No Love for Lucy: Hominid Fossil Put on a Good Show, But No One Came

By Boonsri Dickinson | January 28, 2009 4:45 pm

lucy.jpgLucy flew all the way from Ethiopia for nothing.

Seattle officials paid $2.25 million for the fossilized remains of the 3.2 million-year-old hominid known as Lucy to be on display at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. The problem is that no one wanted to visit the world’s oldest and best preserved human fossil, even though this is the first time she has ever traveled outside of Africa.

So far, Lucy’s been in Seattle for 5 months, and only 60,000 people have visited the exhibit (officials had expected more like 250,000). As a result, the science center has lost half a million dollars, resulting in layoffs of 8 percent of its staff and a wage freeze.

Lucy was supposed to go on a six-year, 10-city tour. The event started out strong: Visitors in Houston loved Lucy so much that officials extended her stay for a few months. By the exhibit’s end, Houston’s museum had clocked in more than 170,000 visitors. But a poor turnout in Seattle is making museums cancel their plans. The Field Museum in Chicago has pulled out, and the Denver museum of Nature and Science was apparently worried that transporting Lucy might damage her fragile remains.

Now, no museum wants to commit to being the next city to host Lucy. You can point fingers at the financial crisis or bad winter weather, but unless people in Seattle go to visit her sometime before March 8th, then she’ll probably just head back home in defeat.

Related Content:

DISCOVER: How Loyal Was Lucy?
DISCOVER: Thrill-Seeker’s Travel Guide

Image: flickr/ MashGet

MORE ABOUT: fossil, lucy, museums, Seattle
  • Pingback: Why Not Lucy? | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine()

  • red

    Odd, I would have thought that Seattle would have supported a Lucy exhibit.

  • SciGeekGrrl

    Living in Seattle, I am saddened by the lack of turnout…. but not surprised.

    First, ‘bad winter weather’ is an understatement. The city was shut down for days, most PSC employees couldn’t get to work, and the roads were a disaster.

    Which would not have been so bad, but the winter weather was during the time that many people (myself included) were planning on viewing Lucy – during the holiday break. I had two ‘dates’ to see the exhibit, but the PSC was closed during my vacation time.

    Thirdly, the exhibit is prohibitively expensive. $20 per adult, $15 per child? In the midst of an economic recession? Families will have a hard time swallowing that – $70+. Seattle has a whole host of wonderful, much less expensive, activities for families to participate in.

    And, did I mention that Seattle is home to the Discovery Institute, the funding source behind much of the intelligent design debate in this country?

  • Shawn Charland

    Nicely put together and written article Boonsri. Sad commentary on the West though.

    Not that people didn’t go – loads showed up in Huston – it’s that the show comes crashing down because the follow-ons are afraid to lose money instead of analyzing what’s wrong and fixing it to make a profit AND educate people.

    Here’s an apropos quote from my friend Jack King in England, he’s an ex-POW (Japanese concentration camp WWII) and 85 years old I think, very wise (he plays, composes, dances, writes poetry, has written two novels, and cares for his wife who has Alzheimers): “Remember that all the empires of history have succumbed to a surfeit of soft living and how some virile and less well off nation has finally arrived at the gates to take over, and in the fullness of time have themselves suffered the same fate. The more things alter the more they remain the same!”

    Cool guy. Your article made me think of his e-mail.

  • C Jones


  • Ed

    I’m embarrassed for Seattle.

  • Sarah O’Neil
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