Visitors flock to Peabody

As families cut back on vacations to exotic destinations, more and more New England residents are opting for local getaways, including Yale’s own Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Paid admissions to the Peabody have been up from the previous year for every month except one since the global recession began last fall, said Melanie Brigockas, the Peabody’s public relations and marketing manager. She attributed the increase in visitors to a desire to stay local, the opening of a new exhibition hall — Hall of Minerals, Earth and Space — and improved advertising.

More visitors than usual have been coming to the Peabody, where they can see exhibits of Connecticut geology and gems.
Eva Galvan
More visitors than usual have been coming to the Peabody, where they can see exhibits of Connecticut geology and gems.

“We have done fantastically since November,” said. “In the last 10 months we have broken numerous monthly admissions records, setting new highs in both paid and total attendance for certain months. Many people are traveling less and patronizing establishments closer to home.”

January saw the highest percentage increase in paid visitors, up 32.7 percent from last year, while February had the most paid visitors in one month, with a whopping 10,739 visitors.

March was the only month with fewer paid visitors than the previous year — unsurprising, Brigockas said, since March 2008 saw a particularly large influx of visitors.

Other natural history museums in New England said they have experienced similar increases, or at least consistent paid attendance since the recession began.

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History had about 7,000 more visitors this summer than last summer, an increase the museum’s director attributed both to the unusually rainy weather and a desire to go local for entertainment.

“Historically we’re packed during a rainy day, but we had good beach days this summer where people still came in larger numbers,” said executive director Bob Dwyer. “It’s been a very confusing year.”

The Harvard Museum of Natural History has also done well despite the recession, recording an all-time high of more than 175,000 during the last fiscal year, according to Executive Director Elisabeth Werby.

Brigockas said the spike in visitors to the Peabody began in November with the opening of the Hall of Minerals, Earth and Space, which showcases Connecticut geology, gems and antique diamond jewelry.

Advertising, including an electronic billboard on Interstate 95 and radio promotions, has also helped raise the museum’s profile in the community.

This was nowhere more evident than at the end-of-summer bash, when more than 3,600 visitors flocked to the museum Saturday to take advantage of one of the museum’s few free admission days. Brigockas said the museum was only expecting 1,000 to 2,000 visitors.

Alexander Kline, a Peabody staff member who mans the fossil cart, said the crowd inside the Great Hall of Dinosaurs was more diverse and more interested in the fossils than he had ever seen in his year of working for the museum.

The Peabody, which charges $24 for a family of four, worked especially hard to advertise in neighborhoods whose residents could not afford the luxury of visiting a museum in the middle of the recession, Brigockas said.

Ariana Rinaldi, who brought her three children to see the exhibits, said she came after seeing the large street banner, while Cindy Milin, who was visiting from Bloomfield, Conn., with her husband, said she read about it in the Hartford Courant.

Free days and afternoons in the past have been far less successful, Brigockas said, and often ended up as glorified babysitting, with two adults supervising school groups of 50. The free Thursday afternoons became so disruptive that the museum cut them out this summer, but they plan to reinstate them this month.

Some 61,337 paying visitors have come to the Peabody since November. An additional 46,878 got in free.

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