In 1871, the models and casts of dinosaurs set for the Paleozoic Museum that was to be opened in Central Park, New York City, were smashed with sledgehammers and buried in the park. The museum would never open. The act has been blamed on William "Boss" Tweed, the corrupt and powerful boss of NYC's political machine. But new research shows that the actual culprit was Henry Hilton, a lawyer and businessman. The paper in Science Direct is here.
The museum would have displayed fully fleshed models and skeleton casts of dinosaurs, and would have been in the park alongside Central Park West at 63rd Street.
But even as natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was preparing his displays, the museum was canceled by Tweed, citing costs, and a preference for a zoo.
The standard story is that when Hawkins complained about the cancellation and lobbied for its resurrection, an enraged Tweed order the models to be destroyed. Further, Tweed's Park Commissioners had called the dinosaurs, "pre-Adamite animals," suggesting a Creationist animus.
But this paper suggests that it was powerful businessman Hilton, who was on the Board of Commissioners and operated independently of the Tweed machine, who ordered the vandalism, and did so officially.
"It seems that the order for the vandalism was issued by Henry Hilton, as recorded in the minutes [of a Board of Commissioners of Central Park meeting on May 2, 1871] (Anonymous, 1871e, pp. 12–13):
"'Resolved, That the shed building on Central Park, near Sixty-second street and Eighth avenue, be removed to the north-easterly end of the Park, and that the old barn, shed, and structures at that place be removed under the direction of the Treasurer, retaining only such as can be appropriated and temporarily used to advantage as work-shops."Resolved, That the shed building on Central Park, near Sixty-second street and Eighth avenue, be removed to the north-easterly end of the Park, and that the old barn, shed, and structures at that place be removed under the direction of the Treasurer, retaining only such as can be appropriated and temporarily used to advantage as work-shops.'
"This location was that of the Paleozoic Museum and temporary workshop; it seems from this wording that the board simply wanted to 'tidy up' the park. The workshops were destroyed on the following day, May 3rd, under the "direction of the Treasurer", namely Henry Hilton.
"Evidently, the decision to destroy the museum did not come from Tweed, but from Peter Sweeny and Henry Hilton, the Vice-President and Treasurer of the Board of Commissioners, and indeed, in his reports on the Tammany Hall ring and its fall, Wingate (1875, p. 123) clearly states Henry Hilton was the instigator. In the face of the extensive contemporary published evidence, it seems remarkable that the story has become established that it was Tweed himself who ordered the destruction."
Hilton's motivation for the act may have been his preference for planned American Museum of Natural History, which would in fact be built, just a few blocks north, and remains a NYC icon. But Hilton was apparently just a widely detested, impulsive, and destructive figure in New York.
"Evidently the destruction of Hawkins' New York City dinosaurs was one of many such crazy actions through his life; Hilton was not only bad, but also mad."
It would have been amazing to have a large museum full of dinosaur panoramas in the middle of Central Park.