What do you get when you combine 1 intern, 20 team members, 800 overnight guests, and over 24 hours spent in a museum? Controlled chaos. Friday I spent my night volunteering at the Field Museum’s Dozin’ with the Dinos program. The public program, hosted ten times a year, is a unique opportunity for children ages 6-12 to spend the night at the museum exploring the galleries, participating in activities, and sleeping in the exhibitions. Below is an honest account of my time.
Friday June 15, 2012, 9 AM – I spend the workday in the PlayLab with the 2-6 year olds, making sure to consume enough fruit to keep my blood sugar up and caffeine to sustain me through the next 24 hours. I mentally prepare myself for the night ahead and not-so-secretly hope that Sue comes to life. An intern can hope, right?
4 PM – The education staff members, contractors, and volunteers meet to debrief about the night. I find out that 800 guests is “a walk in the park”. It’s the last overnight of the season (which goes from January – June) and the last program had 1000+ guests. Yowza. Every team member (there are twenty of us to start and six spending the night) gets his or her personal schedule of events. Lindsey, our team leader and a public programmer at the Field, dons her tennis shoes, dinosaur hat, and walkie-talkie. We are ready. Gulp.
5 PM – The guests begin to fill Stanley Field Hall. I pair up with another volunteer to help participants find their sleeping locations. Families are in one exhibit; Cub Scout and Girl Scout troops are each assigned a space on the ground level or upper level. The sound of air mattress pumps fills the air.
7 PM – After orientation, I begin to regret not bringing a fanny pack for the essentials (flashlight, watch, band aids, water, sanity). I am beginning to feel more and more like a camp counselor as I lead a small group of guests into the depth of the underground research area for a behind the scenes tour of the reptiles and amphibians collections. Guests can pay an additional fee to get a tour and sleep in the dino hall! We meet with the assistant collections manager and see a WHOLE lot of jars. The kids love it! Their energy is catching and I find myself overjoyed to be working where I am working.
9:30 PM – After snack and mummy mask making, I shadow a staff member as he goes through each exhibition and turns off the lights in the galleries. It turns out that four departments are in charge of some portion of the lights and collaboration between them has been both frustrating and beneficial for the education department. Ed compiled all the info into a “lighting bible” and it’s now on high demand with the other departments – no one had ever thought to put all of the info in one place before! The kids listen to bedtime stories with Sue and enjoy a flashlight tour of Ancient Egypt. It’s fascinating to delve into the bowels of the museum and really see how much planning it takes to put together this type of program. The other staff are all pros! Some have stayed overnight 50+ times! I attempt to not get lost.
1:00 AM – I accompany Lindsey, the head honcho, for a walk through of the galleries to make sure that lights are all out, the videos are all off, the Girl Scouts are all asleep, no rules are being broken (tents and alcohol are strictly prohibited), and no one is puking. The amount of puking stories I heard from team members were enough to make me queasy. I say a quick prayer for no “emergency” situations tonight.
1:30 AM – 6 AM Sleep. Sort of. We draw straws and I end up sleeping upstairs in the Evolving Planets exhibit next to a very scary fish head skeleton. It’s dark and late. I wander out onto the balcony overlooking Sue and she hasn’t moved. Yet. The museum is peaceful with everyone asleep and the lights turned down.
6 AM – Set up for breakfast and thank the tea gods for chai. Remind 800 guests to only take one muffin and watch as the parents cry in joy at the sight of coffee.
9 AM – Get placed at an exit stamping hands and collecting evaluation programs. A mom comes up to me and asks me if I’m a volunteer. I say yes. She beams at me and says that her child just had the night of his life and that she couldn’t have asked for a better learning experience for her family. I’m tired, I’m sore, and I look like I just got run over by a T-Rex, but boy – was it worth it!