'Everyone is in a dinosaur mood': How prehistoric giants took over downtown Wheaton
They blink, flick their tails, crane their necks and bare their serrated teeth.
No one extracted dinosaur DNA from amber-encased insects to bring these prehistoric creatures to life. But the dinosaur giants scattered throughout downtown Wheaton might just stop you in your tracks, especially if you weren't expecting to run into a 16-foot-tall apex predator on the way to the French market.
"They're pretty lifelike," said Allison Orr, executive director of the Downtown Wheaton Association. "Seeing them on for the first time in Wheaton was a little jarring because their actions and their sound are all synced up."
In life-size, animatronic form, a T-Rex periodically whips its tail back and forth -- about five feet each way -- near Wheaton's new downtown pavilion at Main Street and Liberty Drive. A 33-foot-tall amargasaurus makes a friendlier impression at 302 Wheaton, a burger restaurant with a fenced-in patio on Front Street. A herrerasaurus, oviraptor and a triple-horned triceratops have taken over the Wheaton Public Library's west plaza.
"We wanted something that was really going to draw attention and bring folks downtown to serve our businesses, while also providing something cool for our community," Orr said.
More specifically, she wanted to draw attention to Wheaton's revitalized downtown. The city invested $35 million in new infrastructure, streetscape and public gathering spaces as part of a massive project completed earlier this year.
Put together by Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions, the animatronic figures -- 10 are on display now through Oct. 8 -- typically end up in museums, zoos or convention centers. For the Downtown Wheaton Association, which only has a staff of four, Orr included, preparing for the exhibit was a monumental task.
Orr and her team found sponsors to pay for the installation, organized two weeks of dinosaur-related activities and rolled out promotions. The "Dinos Downtown Wheaton" exhibit is free. Instead of paying, visitors are encouraged to meet the dinosaurs and patronize restaurants and shops.
"This is definitely the association's biggest undertaking ever," Orr said.
Since their arrival via two 65-foot semi trucks, dinosaur fever has been spreading around Wheaton.
TikTok videos of the new inhabitants are set to the "Jurassic Park" theme. A 42-page instructional guide takes kids back to the age of the dinosaurs. MOORE Toys & Gadgets, A Baby Naturally and other downtown retailers are carrying dinosaur merchandise. The DuPage Art League is hosting dinosaur art classes, and Westside Improv is staging an interactive, dinosaur-themed comedy show.
The Little Popcorn Store has dinosaur candy. Kids can take a bite out of dinosaur nuggets at the Ivy restaurant. DoodleBug Workshop has wooden dinosaur crayon holders and activity books.
Not all of the events are kid-focused. Adelle's is serving a "dino-mite" autumn cocktail made with apple cider and ginger beer.
"Even the adults are super excited about the dinosaurs. They look amazing at night," Orr said. "They're all uplit."
The dinosaurs come to life at 8 a.m. and "go to sleep" at 9 p.m. Their mechanized movements are fluid. And the roars can be heard throughout downtown.
Orr hopes the exhibit attracts young families, adults for a "dino-date night" or anyone who wants to unearth their inner paleontologist.
"Everyone is in a dinosaur mood," she said.
And that might never go extinct.