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.
dinosaurs have souls?" I repeat,
wondering if I've had too much coffee and my caffeine-riddled nervous system is
playing tricks on me.
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
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."
is where, even after dozen after dozens of these calls, I can never suppress my
natural curiosity. I ask him to elaborate.
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."
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
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."
me?" I say. "Do I understand that these dinosaur spirits actually
carried you to Mexico City?"
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…."
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.
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:
"Needs to get out of the house more."
would the museum want to buy a chicken bone just because he dug it out of his
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/
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 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."