When a Dinner Party Was Held in an Iguanodon

Funk Monk via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Funk Monk via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0 / Funk Monk via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Whatever your New Year’s Eve plans are, they almost certainly pale in comparison to what British artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was doing on December 31, 1853.

The previous year, Hawkins, a sculptor and natural history artist, had been asked to create a series of sculptures of "antediluvian monsters" for the area surrounding the Crystal Palace in London, after it moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill. Working under the guidance of celebrated paleontologist Richard Owen, Hawkins decided to construct dinosaurs from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras, among other creatures.

The models were much anticipated by the public, which had never seen dinosaurs reconstructed before. To play into the hype and help publicize the project, Hawkins suggested a dinner party PR stunt. He invited 21 people to enjoy an eight-course meal on New Year's Eve inside of the iguanodon mold, including high-profile guests such as scientists, Crystal Palace investors, and newspaper editors to ensure publicity. Here’s geologist Joseph Prestwich's invitation, drawn by Hawkins himself:

Collection 803. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Album & Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

The menu was quite elaborate: three soups, three types of fish, at least seven meats, a veritable buffet of sweets and desserts, and several kinds of wine. Owen gave a brief presentation about the sculptures over dinner, and Hawkins later reported that the boisterous crowd stayed late enough to ring in the new year. “The roaring chorus was so fierce and enthusiastic as almost to lead to the belief that the herd of lguanodons were bellowing," he wrote.

Collection 803. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Album. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

The dinner party—and the dinosaurs—were a roaring success. In fact, the dinos continue to be popular today. Though the Crystal Palace itself burned to the ground in 1936, Hawkins' statues were so durable that they still stand, looking better than ever after recent refurbishments. (However, you can no longer dine inside them.)