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Dinosaur Spirit Guy

By Carter O'Brien


This is the tale of Dinosaur Spirit Guy. Yes, there is a fellow by that name. OK, that's almost certainly not his legal name, but he will forever be Dinosaur Spirit Guy to me, and god bless my job for bringing me into contact with these people who so lucidly remind me of my own sanity.

I'm sitting at my desk in the Geology department of the Field Museum of Natural History, poring over Byzantine accounting reports, when my phone rings. I pick it up, answering, "Geology, Carter speaking." The raspy voice on the other end asks:

"Can I please speak to a paleontologist?"

Now I know these kind of folks. People who call a major metropolitan museum and ask to speak to a "paleontologist," "archaeologist," or other scientist usually just need to get their lazy duffs to the library, as they tend to have questions that could be answered by looking in any encyclopaedia or dictionary. Part of my job is to keep these wingnuts away from the scientists. I ask what exactly he is interested in. He responds, in an even raspier voice than before, obviously excited that I haven't just hung up on him:

"Did dinosaurs have souls?"

I have to pause for a second. I get a lot of calls from nutjobs, con artists, and the like, but this is a new one.

"Did dinosaurs have souls?" I repeat, wondering if I've had too much coffee and my caffeine-riddled nervous system is playing tricks on me.

"Yes, I am wondering if I could speak to a paleontologist. I am interested in discussing whether or not dinosaurs might have had souls."

I have a brilliant reply. Well, brilliant for me, anyway. I say, "Sir, I believe you really need to speak to a priest or some other religious or spiritual advisor. This question is really outside the expertise of a paleontologist.">

This doesn't get rid of him. "Well, here's why I'm asking. I'm interested in finding out if dinosaurs had souls because I'm wondering if it's possible that some of them committed sins and could still be here, you know, as souls cursed to wander the earth forever."

DinosaursThis is where, even after dozen after dozens of these calls, I can never suppress my natural curiosity. I ask him to elaborate.

"Well, I was down around a graveyard in Mexico City and I was contacted by some dinosaur spirits," he continues. "I could feel their presence, they communicated with me but didn't talk to me."

He rambles on for a while about dinosaur spirits (no particular species of dinosaur, mind you), cemeteries, original sin, murky areas, and fog. After a few minutes he's made his point, but he keeps talking anyway. His descriptions became so convoluted and circular that I just cradle the phone on my shoulder and go back to work while he yaks away (I know you've all done this). At some point he breaks for a breath of air, or a shot of crazy juice, or whatever is feeding his consciousness, and I ask, "Sir, are you calling me now from Mexico City?"

He doesn't miss a beat. Crazy people rarely do. "No, I live in Woodlawn. I've never been to Mexico City, actually, but that is where the dinosaur spirits spoke to me."

"Excuse me?" I say. "Do I understand that these dinosaur spirits actually carried you to Mexico City?"

"Well, not exactly," he explains. "I was contacted by the dinosaur spirits, which were in Mexico City, and it was just like I was there. You see…."

I return the phone to my shoulder. He goes on for a few more minutes, after which I finally interrupt him and explain that the spiritual world is not really our specialty at the museum, and that I really cannot interrupt our scientists to discuss a bad (possibly tequila-induced) fantasy about dinosaur spirits.

"Oh, I see," he says, and hangs up.

And I figure that is that—finally! I can't wait to tell this story to my coworkers, although I strongly prefer wingnut correspondence in written, electronic, or photographic form. That way several folks can scrutinize it at once and make comments, such as:

"Definitely crazy."

"Needs to get out of the house more."

Dinosaurs"Why would the museum want to buy a chicken bone just because he dug it out of his backyard?"

"No, I don't think we should follow up on this offer to purchase a Tyrannosaurus rex that walks and talks as if it were human. Not even at the bargain price of $5 million. See http://www.keepgoing.org/ issue1/eugene_moore.asp.

This is not to say that I respond rudely or condescendingly to calls or e-mails as a general rule. It's just that I've learned thow to distingiush between the curious, well-meaning public and the con artists and the possibly criminally delusional. Strange calls and e-mails are a nice way to break up the work day, and the photos I get of "fossils" for sale are sometimes such grotesque frauds it's hilarious. I mean, look at the three photos at the top of this page. Can you imagine someone thinking a scientist would be stupid enough to fall for these photos? You'd have better odds trying to sell a Hell's Angel a water pistol you claimed was a WWII 44 Ruger or trying to pass off a fake driver's license to the FBI.

The thing is, you just never know. One out of every hundred calls and e-mails does turn out to be not only legit but a great lead or offer—the museum has received thousands (if not more) of extremely important artifacts and fossils completely unsolicited. Someone just calls up and says, "I have a 700-year-old Aztec carving in sparkling opal. Would the museum like it?" Sometimes these are just folks who have a great childhood memory of the museum and want to give something back, so I certainly don't want to risk turning anyone away without giving them a listen.

But back to Dinosaur Spirit Guy.

I hang up the phone and go back to work. About 15 minutes later, the phone rings.

"Can I speak to a paleontologist?" a raspy voice asks. "I'm wondering whether or not dinosaurs had souls."

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Copyright©2001 by Carter O'Brien.

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