Where the Things Were Wild: NYU-Poly Hosts New York Paleontological Society Annual Holiday Party

December 5 was the coldest day of fall yet, with heavy raindrops switching to large, sloppy snowflakes and back again, but guests continued to drop by Room 116 in Rogers Hall. Throughout the afternoon they arrived for the New York Paleontological Society’s (NYPS) annual holiday party, with some eager to hear lectures about fossils found worldwide and others determined to walk away from the event’s auction with a Crocodiloid from the mid-Eocene era. “I didn’t think so many people would be into rocks,” said alumnus and attendee Michael Sazhin, ’09, commenting on the crowd.

Welcoming almost 200 visitors, it was the biggest holiday party the NYPS has held in its 39-year history. “We always have a pretty big turnout, but this is a good turnout,” said longtime NYPS member, Debra Berkowitz. “People are left standing, and I’ve never seen that before.”

Location, location, location

The venue contributed to the event’s success, according to NYPS secretary Stella Cerruti. “It’s always very lively, boisterous, but I’d say it’s gotten bigger and better since we started coming to Poly,” she said. Since 2006 the Institute has donated space for the organization’s holiday party, but before that the NYPS held it at other universities — Fordham, Hofstra — as well as the American Natural History Museum, where the group continues to host its monthly lecture series. 

Like Cerruti, Berkowitz believed the relocation has had a favorable effect on the party. “We’re not parceled out into several smaller rooms, so we’re all together. We can all see what’s going on,” she said. “It’s light. It’s reasonably accessible for everyone. This is ideal.”

Attendance was key because, although the event was free and open to the general public, it was a fundraiser, and more people meant more opportunities for the nonprofit. Don Phillips, NYPS president and lecturer for the Institute’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, believed Poly’s proximity to so many transit options helped raise attendance, which was important not just to the fundraising effort, but also to the organization’s community-building. “This is truly a Society event because so many members are involved,” he said.

Fossils ‘n food

Evidence of that involvement was visible throughout the day. From sharks’ teeth to books and minerals, donated items from members stacked the sales’ tables, with all proceeds going to the organization. Members also donated their culinary talents, with free home-cooked brownies, banana cake, lasagna, and cornbread among just some of the many dishes available to guests.

They would need that food as fuel for the party’s many activities, which included children’s and adult auctions, as well as lectures, a paleoquiz with prizes, and a movie corner for kids. “This party is great,” said ten-year-old Matthew Zucker, as he happily displayed his booty from the kiddie auction: a crab fossil and an ammonite and belemnite fossils.

Adults seemed to agree with him. “It’s a treasure-hunting dream, a little boy’s dream,” said particle physicist and NYPS member Chiaki Yanagisawa about the party.

Rockin’ out

And for those for whom rocks are the way to, well, get their rocks off, the adult auction was the party’s main event. “It gets exciting when people start betting on large fossils,” said NYPS vice president Urszula Golebiewska. “Sometimes it’s funny: adult people fighting over who will get a piece of bone.”
Guests this year found themselves outbidding one another over a rhinoceros mandible from the White River Badlands in South Dakota to bugs in amber, among tables full of other collectibles. Bidding began at $5 but could climb to as high as $100 and higher. All proceeds were again funneled to the Society’s coffers, with the money used to fund the organization’s educational and other activities. But for some, the party has offered more substantial rewards in past years: Yanagisawa met his wife there. “It’s a place to meet girls,” he laughed.