In the district of Sydenham in south London, at a place called Crystal Palace Park, there stands a strange and forgotten sight: the world's first life-sized models of dinosaurs. Not many people travel there these days, but once this was one of the most popular attractions in London—in effect, as Richard Fortey has noted, the world's first theme park.
Quite a lot about the models is not strictly correct. The iguanodon's thumb has been placed on its nose, as a kind of spike, and it stands on four sturdy legs, making it look like a rather stout and awkwardly overgrown dog. (In life, the iguanodon did not crouch on all fours, but was bipedal.) Looking at them now you would scarcely guess that these odd and lumbering beasts could cause great rancor and bitterness, but they did. Perhaps nothing in natural history has been at the center of fiercer and more enduring hatreds than the line of ancient beasts known as dinosaurs.
At the time of the dinosaurs' construction, Sydenham was on the edge of London and its spacious park was considered an ideal place to re-erect the famous Crystal Palace, the glass and cast-iron structure that had been the centerpiece of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and from which the new park naturally took its name. The dinosaurs, built of concrete, were a kind of bonus attraction. On New Year's Eve 1853 a famous dinner for twenty-one prominent scientists was held inside the unfinished iguanodon. Gideon Mantell, the man who had found and identified the iguanodon, was not among them. The person at the head of the table was the greatest star of the young science of paleontology. His name was Richard Owen and by this time he had already devoted several productive years to making Gideon Mantell's life hell.