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After four years, the Yale Peabody Museum is reopening

Museum director David Skelly.
Davis Dunavin
Museum director David Skelly.

The museum underwent the largest renovation since it was founded in 1866. All 19 of its galleries feature new or reworked exhibits and artifacts.

The museum got a $160 million donation in 2018 from businessman Edward P. Bass. It closed for renovation in March 2020 — almost exactly as the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S.

“The beginning of COVID knocked us around, of course," said museum director David Skelly. "We figured out together how to build a museum during a pandemic. And it wasn't always easy, and we prioritized everyone's safety. But we got it done.”

The museum has also opened up its second floor for new exhibits that show off dozens of artifacts that have never been publicly displayed before like items that demonstrate the university’s role in the history of eugenics. Kailen Rogers, with the museum, said they’ve also revamped the text that goes with the displays.

“We are doing text panels that are shorter and have clearer big-idea sentences to help people understand at a glance where they're headed," she said. "Somewhat paradoxically, people actually read more if you present less text.”

Some familiar sights are still there but a little different, like the museum’s famous Brontosaurus skeleton.

“What's changed is the pose," said Susan Butts, the museum's director of collections and research. "Our dinosaur in the past had a tail dragging down on the ground. We know from the fossil record that we see footprints, but we never see a tail mark dragging behind those footprints.”

Skelly said the overall idea is to make the museum more accessible.

“What we want to do is prompt people to think for themselves, even more than before," he said. "What do these objects mean to them?”

One way they’re doing that is the museum will now be free to everyone.

“We want this place to feel like for anybody who walks in, we've been expecting you — glad you're here," he adds.

The Yale Peabody Museum will reopen later this month, with a grand opening planned for April

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.