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Night at the museum: Fernbank offers sleepover with dinos

Fernbank Museum of Natural History held its first public sleepover on Aug. 2. Goodnight dinosaurs! Jamie Gumbrecht/AJC

An artifact had gone missing, so they were told, and if anybody would find it, it would be them — this band of children with swiftly approaching Sunday night bedtimes.

Dance party at Fernbank! Jamie Gumbrecht/AJC

With parents and grandparents in tow, a few dozen kids ages 7 to 12 were the first public crowd ever to spend the night in Fernbank Museum of Natural History. They paid $75 to $100 per person for overnight access to the exhibits, two meals, a morning IMAX movie and the bragging rights that come with having worn pajamas in public. (More photos to come soon!)

Fernbank says that customers have long asked for overnight programs like those at Zoo Atlanta or the Georgia Aquarium, but “Night at the Museum” movies upped the number of requests. (Fernbank certainly isn’t the only museum seeing these requests roll in more frequently. This isn’t new, either: a peak in my elementary school memories is a night spent at an Ohio science museum with my Girl Scout troop. I do recall being there all night; I do not remember sleeping.)

But back to the business at hand— a missing artifacts, dozens of willing detectives and a full night to explore. Here’s what it looks like at the museum well after closing hours:

  • 7:15 p.m. Overnighters explore stations stacked with puzzles and hieroglyphics. They learn a dinosaur skull has disappeared, and that they’ll need a secret word to find it.
  • 8 p.m. Usual bedtime passes for some of the youngest overnighters, aged 7 or pretending-to-be-7, as Fernbank rules required.
  • 8:30 p.m. A presentation of nocturnal creatures includes hissing cockroaches, a blue-tongued skink, an eastern indigo snake and Ricky, a hedgehog-looking creature that guides swear is not a hedgehog, but a lesser tenrec. The favorite animal: whichever one is currently misbehaving while in its keeper’s hands.
  • 9 p.m. Half the group moves on to flight activities — planes, balloons, squirrels. The final clue reveals itself: the missing artifact is in the Naturalist Center.
  • 9:30 p.m. Another wave of bedtimes — those whose parents aspire to have them asleep by 9 — passes.
  • 10 p.m. Gatekeepers — teen volunteers in black robes — appear outside a door at the Naturalist Center. Anybody who states the secret word gains access to the missing artifact.
  • 10:05 p.m. There it is, up close, the “missing” skull of a giganotosaurus, one of the dinosaurs in the museum’s main area. (Yup, the museum has a spare, for just such emergencies.)
  • 10:15 p.m. The PJs come out. Stripes, flowers, Toy Story, Georgia Tech, NASCAR, owls, lots and lots of dinosaurs. Parents put ’em on, too.
  • 10:20 p.m. Dozens of miniature air compressors kick on. Stuffed animals take their rightful place at the heads of the air mattresses.
  • 10:25 p.m. The sleepiest camper curls up with her mom in the Starry Night Gallery. They appear asleep by the time “Walk Like an Egyptian” kicks on outside the door
  • 10:30 p.m. Dance party under the dinosaurs! Hula hoops! Limbo! Sliding across smooth floors in slippers!
  • 11:15 p.m. A lullaby track starts to play. A child informs his mom that he’s not tired. His mother is quick to respond: “Yes you are.”
  • 11:30 p.m. Teeth are brushed. Doors are locked. Artifacts are safe. The lights dim around the dinosaurs. This is the real night at the museum

Want to go? Fernbank Museum of Natural History is located at 767 Clifton Road, N.E. in Atlanta. It’s open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $13-15, free for children ages 2 and younger and members. For more information call 404-929-6300 or visit No sleepovers are scheduled right now, but Fernbank expects to have more, and to announce them in the museum newsletters.

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[...] I posted earlier this week about the first public sleepover at Fernbank Museum of Natural History. [...]