When Lucy came to Houston's Museum of Natural Science, she was a smash hit. Over 200,000 people came to see the 3.2 million year-old bones of the humanoid ape that (or is it who?) might have been an ancestor to each and every one of us.
The 2007 exhibit was such a triumph that it was held over for five months and even spawned something of a love-fest between government officials here and in Ethiopia.
So it was not without justification that officials at Lucy's next stop, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, were wildly optimistic . The museum lavished money on Lucy, hiring a 24-hour security guard and forking over $500,000 to the Ethiopian government and a $200,000 fee to HMNS. All told, including costs for mounting an accompanying exhibit of Ethiopian history and anthropology, the Seattle museum spent $2.25 million.
And, according to the Seattle Times, it has been a disaster. In the annals of disastrous Seattle engagements, only Spinal Tap's gig at Lindberg Air Force Base approaches Lucy's stay.
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Citing a Lucy-related shortfall of up to $500,000, the museum laid off eight percent of its workforce and froze the wages of those who remained on the payroll. Matching 401-K contributions have been suspended and unpaid days off have also been instituted. Spending her grandkids' inheritance indeed...
The Seattle museum projected 250,000 visitors; only 60,000 have clicked through the turnstiles so far, and Lucy is contracted to hit the road in five weeks.
Pacific Museum president and CEO Bryce Seidl blamed the economy ($20.75 adult tickets are no easy sell in this market) and a stretch of miserable December weather for the fiasco. Valid excuses or not, other museums have taken note: museums in Chicago and Denver have backed away from dates with this antediluvian gold-digger. While Lucy was supposed to have traveled to ten cities over six years, Seidl now thinks she is headed home to Ethiopia some four years ahead of schedule.
-- John Nova Lomax