It’s a little-known fact that the town of Hope has a connection to one of the most famous dinosaurs in the world — and for one brief instant might have had an even closer one.

The story starts with the man who came to Hope to run the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in 1866. The Rev. Francis Holland had grown up roaming the wild country outside Salem, N.C., developing a great love of natural history, and had brought up his own five children to love the search for fossils, rocks, and flowers.

In Hope, he led Seminary students on natural history walks through the Spring Woods and the countryside — some rambles even went as far as St. Louis Crossing. The big iron gates south of the Moravian church on Main Street were put up by his students in memory of those nature walks.

Holland’s oldest son, Will (William J. Holland), inherited his father’s love of natural history, and that’s where the dinosaurs come in. Will started his career as a pastor in Pittsburgh, but his love of paleontology meant that he was soon teaching at the university there. When his friend, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, needed a scientist to head the new Carnegie Museum in 1896, he chose Will.

This was the age of dinosaur discovery, the “Great Dinosaur Rush.” Will and his assistants put the Carnegie Museum on the map when their 1898 expedition to Wyoming discovered one of the largest dinosaurs ever found, a diplodocus.

At an astonishing 79 feet long, the diplodocus had a long neck and an even longer whip-like tail. Displaying canny diplomacy, they named the impressive species diplodocus carnegii, “Carnegie’s diplodocus.”

This stupendous diplodocus skeleton was transported back to the museum in Pittsburgh with great fanfare, and helped ignite even greater dinosaur mania. Every museum wanted a copy of the diplodocus. Will oversaw the making of plaster casts to be sent to museums in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Bologna, St. Petersburg, Madrid, Mexico City, and Argentina. (Most dinosaur skeletons in museums are plaster casts instead of real bones, which are fragile and often incomplete.)

Not to be outdone, England’s King Edward VII requested a diplodocus cast for the Natural History Museum in London. In 1905 Will set out for London, taking the cast in 36 crates containing 292 separate diplodocus pieces. Will’s London diplodocus was dubbed “Dippy,” and its commanding position in the Natural History Museum made it famous, beloved by generations of children. Dippy even became a prominent part of many films, including Disney’s One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975), Night at the Museum 3 (2014) and Paddington (2014).

But Dippy’s reign was not to last forever. In 2016 the Natural History Museum in London decided that a mere plaster cast of an extinct ancient animal was not as educational as a real skeleton of a modern animal, and so Dippy was scheduled to be taken down in favor of a blue whale skeleton.

But here people’s love of Will’s dinosaur broke through. The nation rebelled. A children’s author, James Mayhew, had written a book, Katie and the Dinosaurs, with Dippy on the cover, and Mayhew led the resistance, rallying protestors and garnering publicity. The hashtag #SaveDippy flew around the internet, and a petition gathered 32,000 protestors. Soon the pushback against Dippy’s removal was featured in press all over the world, with partisans declaring themselves “Team Dippy” or “Team Whale.”

Britain’s national TV station, BBC TV, broadcast a special about the process, “Dippy and the Whale,” narrated by the famous natural historian and broadcaster David Attenborough. And as a descendant of the Holland family, the author of this article was recruited to help the effort to save Dippy.

Most suspiciously, the Natural History Museum never said what they intended to do with Dippy after taking the skeleton down, and it was suspected that they were simply going to throw Dippy away. The authorities seemed to think that no modern museum would want Dippy. This is where I suggested that Dippy could be shipped to the Yellow Trail Museum or the Bartholomew County Historical Society, back to his excavator’s home town.

I have to say that the officials of these museums, when they heard of this scheme, turned pale. It is certainly true that to display Dippy, the Yellow Trail Museum would have to be enlarged to extend to a whole side of the square.

But fortunately the British national love of Dippy prevailed. In 2017 Dippy was take apart and the blue whale was put up — and as it happens, the blue whale has been named Hope. But instead of being discarded, Dippy embarked on a multi-year tour of the British Isles, displayed in museums and cathedrals. Dippy is in the middle of that tour right now, in northern England. At the end of the tour he will be recast in bronze and mounted in the garden of the Natural History Museum.

I was at the Natural History Museum for Dippy’s final day in 2017, watching a long procession of people having their pictures taken with Dippy. One of the world’s most famous dinosaurs still attracts enormous crowds. Not a bad result for something that started with a love of Hope’s Spring Woods, is it?

More about the “Great Dinosaur Rush” and William Holland is found in Tom Rea’s book Bone Wars: The Excavation of Andrew Carnegie’s Dinosaur (2004).

William Holland’s book about his trip to take a diplodocus cast to Argentina, To the River Plate and Back (1915), can be read online at:

Time lapse video of Dippy being reconstructed while on tour in England:

Dippy on tour: