When I was a kid living in L.A. one of the great happenings in my life was when my uncle would come home from the service. He would regale me with tales of his adventures in India during the war. I particularly remember him taking me to the L.A. County Museum of Natural History. I didn’t get to go there very often, but I loved it when I did. We would walk around the African dioramas and I would marvel at the animals and the places depicted. The leopard display was among my favorites. It was set at night and the display was dark. As I walked up there were the bright, shining eyes of the leopard getting ready to leap out of the case from a tree limb.
The dioramas of early California were among my favorites. I especially remember one that showed vaqueros roping a grizzly bear. We would walk through the displays of shrunken heads from Borneo and the mummies from Egypt. Then there were the cases of bones from the La Brea tar pits. Saber-toothed cats with their long, sickle-shaped incisors (of course I didn’t call them incisors back then). The skeletons of mastodons, ground sloths and dire wolves all feature large in my memories of the museum.
In later years, as a biology student, I went back to the museum, but I entered through the staff door. I had become acquainted with the herpetologist on staff there and was bringing him some lizards that I had collected in Mexico for identification. After our meeting, I spent some time wandering in the museum like I had done as a child. There, in the Africa room, was the leopard – still getting ready to leap out of the dark from that tree limb.