Dinosaur Walk Museum (Gone)
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
That World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane up on a pole sure looked familiar. Hadn't we seen it somewhere before? And why was it in the tourist mecca of Pigeon Forge, outside of a dinosaur museum?
Well, we HAD seen it before, or one similar to it -- outside the Veterans Memorial Museum in Branson, Missouri. That's because an identical Veterans Memorial Museum once had existed in Pigeon Forge -- until it was turned into an antique mall in 2006. It failed because most of its business went next door, to the Dinosaur Walk Museum. Both were built by the same man, Fred Hoppe Jr. Fred had opened a Dinosaur Walk Museum in Branson, too, but far enough down the road that it didn't devour his human attraction.
The Dinosaur Walk Museum is a big, open room filled with what the attraction calls dinosaur "flesh replications." In plain English, they're life-size realistic sculptures, ranging from a 42-foot-long T-rex and a 70-foot-long Apatosaurus down to a six-inch tall Microraptor. An Albertosaurus head pokes through some potted palms at the entrance -- claimed to have appeared in a Jurassic Park movie, the ultimate in bragging rights for any fake dinosaur.
In the big room, a hungry-looking Allosaurus leers across a winding walkway at a freakish Dilophosaurus. A display of stuffed snakes, the world's 20 most venomous, is here, too, although it's not explained why. Flying dinosaurs hang on wires way up among the air ducts. They are nearly invisible, as the room is dark, dark, dark. Some of the big lizards are under-lit to make them more terrifying, but everything else, including the plastic palm trees and the hand-painted murals on the walls, is lost in the murk.
Fred Hoppe Jr pays a company in Utah to make his dinosaurs, and he has evidently decided that mass production is the way to go, as he's also cloned Dinosaur Walk Museums in Riverhead, New York, and the Mall of America in Minneapolis. His lifelike killer lizards let us see -- even in bad light -- why we would not have wanted to be alive 65 million years ago. And despite his love of veterans, Hoppe has apparently learned, like the anti-evolutionists, that Americans love dinosaurs most of all.