Sometimes in the middle of the night, nocturnal creatures are allowed to roam the halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, without screaming or teeming with children. They are adult humans, known to sometimes quietly contemplate science with a cocktail.
âIf you go to a natural history museum during the day, it’s definitely a space for people under 4 feet tall. And that’s clear in every way – from the soup they serve in the cafeteria lives up to the label, âsaid Victoria Cain, museum historian at Northeastern University in Boston. âIt’s quite fun to reclaim this space for the adults.â
On a recent June night, 175 adults signed up for a slumber party at the New York Museum, which capitalized on the hype created by Ben Stiller’s “Night at the Museum” franchise. The museum’s first pajama nights were aimed at children. Then, in 2014, those 21 and older were invited to explore its dark showrooms.
The experiment was so popular that other science centers followed suit. Aquariums and museums in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Portland, Oregon and elsewhere have had sleepovers for adults. And they have become a hot ticket, according to Cain.
“When I saw that we could do that and that there was alcohol as well, we were like, ‘Oh my God. Someone read our diary, âsaid Janine Agarwal, 29, who attended the slumber party at the American Museum of Natural History to celebrate her husband’s birthday.
During the night, guests dine in a room full of moonstones and a 15-ton meteorite, and can stroll through the 45 permanent exhibition halls. They can also take guided tours, tour the planetarium, meet curators, and chat with museum scientists about their research, all while the city rests.
âI don’t think it’s possible to experience this place in as special a way as doing this kind of night,â said Giancarlo Bruni, of Toronto, as he played with the control panel of a large submarine. “It’s phenomenal.”
Although only adults are allowed, there is always childish fun to be had. Monica Seebohm and her friend Renee Brown came in a hooded T. rex jumpsuit.
âWe’re always looking for adventure and thought bringing a dinosaur costume was appropriate,â Seebohm said. “We like to dress for the occasion.”
The lights go out at 2 a.m. People can sleep in their own sleeping bags or in the museum beds, lined up just below the belly of a 94-foot-long blue whale suspended from the ceiling of the Hall of Ocean Life.
Those who are feeling restless can get cookies and coffee at the Hall of Planet Earth.
Michael Nedell, 53, remembers being afraid of whales as a child.
âWhen I was younger, this blue whale freaked me out. I was afraid of it until I was a teenager, âhe said.
âNow I sleep under her. “
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
Silence greets those who venture into distant exhibitions. This stillness makes a difference for visitors hoping to learn something, said biologist John Karavias.
âDuring the day you fight the crowds. You feel like you’re in a rush and all you do is get an âOoh! And an ‘Ah!’ but you don’t learn, âsaid Karavias, who studies the effects of climate change on marine life.
“When you go there at night all the background noise is muffled and you are able to digest the science behind whatever you are watching.”
He was recently invited to show acrylic bowls filled with starfish and weird sea urchins.
Bright red spikes covered the body of a large star. Another had his arms so thin they looked like noodles.
Some visitors were impressed; others recoiled, touching the sea creatures.
Starfish like these depend on a healthy ocean to survive, Karavias explained.
But carbon dioxide from burning coal and natural gas makes the ocean more acidic.
This means that sea urchins, mussels, corals and other organisms have difficulty creating their shell or skeleton, which affects their development.
A few floors above, tour guide Arlene Katz taught visitors about glowing animals.
She approached a reservoir with an eel nestled in the rocks.
His camouflaged body was difficult to distinguish from the sandy bottom. But an ultraviolet film made it glow a greenish blue. It doesn’t make its own light, like a firefly does. Instead, it absorbs light and releases it as a different color that is invisible to predators but obvious to other eels.
âIt’s a hidden language,â she explained. âSometimes you have to hide and sometimes you have to show yourself. They do it simultaneously. It is a brilliant solution.
Katz said the slumber party is an opportunity for guests to be surprised by nature. âWe want people to have so much fun that they almost forget they’re learning,â she said. âBut this is not an amusement park. We sneak in a lot of information. “