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Union Station Evolves with Imaginative Dinosaur Exhibit

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3 minute read

By Kevin Collison

It’s a matchup display any dinosaur-crazy kid would enjoy and 125 million years later, part of a major, new exhibition that heralds an imaginative programming approach by Union Station.

In this corner, weighing in at 4,000 pounds and stretching 15 feet long, Kosmoceratops, a fancy- shielded omnivore. And the challenger, at 2,200 pounds, 22 feet long, Utahraptor, a fierce carnivore.

Nobody knows how this duel played out in prehistoric Utah, but visitors to the new “Dinosaurs Revealed: Journey Across America” exhibition at Union Station in downtown Kansas City can have fun speculating.

“We’re doing what the Jurassic Park movies do but with three-dimensions where people can walk up to the dinosaurs and watch them move,” said Union Station spokesman Michael Tritt. “You don’t need to be a paleontologist to get a lot out of it.”

Visitors are invited to speculate about an imagined matchup between a Utahraptor (foreground) and Kosmoceratops.

And for the first time, Union Station created the exhibition from scratch.

The institution, which generally hosts traveling shows of this nature, designed the project with the help of the University of Kansas Paleontological Institute and UMKC.

Along with private consultants and local firms, a story board was prepared beginning late last summer about the dinosaurs that once inhabited the United States.

The 26 animatronic dinosaurs were then specially built in China, an introductory film was produced and interactive exhibits designed.

It took Union Station about one month to install the new show.

“One benefit from not buying this exhibit from somebody else, it allows us to the the story we wanted to create,” said Lance Brass, a Canadian consultant who helped create the exhibit.

“This is a story using the United States as our dig sites and we worked with KU on the actual facts.”

Jerry Baber, chief operating officer at Union Station, added: “there were a lot of touring dinosaur exhibits out there we didn’t love, some were too academic, some too juvenile.

“We wanted a balance of science and entertainment.”

Union Station craftsman Scott Murray prepares an exhibit where kids can unearth their own dinosaur fossil.

The resulting exhibition, which opened Friday and runs through Jan. 6, 2019, is a fascinating blend of science and entertainment. Union Station would like to perhaps someday send it on tour to other places or incorporate elements into Science City.

The exhibit actually begins at the corner of Pershing Road and Main Street where a life-size Tyrannosaurus holds court.

Visitors enter the exhibit on the lower level, past the Extreme Screen where a dinosaur documentary is playing.

They pass by fossil displays before walking by an old mechanical room retrofitted to resemble a prehistoric sea. At the end of the hall, a Tyrannosaurus head bursts through the wall to roar its greeting.

Visitors are then ushered into a space in groups of 40 or 50 where they see a two-minute film that orients them to the tremendous time that’s passed between the dinosaur era and today.

The film screen than rises to reveal the Hall of Skulls with casts of a Triceratops and Tyrannosaurs skulls.

The magic begins in the following rooms where visitors see animatronic dinosaurs evolve from the oldest era, the Triassic period, through the Jurassic and then Cretaceous periods. All 26 dinosaurs move, and they range in size from a 50-foot long T-Rex to an eight-foot long Coelophysis.

T-Rex shows off his royal roar:

Along the way there are interactive exhibits, all child-friendly, where people can lean how the geology of what’s now the United States changed over hundreds of millions of years, dig for fossils, watch paleontologists at work and imagine how that matchup between Kosmoceratops and Utahraptor turned out.

The exhibition ends, sort of, with a real meteor to help tell the story of how dinosaurs became extinct when a giant meteor smashed into what’s now the Gulf of Mexico. Sort of, because like any big exhibition, visitors exit through the gift shop.

George Guastello, president and CEO of Union Station, said the entire exhibit, including marketing costs, was done form about $900,000. That compares with similar traveling exhibits that cost the institution $500,000- to $1 million to host.

Union Station will break even if it attracts 65,000 to 70,000 people and any profits will go back to benefit the organization.

General admission for all ages is $15 on weekdays and $17.95 on weekends. Union Station members pay $12.50. Group rates also are available.

The hours through Sept. 3 are Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

From Sept. 4 through Jan. 6, hours are Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A Triceratops squaring off with a Tyrannosaurus Rex are among the 26 life-size, animatronic dinosaurs at Union Station.

All the animatronic dinosaurs in the exhibit were made in the Chinese city of Zigong:

And of course, you exit the exhibit through a well-stocked gift shop.

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