite jewelry (3) are on display. You’ll also notice the little blue ushabti figurines, which were thought to transform into servants for the deceased in the afterlife. After you follow the spiral staircase up and then down, ending up on the ground level, breeze through the rest of the exhibit, exit left and walk up the staircase near the Lion of Mfuwe. Walk across the great hall to the Wall of Shoes (4), featuring kicks from around the world. Though some of the shoes date back to the 19th century, many—such as the fur-trimmed Eskimo mukluk boots and beaded juttis from Pakistan—would fit right in on the shelf at Nordstrom.
Next, head up the staircase near the south entrance, turn left and head to the Hall of Jade (5). Highlights here include a huge selection of snuff bottles, a 281-pound imperial jar and a jadeite gong bell. Exit the hall, and swing back across, past the stairs, to the Grainger Hall of Gems (6). As New Age music is piped into the dark room, stroll around the cases to see the priceless display of sparkling baubles that started as a Columbian Exposition exhibit in 1893. Clarita Nuñez, the Field’s collection manager for physical geology, points out two don’t-miss items: “The fist-sized blue topaz from Brazil near the entrance and the opal carving of a sun god from Mexico are both especially beautiful,” she says.
Make a left out of the exhibit, pick up the pace and head for the “Art Lacquer of Japan (7)” display. These bottles and containers, which are carved from a poisonous resin, took years to make. Be sure to pay special attention to the nature-motifed stationery box on the left. Inscribed among the rocks and trees is a secret poem about the seasons.