Looking forward to portraying Mary Anning at Tellus Science Museum’s upcoming Night at the Museum, Cantey Smith will continue to introduce patrons to the 1800s paleontologist.
Set for Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., the ninth annual event will highlight notable figures of science and science fiction.
“I have participated in NATM for all nine years,” said Smith, Tellus’ director of education. “For eight of those years, I have had the honor of ‘being’ Mary Anning, the most famous paleontologist that you have never heard of. Mary was a fossil collector and paleontologist who was born in Lyme Regis, England, and died March 9, 1847, of breast cancer having only left her small town a very few times in her entire life. Accounts of Mary Anning’s life have been fictionalized, and her childhood discoveries have been mythologized.
“... Her father, Richard, was a carpenter who taught her how to collect, clean and prepare fossils. They sold the ‘curiosities’ they collected from a stall on the seafront to subsidize their meager income, where customers from the middle classes flocked to the shore of Lyme Regis, England, in the summer. Their shop was such a feature of the area that Mary Anning became the inspiration behind the well-known tongue twister, ‘She sells seashells by the seashore.’ Mary Anning displayed courage, integrity and curiosity as she made amazing contributions to science — even more miraculous as she was a woman of poor means and no formal education,” she said about the paleontologist who discovered scores of fossils including that of an ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and a pterodactyl.
For the Night at the Museum event, about 60 actors portraying historic and science fiction figures, ranging from George Washington Carver to Darth Vader, will engage museum patrons in conversation. Youth 12 and younger are encouraged to dress in character for the event.
“NATM presents characters who were real and pretend,” Smith said. “I think it’s important for children to be shown science fact and science fiction and have the adults in their lives help them discern between the two. I also believe that the creativity that ‘makes’ science fiction can inspire us to make real discoveries that improve our lives. I think that is important on so many levels.
“In her time, Mary Anning made significant fossil finds that upended many scientific beliefs. Culturally, because she was a woman, men generally dismissed her findings or would ‘take’ [them] as their own and give her little or no credit. I am thankful that women are generally recognized as equally contributing members of the scientific community. I hope sharing something of her life experience inspires us to do more to eliminate discrimination and break down all bias barriers. When I ask a child, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ — with dedication and hard work they can truly be anything they want to be.”
Opened in January 2009, Tellus — an expansion of the former Weinman Mineral Museum — became a Smithsonian affiliate during its first year. Along with Science in Motion, the 120,000-square-foot museum at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville is comprised of three other main galleries — The Collins Family My Big Backyard hands-on science gallery, The Weinman Mineral Gallery and The Fossil Gallery — a 120-seat digital planetarium, an observatory and solar house.
“[Night at the Museum] began as a back to school event to get the kids excited about the start of a new school year and to ignite a passion for science as they prepare themselves for learning,” said Shelly Redd, director of marketing for Tellus Science Museum. “Over the years, the event has grown and evolved to combine historical figures and pop science ones, too.
“We choose characters that we think will be relatable to our audience — ones who have made an impact on science or science has had an impact on them. For example, one of our new characters this year is Alexander Graham Bell. Most parents and grandparents probably remember Bell for his innovative science that gave us the first practical telephone. However, when we talk about phones today, people — especially our children — rarely think of it in terms of a singular device. Phones are not just phones anymore. They are computers, music players, social hangouts and more. The science behind all of this began with Bell’s patented technology.”
With Night at the Museum being a limited-ticket event, interested individuals are encouraged to call 770-606-5700 or visit http://tellusmuseum.org/our-events/night-at-the-museum as soon as possible to secure their spot. For museum members, the cost will be $15 per person, while nonmembers will be charged $25. Online ticket sales end today at 5 p.m.
“This is indeed one of the biggest and most popular events of the year,” Redd said. “It’s also one of my personal favorites. It’s the one event of the year where some of our staff members and volunteers can replace their staff member hats with their actor hats and portray an idol, or be goofy and silly, or be regal and mighty. They get to teach kids science in a fun, but less traditional way. They can blend in with the other actors and engage with guests in a different manner than we do at other events. It’s the one event that we can literally walk around incognito and watch families enjoy the museum in the way we intended.
“Each year, we get flooded with emails and phone calls and social media posts from guests who attended the event, and they thank us for a wonderful night of learning. It’s those sentiments that give us fuel and inspiration to make it bigger and better every year. They will share with us what their child learned at the event or what their favorite part was, and it confirms that in the midst of all the fun, we made learning happen, too.”
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