A Dino Named Sue: The Most Complete T. Rex Ever Found

If you've only got one afternoon in Chicago, which museum should you attend? After mulling over the possibilities and consulting my Magic 8-ball, I decided to hit up the Field Museum. It was a great choice, largely because I got to meet this old gal, who happens to be one of the most controversial set of bones in existence.

The Discovery

The dino named Sue was almost not found. After the crew on the dig found a few Edmontosaurus bones, they were pretty much ready to call it quits. But then their truck got a flat tire. While waiting on the tire to be fixed, Sue Hendrickson thought she would bide her time by checking out some cliffs that they were unable to get to before. After finding some small pieces of bone, she looked up to see where they had fallen from. Sticking out of the cliff were some much larger bones that looked to be well preserved. (Photo from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research)

hendrickson The remains were eventually excavated and the crew discovered that the T. Rex was 80 percent complete "“ the most complete set of T. Rex bones ever found. In fact, only seven T. Rex fossils that are more than 50 percent complete have ever been found, so this was really an amazing find. The reason the skeleton is so complete, they speculated, is because the dino was covered with water and mud shortly after it died, so other animals weren't able to make off with pieces of it very easily.

The Controversy

Pretty much as soon as word of the discovery got out, people started fighting over who "owned" Sue (the dino, not the paleontologist). The excavation crew had permission from Maurice Williams, the owner of the land, to dig and remove the skeleton and paid him $5,000 for those privileges. But Mr. Williams said the $5,000 didn't include the sale of any findings "“ just permission to remove and clean them.

It gets even more complicated. Williams belonged to the Sioux tribe, and the Sioux insisted that the bones were rightfully theirs. However, the United States Department of the Interior held the land the dinosaur was found on in trust, so they claimed the land actually belonged to them and not Williams. Concerned that something would happen to the valuable fossil, the FBI and the National Guard seized the it from the dig site in 1992 and transferred it to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. It was eventually decided that the fossil did belong to Maurice Williams. He decided to sell it, which was when the Field Museum pooled funds with California State University, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, McDonald's, Ronald McDonald House Charities and lots of individual donors to purchase the T. Rex when it when up for auction at Sotheby's. They ended up buying it for $8,362,500.

The Restoration

The Field Museum built a new research laboratory specifically for preservationists to work on Sue. It also allowed the museum's visitors to watch the preservation through glass. Copies were made of each bone and models were made of the 20 percent of the bones that were missing. McDonald's got one complete set to put on a traveling tour and Disney's Animal Kingdom received a set that you can still see in the DinoLand U.S.A. section of the park.

The preservationists also took CT scans of each bone to see what they could learn, but at nearly five feet long, the skull was way too big to fit in a conventional medical scanner. So they borrowed the scanner at Boeing's Rocketdyne lab in California, which was usually used to check out space shuttle pieces.
What they discovered from all of their scans was that Sue was really old for a dinosaur. She had also broken numerous rib bones, but they had all healed so they were injuries that occurred before she died as opposed to injuries that caused her death. The ribs weren't her only injuries, though "“ she had also broken her fibula, experienced some damage to her skull and damaged vertebra of her tail. They think that she died from disease, though, and not from a fight or a fall. All in all, more than 25,000 hours were spent cleaning and restoring Sue.

The Display

Once properly examined and cleaned, the Field Museum was ready to show Sue off to the public in her entirety. Problem: without muscles, Sue's 600-pound head was simply too heavy for her body to easily hold up. Plus, her head had some damage to it and wasn't in the greatest shape. So, the solution was to cast a mold of the skull, fixing the smashed parts so the head wouldn't look distorted. It was also much more lightweight and was easier to attach to the body. The original skull is on display for museum patrons to see; it's not attached to anything.

sue head

When the whole thing was assembled, Sue ended up being 42 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hips. Despite her huge size, her brain cavity is only big enough to hold about a quart of milk.
So, that's the story of Sue. If you're ever in Chicagoland, I highly recommend checking her out. The whole museum is fantastic "“ I lost my husband in the Native American exhibit for about an hour, and when he wandered out he confessed that he could have spent an entire day there. It's a wonderful, not-boring museum with lots and lots of dino bones for you to ponder. I'll leave you with a few of them.

moose thingwooly


job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


More from mental floss studios