(WXTX) - How would you like to get up close and personal with a grizzly bear?
Want something bigger? How about an African elephant?
You could go to the zoo for that, but you won't find a dinosaur at the zoo. You can however find that and more under one roof at a museum that is Absolutely Alabama.
If you've never been to the Anniston Museum of Natural History you might ask why a world-class museum in Calhoun County? Curator Dan Spaulding has a simple answer.
"Why not?" Spaulding said. "When I first came for my interview back in 1987 as a naturalist I thought this would be small town of Anniston it'd be like a stepping stone. A small museum that you'd find in a town and when I came in I was utterly blown away by what they had here."
Which is kind of like considering the Kodiak or the dinosaur or the elephant in the room: it makes you wonder how it all got here in the first place.
"It was, I guess, a stroke of luck that this businessman from Pennsylvania comes down here with a collection," Spaulding said. "In 1930 he comes down with a huge collection of bird dioramas and that's what started the museum."
Spaulding said his name was William Werner and when he passed away another Pennsylvanian from Norristown purchased his collection and started his own museum up there. But then his business grew and he wanted to move down south, and he happened to be moving to Anniston.
Werner told the city if they paid for the shipping, he would give his collection to the city.
"He had two mummies he brought with him that he picked up in 1926 that were not William Werner's collection and he also donated those to the city," Spaulding said. "So we are, to my knowledge, the only place in Alabama to have two authentic mummies that are on display and they're about 2,300 years old."
"We have had many people that come here and say wow this is better than the Smithsonian!" Spaulding said. "Look at our African Hall, the open diorama and I walked you gentlemen through it but you go to the Smithsonian, it's behind closed you know? The animals are in closed glass, not really natural habitats. So I think once that word gets out that wow! This is a world class museum, not just a small town museum I think more people will come."
"I feel like you're on the savannah," said reporter Fred Hunter.
"Exactly. You feel like you're walking through it and this is not your old fashioned type of museum," Spaulding said. "This was done in the 70s and they wanted an open diorama so you had the feel that you're walking through the savannah and this is what it is a habitat, a diorama of the savannah in Africa. This is an African elephant and it's in its habitat and it's not under glass and you get to see it and feel like it's right here with you."
"It's a treasure and people sometimes don't realize what they have right here," Spaulding said. "You don't have to go to Washington DC to see something great. We have it right here in Anniston."
Now you could spend a lot of time and a lot of money traveling from the savannah in Africa to the Smithsonian in Washington and not get this close to so many animals.
The Anniston Museum of Natural History is a natural wonder and it's Absolutely Alabama.