October 5, 1997 in Nation/World

T-Rex Fossil ‘Sue’ Draws $8.4 Million Chicago Museum To Put Bones On Display By 2000

Eleanor Randolph And John J. Goldman Los Angeles Times
 

For all her 65 million years, “Sue” lasted only eight minutes on the auction block at Sotheby’s Saturday as a Chicago museum paid $8.4 million for the world’s most complete remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The 50-foot fossil was purchased by the Field Museum of Natural History in participation with a group that includes the California State University system. Several individuals and corporate sponsors including McDonald’s Corp. and the Walt Disney Co. also helped pay the bill, believed to be the most ever paid for a fossil.

“This is clearly the single most exciting activity now in the world of paleontology, and it is the most completely restored fossil we have,” said Barry Munitz, outgoing chancellor of the California State University system.

In return for their help, McDonald’s and Disney will get replica casts of the fossil. One will go to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida when it opens its Animal Kingdom next year. McDonald’s will receive two casts for use in an international traveling exhibit.

The original fossil, nicknamed Sue after discoverer Susan Hendrickson, will be restored publicly at the Field Museum throughout 1998 and 1999. The skeleton, which is about 90 percent complete and includes about 400 bones, is expected to be on display by 2000.

At Saturday’s crowded auction, only Sue’s 5-foot-long skull was available for viewing. With its once-menacing teeth, the huge head sat atop a pedestal draped with black cloth.

In a room tense with the anticipation of the sale of “a world treasure,” as David Redden, Sotheby’s executive vice president, put it last week, the bidding started at $500,000 and pitted nine serious competitors against each other. Among them were museums in North Carolina and Dallas, as well as an anonymous individual who planned to donate the fossil to a museum.

The room fell silent as the bidding began at 10:15 a.m. Within 30 seconds, the price had shot past $7 million.

Redden, who handled the auction duties, proclaimed “Sold!” when the price hit $7.6 million. With the buyer’s premium paid to the auction house, the Field group paid a grand total of $8,362,500.

Sue’s trip from the dusty hills of South Dakota to the auction block in Manhattan has been a saga full of political battles over who owns the bones and, now, who gets the money from the auction.

Hendrickson found the first signs of the skeleton in 1990 on a Cheyenne River Reservation ranch owned by a Sioux, Maurice Williams.

Two years after she found it, the federal government seized the skeleton from a commercial fossil dealer who had excavated it, saying he did not have the permits for such work. The government also claims rights to the dinosaur because it was found on land under federal jurisdiction and off-limits to collectors.

Sotheby’s sold the dinosaur on behalf of Williams, but the proceeds will be held in trust by the government until courts can determine where the money goes.


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