Dinosaur Park, South Dakota’s Dino-mecca

By Michael Bushnell

This week, once again in conjunction with our “Remember This” column, we bring you a linen era postcard number 232, published by Curt Teich of Chicago, Ill., showing the giant Brontosaurus at Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, S.D.

The park was dedicated on May 22, 1936 and contains seven dinosaur sculptures on a high hill just off South Dakota Route 44. It was created in an attempt to capitalize on the tourists coming to the Black Hills to see the soon-to-be-completed Mount Rushmore National Monument.

Constructed by the City of Rapid City and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the dinosaurs were designed by Emmet Sullivan, a sculptor living in Montana at the time. Sullivan designed the dinosaur structures in 1934 and they were his first large scale work.

Sullivan also designed the Brontosaurus at the iconic Wall Drug Store located in nearby Wall, SD. Another of Sullivan’s works is the Christ of the Ozarks statue, located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the dinosaurs at the now closed Dinosaur World in Beaver, Arkansas.

Construction of the creatures was done with two-inch thick black iron pipe, over which a wire mesh frame and a concrete skin was carefully laid. Originally painted gray, they were given a face-lift of sorts in the mid 1950s, their color changing to a bright green with white undersides.

Being constructed in the 1930s, the dinosaurs reflected the thinking of the times. The tyrannosaur’s original finger claws, as well as its teeth, have been lost or damaged over the years to where its hands are nothing more than stumps and its teeth are all but gone. Vintage postcards of the T-Rex do show these were originally part of the sculpture. The Stegosaurus also had a shorter tail with four correct tail spikes, but this has changed recently where the tail spikes have been removed (perhaps due to safety concerns) and the tail considerably lengthened.

The printed description on the back of the card describes the Brontosaurus sculpture: “Famed as the largest replica of a prehistoric animal constructed, the Brontosaurus in Dinosaur Park is visible for a distance of forty miles. Its head is 28 feet above the base, its length is 80 feet and in life, this creature weighed about 15 tons. Many fine skeletal specimens of these animals are found in the South Dakota Badlands.”

The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 21, 1990. 

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