The big, green behemoths have been standing guard over the city for almost 75 years and millions of people, young and old, have had their pictures taken with them, but there’s much more to the residents of Rapid City’s Dinosaur Park than meets the eye.
Mount Rushmore had first been dedicated in 1930 and was beginning to attract thousands of visitors every year, even though not yet complete. Rapid City was beginning to see more and more Mount Rushmore visitors spending time in town and decided it needed a free, family-attraction of its own for the public to enjoy.
The idea of life-sized dinosaur sculptures was originally conceived by Dr. C.C. O’Harra, paleontologist and president of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. O’Harra had always been fascinated by dinosaurs and their relationship to the Black Hills and the western United States.
Others in Rapid City approved of O’Harra’s idea and sculptor Emmit A. Sullivan was hired to design the huge statues. Sullivan had previously worked on the sculpting team at Mount Rushmore so had experience in working on large-scale projects.
Funded by the city and by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), Sullivan, as sculptor, and many local laborers went to work constructing the five original dinosaurs. The sculptures were dedicated in May of 1936 and were originally painted gray in color. Sometime during the 1950’s, they were changed to the famous bright green with white bellies as seen today.
Other interesting facts about the Dinosaur Park statues:
- The sculpture frames are made of two-inch diameter iron pipe, surrounded by steel skeletons wrapped in wire mesh, covered in concrete.
- The Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) is 80 feet long, 28 feet high and weights almost 93 tons!
- Sculptor, Emmit Sullivan, also created the giant Wall Drug dinosaur and the “Christ of the Ozarks” statue in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
- Two additional dinosaurs were added a few years after construction of the original five sculptures.
- The Tyrannosaurus Rex statue is 35 feet long, 16 feet tall and has a 4 foot head.
- The dinosaur sculptures were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
- The park has always been a free attraction and visitors are actually encouraged to climb on and play around the statues.
In later years, a concession stand and gift shop was built at Dinosaur Park and is still serves visitors and sells some pretty funny souvenirs of the kitschy roadside attraction. A friend actually sent me a picture of some retro, green dino salt & pepper shakers from the gift shop. It’s a funny little shop with a lot of unique things to pick from – it really is worth the stop.
Dinosaur Park is easy to find and is visible from most parts of Rapid City. Located on Skyline Drive, west of the downtown district, it is one of the more unique attractions in the area and makes for some great holiday card photos. Have fun!