Brian Switek of Laelaps had a great post up recently asking people whether they were inspired to go into science by dinosaurs. Despite the worries of science communicators that too many people use dinosaurs and space (and nothing else, I think it was Martin Robbins that first brought that to my attention, but I can't find the post for the life of me) to get kids interested in science, it's true that many of the scientists in my generation found dinosaurs and space...pretty inspiring. Maybe it's because we didn't have anything else, I'd like to think that if someone had told me cool stuff about the brain when I was a kid I would have been inspired...but what do I know?
For me, it was dinosaurs. Totally. Space was FINE...if you like that sort of thing. Space ice cream was indeed pretty great. But I LOVED the dinosaur hall at the Smithsonian (the nearest place to where I grew up, and still a substantial trip). I went for my birthday at least three times. There was nothing better. (Ok, the mammoth they used to have in the entry way was also COMPLETELY AWESOME).
I was a dino-nut. I had a red T Rex sweatshirt I wore until it was so small my arms dangled out the sleeves like sausages. I've been trying to find one like it ever since.
I had stuffed dino toys. I had dino books. But my favorite was my brontosaurus toy. I remember getting it in a museum gift shop, but I have no idea where. It was a solid plastic model. It was dark green with a rather improbably pink belly. And I LOVED that bronty (I did name it Bronty, I was not a creative child). I loved it so much its tail got broken off and still I kept it. Its paint peeled, more and more of it became the improbably pink color of the underlying plastic. Sometime during high school it disappears from my memory of what my shelves looked like. I'd like to think it's stored somewhere with other detritus of my childhood, but I think it may have gotten thrown away, its poor broken tail a sign of having outlived its usefulness.
Why did I love brontosaurus? Well...it was green. I like green! It was tall. I was tall! Having been the tallest person in my preschool and school classes, I had fellow feeling for it. We had something in common. It had a long neck and so did I. And it was a gentle giant, a vegetarian. Something about that appealed to me. It was a big dinosaur, but it was NICE. Not going to hunt you down. No. It was a big, nice guy, who was just SO big that nothing else was going to bother it (until it was caught lying down or something).
So you can imagine my horror when I found out that it was not a brontosaurus. It was an apatosaurus. I think it was some older know-it-all kid who told me. I didn't believe it. I read they were the same and I STILL didn't believe it. People were lying to me. Everyone knew brontosaurus and apatosaurus weren't the same!!! My model of brontosaurus had a smooth chin. Apatosaurus had a floppy chin like a turkey and some sort of fleshy crest. TOTALLY DIFFERENT (my 7 year old mind probably never figured on the improbability of a floppy chin getting fossilized). Besides, brontosaurus was awesome!!! Apatosaurus was for losers. Brontosaurus sounds better, right? Right??!
Over time I have come to outwardly accept that brontosaurus doesn't exist. Inwardly, I still want to believe. There's a tiny piece of my heart that hopes that someday, we WILL find out that apatosaurus and brontosaurus are different, and brontosaurus will come back. The brontosaurus is my Pluto, and you're never going to make me really, truly believe Bronty didn't exist. My gentle giant is out there. Apatosaurus, you will ALWAYS be Brontosaurus to me.
*breaks into song*
"Always Brontosaurus to me"
You were my favorite sauropod
my vegetarian with heavy plod
and then I found out something odd
you disappeared and I am left aloooooone...
Who's this apatosaurus guy?
he's got those same thunder thighs
and that long neck that reached the skyyyy
but he's not YOUUUUUU....
For you're always Brontosaurus to meeee
the greatest dino that there will ever beee
You're the only Sauropod that I neeeeeeed
brontosaurus, always Bronty to meeeee