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September 2, 2014

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Natural History Museum celebrates 21 years of learning

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Sam Morris

The animatronic T-Rex dinosaur shakes his head during the 20th anniversary celebration at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum Saturday, July 16, 2011.

For a brief moment Saturday, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum aquarium room was particularly festive.

It was because of the museum's 21st anniversary that Executive Director Marilyn Gillespie called for everyone’s attention. Children, who were scrambling around the room gaping at the sharks and sea creature exhibits, turned their attention to Gillespie — or more likely the cake in front of her. She then led a rendition of "Happy Birthday" and handed out slices of cake and ice cream.

For most museums, this type of celebration might be for a 121st anniversary, but in a young city like Las Vegas, Gillespie said, 21 is a big deal.

“A lot of museums around the country are 150 years old, but Las Vegas is very young and a boom town. It’s a tough atmosphere for museums in the entertainment capital of the world,” Gillespie said. “We are outshone by the glitz and glamour on the Strip, so we’re very proud we’ve made it 21 years.”

Turning 21 certainly didn't bug the museum; in fact, the celebration was a "21 Bug Salute" in honor of the parasite-themed traveling exhibit, "What's Eating You?"

The cake was decorated with critters while experts from Western Exterminators set up an exhibit of live insects. One boy, 9 year-old Nicholas Greco, was brave enough to hold an African millipede and tarantula.

“The millipede felt like Velcro on my hands,” said Greco. “The tarantula just felt hairy.”

Outside food trucks and a live DJ entertained visitors looking to grab lunch and relax after a day exploring.

Helen Shannon brought her four kids. She said the sea exhibits, bugs and fun facts occupied them for nearly two hours.

“They spent ages playing on the machines and at the bug exhibit going ‘Yuck’ at the bugs,” Shannon said. "They love it here."

Gillespie said the day has been a big boost for the museum.

“It’s been packed. We have a parking issue, it’s that good,” Gillespie said, commenting on the full parking lot outside. “I didn’t really hear the numbers, but I would say we will have thousands of people here today.”

Gillespie said the museum has come a long way from when it opened in 1991. It’s filled the basement with new exhibits, expanded the building and is constantly introducing new booths.

“The very first year we were skimpy. It was just totally, 100 percent, a different museum than it is today,” Gillespie said. “We’ve really maxed this building out and are looking toward the future, and we feel like we have a really bright future. So it does feel very special today.”

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