Show-stoppers along I-95 southern Connecticut

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By Lisa K. Berton

Brush up on your entertainment, pop culture, and science trivia knowledge in 1 enjoyable day. Take a break from the mundane and explore 3 fun and educational institutions. Then kick back and let your new knowledge soak in.

New Haven is an approximate half-way point along Interstate 95 in Connecticut. The highway stretches almost 112 miles. My journey took me South to exit 48, then I-91 North to exit 3. A short 2-mile drive brings you to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

On the first floor of the brick neo-gothic architectural gem guarded by a Torosaurus latus, discover The Great Hall of Dinosaurs. On display is an assortment of turtles including Archelon, a massive reptile you have to see.  The very first discovered Brontosaurus sits in the center of the Hall.

The story of who, how, and when these fossils were uncovered is compelling. Fragments of these tales are written on placards. Novelist Michael Crichton wrote the book Jurassic Park and co-wrote the screenplay. Crichton took inspiration from a Peabody Museum resident, Deinonychus.

A Deinonychus in front of Rudolph F. Zallinger’s The Age of Reptiles mural.
A Deinonychus in front of Rudolph F. Zallinger’s The Age of Reptiles mural.

The next exhibit is The Hall of Mammalian Evolution. Education includes the evolution of horse teeth. From the Eocene Epoch, view large-hoofed mammals like rhinoceros and from the Cenozoic Era, Otisville Mastodon. Think of an elephant's distant relative. Given the current declining number of elephants, they too could become extinct.

During my visit, The Hall of Human Origins was the last open section on the first floor. They were working on a new project in the Study Gallery. Make use of the interactive hominid timeline and read about DNA ties to extinct African Great Apes. So that stairwells shouldn't be boring, displays can be found here, too.

Check out The Discovery Room for walking sticks, giant hissing cockroaches, poison dart frogs, and a long tube filled with busy ants.

The third floor is full of gorgeous colorful minerals, meteorite samples, countless bird species, and dioramas including sheep and pika. Daily Life in Ancient Egypt is an incredible collection of artwork, period bowls, and jewelry. A mummy and coffin (restored) are enough to make one stop in their tracks and contemplate early civilization. What was life like during Cleopatra VII's reign? Visit the museum to learn more.

Admission: Under 3 - free, 3-18 - $6, adult - $13, seniors 65+ - $9. Find out about free admission and discount offers.

Listen to an audio tour free of charge. Available at the front desk.

170 Whitney Ave,
New Haven, CT 06511

Suggested time allowance: 2-3 hours

Cartonnage Mummy Mask from the Ptolemaic period
Cartonnage Mummy Mask from the Ptolemaic period
Rhodochrosite is a manganese carbonate mineral
Rhodochrosite is a manganese carbonate mineral

Once back on I-95, take exit 41 and drive about 8 miles to the PEZ Visitor Center. There's plenty of free parking adjacent to the building housing the largest PEZ dispenser ever made. Get ready for a nostalgic overload.

Think you've seen every PEZ dispenser? You'd be surprised. The PEZ dispenser didn't come along until the early 1950s, almost 20 years after the candies. Products are sorted and displayed by theme. Guests can view famous characters change from decade to decade. The Center features one personal collection at a time. If you've amassed a caboodle of PEZ dispenser, contact the Visitor Center.

Almost 50 years of Tweet Bird
Almost 50 years of Tweet Bird

The upper level holds original coin-operated machines with instructions in German. PEZ got its start in 1927 in Austria, producing peppermint flavored candy. The fruit flavors we're accustomed to came about in the mid-1950s in the United States.

PEZ is a pop culture icon with an international following. The Center boasts assorted products not sold in the United States.

On weekdays, employees can be seen on the production line, packaging the newest commodity. At the time of my visit, it was The Incredibles. Groups and fortunate souls may see candy demos. I was not-so-fortunate.


After reading about the history of the company and playing the current game (prizes awarded), go shopping. Here's a short list of merchandise available: puzzles, sweatshirts, pressed pennies, buy-a-bucket of PEZ, postcards, pins, PEZ dispenser gift, and collector sets, and of course, individual PEZ dispensers. Can't find what you're looking for, shop online.

Bring your camera for fun photo opportunities. Place your head on a built-to-scale dispenser. Sit on a PEZ packs bench. Stand on top of an in-floor pile of PEZ.

Admission: Under 3 - free, 3-12 and 60+ - $4, 13-59 - $5. Entry includes a keepsake lanyard and a $2.00 discount on merchandise. Candy demos: $3 for public sessions, $1 for group sessions.

35 Prindle Hill Rd, Orange, CT 06477

Suggested time allowance: 1.5 hours

T-shirt options are available for men, women & kids
T-shirt options are available for men, women & kids
Antique PEZ candy machine
Antique PEZ candy machine

Return to Interstate 95 and take exit 27 (heading south). In less than a mile, old architecture meets new in downtown Bridgeport. Here sits a building unlike any other with varying window shapes, towers, a dome, and columns just for starters. Built in the 1890s, the Barnum Institute of Science and History is the result of monetary gifts from P.T. Barnum and his widow, Charity Hallet.

The story of the edifice's usage and change of owners is interesting. Unfortunately, it has faced numerous natural disasters and is still undergoing restoration. The only difference is, unlike P.T. Barnum's personal properties, the building still stands. It now houses the Barnum Museum.


The museum currently showcases, Barnum's World of Wonders,  in the People's United Bank Gallery. The entrance is located directly behind The Barnum Museum.

Artifacts included in the exhibit will jog the memory of anyone who saw, "The Greatest Showman." If you speak to a docent, you'll soon find out how many liberties the film took. Luckily it sparked a renewed interest in all things Phineas Taylor Barnum and Charles Sherwood Stratton aka General Tom Thumb.

Carriages, furniture, clothing, and other personal belongings of Charles Sherwood Stratton are smaller than one might expect. Curiosities from Barnum's pre-circus days still cause quizzical reactions. Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale" opera singer too, is remembered in the exhibition.


Photos published with permission of The Barnum Museum. Photography by visitors is not allowed inside.

Admission: Free (please make a donation)

Hours: 11 am - 3 pm, Thursdays and Fridays

Upcoming events: Gravity & Other Myths

820 Main St, Bridgeport, CT 06604

Suggested time allowance: 30-45 minutes


Top off your day with an overnight stay at the Stamford Marriott Hotel and Spa. Located just off  I-95 at exit 8. It was a great way to end a fun-filled and educational day. Try a massage or workout in the gym. A shopping center is directly across the street with dining options if you want to venture out again.

Swim in the indoor/outdoor pool.
Swim in the indoor/outdoor pool.