Fifty years ago today, on Halloween 1968, a group of life-sized dinosaurs arrived in Louisville on the back of flatbed trucks.
They came from the Sinclair Dinoland display at the 1964 World’s Fair, in New York.
The nine dinosaurs, framed in steel and covered in fiberglass, were modeled after real dinosaur skeletons and created by Louis Paul Jonas, a renowned animal sculptor and wildlife taxidermist.
The giant creatures were commissioned by Sinclair Oil, which used a brontosaurus as its mascot. When they came to Louisville, people from all over visited the Sinclair Oil station on Preston Highway at Indian Trail to take a look.
Rocko Jerome has been collecting stories and photos from people who saw it.
“It’s a very fond memory for a lot of Louisvillians who were there then,” he said. “It was all the rage, all over Louisville.”
After the tour, Sinclair offered the dinosaurs to the Smithsonian Museum, but they didn’t have the room to display them. So they were parceled out to museums and zoos in various cities, and the triceratops ended up at the Louisville Zoo.
“I’m a little bit sketchy on the details on this, and nobody seems to know for sure,” Jerome said. “Nobody seems to remember for sure.”
The triceratops would eventually be nicknamed Lottie — for Louisville’s Own Triceratops — Sinclair.
The zoo doesn’t have any records of how we became one of only eight cities to receive a dinosaur (there were nine dinosaurs, but two went to the same place). They just know the triceratops was on display in the area that is now Gorilla Forest.
In 1979, she was moved to the Kentucky Science Center.
“They didn’t have anyplace indoors that they could put her, so they had her in a parking area,” Jerome said.
Where’s Lottie Now?
Ten years ago, Lottie was taken off display at the museum and put into storage. And she’s still there today, standing on a grassy area near a railroad track in West Louisville.
After learning her story from Rocko Jerome, Dave Bell, the Kentucky Science Center’s Director of Brand Advancement, took an interest in Lottie’s fate.
“It’s amazing the condition she’s in, because she’s basically been outside since 1964,” Bell said. “There’s definitely some fiberglass work that needs to be done.”
The tip of Lottie’s tail is gone (you can peer right up her long, hollow tail and see the steel inside). Bell said a car hit her when she was in the museum parking lot, but they still have the missing piece.
“I don’t know if you want to necessarily make her back to brand new,” Bell said. “Because I think part of it is the coolness of the aging of it, and the cracking. But you do want her to look in good shape.”
Bell thinks that would take a few thousand dollars. And Jerome hopes to help raise the money through a group he started called Operation CAR LOT (Community Action to Restore Louisville’s Own Triceratops).
Meanwhile, Bell’s working on finding Lottie a more public home, once she’s spruced up again.
“I want people to be able to see it, and experience it, and get their picture taken with it, and tell stories about it,” he said.
The museum is currently in talks with a local business who might be interesting in hosting Lottie long-term, but Bell can’t yet say who (because “we don’t want to jinx it.”).
Rocko Jerome says Lottie’s return is getting closer all the time — and he’s relieved.
“When I go to bed at night and I know that that dinosaur is still someplace that no one can see it, it bothers me,” he said It’s vexing.”
He’s hopeful that soon he’ll be able to sleep more soundly, and that you’ll be able to visit (or revisit) this big beautiful landmark from Louisville’s history.