Mammoth of a party at the Bell Museum’s opening night

The grand opening festivities will continue through Sunday.

Sarah Komperud dials in a telescope from a cell phone to connect with the setting sun, with the goal of viewing sunspots.

Easton Green

Sarah Komperud dials in a telescope from a cell phone to connect with the setting sun, with the goal of viewing sunspots.

by Maraya King

After almost three years of planning, the Bell Museum’s new St. Paul digs officially opened with a bang on Friday night.

With an estimated budget of $79 million, the new location boasts a planetarium, revitalized Touch & See Lab, observation deck and more. 

Located in Minneapolis, the original museum closed last December to make way for the new exhibits and accommodate a 2011 merger with the Minnesota Planetarium Society.

On Friday night, eager attendees marched like ants through the aquatic garden, riverbed and numerous other outdoor exhibits as they waited for the evening to start.

Once the clock struck six, the doors flew open. The parking lot filled with tapping toes and anxious whispers. 

Guests ranged in age from only a few months old to on the cusp of a century — it truly is a museum for all ages. 

Parke Kunkle, a member of the museum’s advisory board and former astronomy professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, was smiling from ear to ear as he looked across the museum. 

“This was a gift from my girlfriend tonight,” Kunkle said, gesturing to his embossed tie clip that read “Planetarium 7-13-18.”

As the first of its kind with capabilities ranging from the stars to the seas, the 120-seat Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium was the belle of the ball.

Of course, for every Belle there is a beast. This evening’s came in the form of a full-scale woolly mammoth. 

The mammoth and his native-Minnesotan friends can be found seated in a 24-foot high glacier on the second floor of the museum. 

When they weren’t ogling the mammoth, many of the youngest attendees could be found in the new-and-improved Touch & See Lab. But don’t be fooled, it’s not just for kids.

In celebration of 50 years of active learning and sensory engagement, the lab features live insects, reptiles and a collection of more than 4,000 specimens. 

Kelsey Oseid, an illustrator and attendee, said she was stunned by it all — even the gift shop. 

Oseid has many of her themed prints for sale in the cleverly named “curiosity shop.” They’re reflective of the exhibits and void of being “kitschy,” she said.

With live music hosted by The Current, catered D’Amico & Sons cuisine and guests dressed to the nines, the evening was well worth the wait. 

Regular museum hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) begin July 16 and free admission is offered to University of Minnesota students.