Skip Hommer checks out a cast of a fossil skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Rex Room at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History on May 1, 2014. / H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY
By the edge of a stream in Montana, a 6-ton, 35-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex lay down and died, becoming a monolithic relic of an age when giant reptiles ruled the Earth.
Now, 66 million years and generations of evolution later, 5-year-old Skip Hommer is donating all $270 he collected at his 4th birthday party to the Smithsonian Institution, so kids his age can finally see a real T. Rex skeleton in the nation's capital.
He walked into the museum with his mother in tow, so he could personally donate the dino funds in a box decked out with pictures of dinosaurs. On a recent day at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Skip stared up curiously at the giant T. Rex skull, pondering a monstrous maw that, back in the day, could have swallowed him whole.
"Not only is (Skip) sharing his love and contributing to something bigger than himself, he is sharing with all his friends something bigger," says his mom, Deborah Hommer.
The effort to bring the T. Rex into the giant hall at the Natural History Museum is a monumental one that will take at least two years of exacting reconstruction of bones, computer analysis, and the passion of paleontologists, conservators and historians.
It started eons ago when the mighty T. Rex died of an unknown cause. In more recent years, the nation's capital has been trying to get itself a real Tyrannosaurus.
"I would guess that even in the very beginning, there was a little bit of T. Rex envy because the American Museum (of Natural History in New York)acquired their T. Rex in 1905," says Kirk Johnson, director of the National Museum of Natural History. Washington's museum opened five years later.
The Smithsonian has been outbid numerous times and finally landed a 50-year loan agreement with the Museum of the Rockies.
Skip is the "poster child of why dinosaur halls matter," Johnson says. "It's actually part of our job to have a great time hanging out with kids because the people who will be running this place in 50 years are people like Skip."
David Koch, the billionaire industrialist, philanthropist and political donor, threw $35 million - the single largest gift ever to the Natural History Museum - toward the T. Rex cause.
"I am thrilled and honored to be in a position to help make this dream of the new home for the T. Rex at the Smithsonian a reality," Koch says.
Washington's museum is the last of the great American dinosaur halls to be renovated, after ones in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver. "We've been trying to renovate our dinosaur hall forever. The hall opened in 1911 and our diplodocus (dinosaur) has been on display since 1931 in the same spot," Johnson says.
In the Rex Room, teams prepare the T. Rex bones, which recently arrived via FedEx, for display in 2019.
The fourÔ??person "laser cowboy" team 3-D scans each bone into the computer, which renders how the T. Rex bones might come to life.
"It's heavy fossil rock, and you want to mount it with the grace of a living animal," Johnson says.
A five-person team evaluates the bones' condition, pieces together broken bones and sculpts missing parts of the skeleton.
Then, members of the Rex Room will photo document the specimen, dinosaur curator Matthew Carrano will make a scientific assessment and researchers will visit. Once the bones are finished in-house, the Smithsonian will send them to a Canadian company to build an iron armature to support the T. Rex.
"It's been really fun to be part of it, but we're all very serious that we want to get all of this right," Carrano says.
The process has been very exciting to Carrano, who's wanted to be a paleontologist since he was a kid.
"You certainly don't think, 'Someday I'm going to be in a museum, and someone's going to mail a T. Rex to me,'" he says.
Johnson is confident the tyrant lizard will become one of the must-see attractions in the nation's capital.
"It's important when you come to Washington to see the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Washington Monument, the Hope Diamond and the T. Rex," Johnson says
Even after Johnson ascended the ranks in his field, dinosaurs leave him in disbelief, he adds. "You can't even imagine something that big lived."
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Read the original story: Transfixed by T. Rex: One boy's tale