Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
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Dinosaurs in Norfolk Virginia
Janaf Shopping Center
April 7-10 1966

Virginian-Pilot, April 7, 1966

A few nights ago while looking at the television news, the news commentator announced that a rare Gorgosaurus Skeleton, a relative of the fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex whom was predated by 10 million years ago, would be auctioned off at Sotheby’s this month. Sotheby’s Auction House predicts this dinosaur skeleton will bring about 8 million dollars on July 28, 2022. Today, the skeleton is displayed at their headquarters for all to see and inspect. Two years ago Stan, the Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, was sold for $31.8 million at Christie’s Auction house.

Upon reading about this auction, I remembered when 9 large, prehistoric dinosaurs were set up at Janaf Shopping Center off of Military Highway and Virginia Beach Blvd. Yes, these fierce creatures ushered in a Monster Crowd, an event that I remember quite well. I was one of many who wanted to see these life-size dinosaurs. The spectacular display consisting of 9 life–size, authentic replicas, creatures that roamed our earth 60 million years ago, was in Norfolk, Virginia. These massive dinosaurs was also part of the World’s Fair in New York City in 1963.

The large, massive dinosaurs were brought down to Norfolk, Virginia, on 40-foot, flatbed trailer trucks. The show was part of a 40-city tour, to 18 states. A Mr. J. R Tucker of the Sinclair Oil Refining Co. managed these life-size creatures like he did at the 1963 New York World’s Fair.

These astonishing, monster lifelike creatures were all made out of fiberglass, skin formed in plastic molds and cast from life-size clay sculptures. They were built by Sinclair at a cost of $500.000 and took two years to complete. These dinosaurs were a tremendous hit for the young people at the New York World’s Fair.

Once they were arranged at Janaf Shopping Center, one could see the 80-foot brontosaurus, 50 foot tyrannosaurus and a 32-foot trachodon and the ever jaw-breaking names like corythosautus, triceratops, stegosaurus, ankylosaurus, struthomlmus and the last Ornitholestes.

I remembered the night I went to see these dinosaurs. It was a cold, rainy night in April. My next door neighbor invited me to come. I was about 17 at the time. Mrs. Nina Forrest, her sister Annie Bell Nye and her son Walter Nye decided to check out these dinosaurs. Walter Nye drove. I remember the traffic was horrible that night and poor Walter Nye had to slam on breaks when some “nutty driver” pulled in front of him. The force was so powerful, I ended up in the front between the driver and passenger seats. In those day seat belts were not installed in cars.

As we approached the area of Janaf Shopping Center by way of Military Highway, we got out of the car and walked around. A spectacular display consisting of 9 large, authentic replicas of these giant creatures awaited us. I have never seen so many people out that night looking at these strange creatures. They had search lights all around to view these monsters from every angle. Looking back, I just remembered they all were large, wet and gray in color. I also remembered one man saying, “It’s bigger than Christmas.” I understand the merchants did very well with these exhibits. They brought in some extra cash.

And I remembered the $500.00 Dinosaur Egg Hunt that took place on the last day. Whoever won the cash, I do not remember.

Sinclair presented this remarkable collection of prehistoric creatures to the people of Norfolk for a few days only. These models were put together scientifically accurate for the time.

After the BIG SHOW was over, Richard R. Theisen, of Major Avenue, a local building contractor and a master-of-all-trades, proposed to the mayor of City of Norfolk, Roy B. Martin, and the city council, a Dinosaurs Theme Park in the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. Fred Heutte, former director of the Azalea Gardens enthusiastically liked the idea at the time. But, like so many proposals, the proposed Dinosaur Theme Park for the Norfolk Botanical Gardens fell silent.

Where are these New York dinosaurs today? Here is what I found from the internet. Triceratops is in the Museum of Science and Industry in Louisville, Kentucky; Stegosaurus went to the Dinosaur Natural Monument in Jensen, Utah; Corythosaurus is in Independence Kansas; Ankylosaurs lives in Houston, Texas, Museum of Natural Science; Struthiomimus went to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Public Museum; and Trachodon lives in the Brookfield Illinois Zoo. Sadly and unfortunately, Ornitholestes was stolen and never recovered.

Once these creatures roamed our earth 60 million years ago. They ruled the earth longer than man. They were fierce looking! The Greek word for dinosaur means, “Terrible lizard.” Yes, they were terrifying lizards, but they sure brought out the monster crowds and lots of joy at Janaf Shopping Center, here in Norfolk, Virginia.

Virginian-Pilot, April 9, 1966

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Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com