Sue the Dinosaur

By: Anna Merezhko, March 24, 2017

My mind quickly panned through the memories I had from the trip to Chicago I took in 2014. I saw flashes of the city, the bridges, and the things I had seen in the Chicago Field Museum. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember seeing any dinosaurs. I couldn’t remember seeing the largest and best-preserved dinosaur to ever be discovered. I wanted to go back through the pictures I had taken there, but knew it wouldn’t matter if I had captured her. What hurt was that I didn’t remember her.

I began to wonder what it would feel like now, if I had seen her. I know I would look at her differently. I would see the extensive process that went into digging her out, transporting her, and the battle that went into claiming her. I would see a paleontologist robbed of his life’s greatest discovery. I would see the town who fought for her and the team of people who tried to win her back when the government claimed her as its property.

Upon finishing the documentary “Dinosaur 13,” I was devastated for Peter Larson. The legal battle that him and his team endured was ridiculous, but what I found particularly disgusting was that Larson was not only robbed of his baby, but of almost 2 years of his life as well. That is not counting the time he spent fighting for Sue, the dinosaur, to be brought back to her rightful owners.

I developed a sense of appreciation for paleontologists. So often, you do not see the man behind the curtain- the work that is put in to produce something. Once you see the enormous amount of work put into the retrieval of something like a dinosaur, you feel emotionally connected to the journey these people went through.

Students can identify with this. When a student writes a paper and then has it peer-reviewed, it hurts a little because that paper was your baby. You put work into it. You took time to formulate your words to make a point. To have it criticized, hurts. The same thing happened with this dinosaur but on a much larger scale.

Imagine looking your whole life for something, finally getting it, putting time and effort into perfecting it, only for it to be snatched away. That’s what happened to Larsen.

After Susan Henderson found the skeleton of “Sue,” Larson paid Maurice Williams (the owner of the land it was found on) for the dinosaur. They dug it up, transported it, and tried to pry apart the bones that were stuck to the skull. This took them a year. Just when they finally pried them apart, the FBI came over and confiscated “Sue” along with a bunch of unrelated documents in the Black Hills Institute. They claimed Sue belonged to the government because she was found on government property.

A lengthy legal battle ensued. It resulted in Larson being put into federal prison for “not filling out forms.” His life changed forever in the worst way. Sue was stolen from him and his team.

The stories behind the “skeletons” is what makes a discovery. In order to truly appreciate the wonder that is “Sue,” you need to know the battle that went on. I know if I ever get the chance to visit her again, she would hold a special place in my memory. She would hold meaning.

It hurt that I couldn’t remember her because I couldn’t fully appreciate her. It makes me wonder how much more stories of struggle and loss there are. If we knew what went into a work of art, maybe we would value it more. Maybe it would form a bond stronger than the physical. We would feel connected to the battle. We would feel the time that went into it. We would feel the work it took to restore it. It would no longer be just a pile of bones. It would be Sue.


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