If you and your family are looking for a fun day out with a dinosaur theme, Dinosaur Gardens is the ideal destination. The park offers a walk-through of a garden filled with life-size, realistic dinosaur statues, surrounded by natural flora and fauna such as wildflowers, ferns, and trees that aim to recreate the habitats the creatures would have lived in. The gardens and statues are a must-see for any dinosaur enthusiast.
Dinosaur Gardens emerged during the Great Depression, just as mammals gained dominance after the extinction of dinosaurs. Paul Domke, a former Navy member, farmer, and jack-of-all-trades, moved to Detroit to pursue his artistic interests as a church decorator. However, by 1930, his business had failed and he and his wife returned to their hometown in Michigan. They purchased a piece of swamp land, where they built their home, three rental cottages, and a gas station. Using the income from these ventures, Paul began work on his passion project: building life-sized dinosaur statues.
Domke had developed an interest in natural history during his time in the Navy, and visited museums to observe and sketch the skeletal structures of various prehistoric animals. He set out to transform those sketches into life-sized replicas, using the cedar swamp as the setting for his exhibits. In 1935, Paul Domke established Dinosaur Gardens in Ossineke, Michigan. The park was founded on a unique combination of religious devotion, scientific research, and statues created using a proprietary material known as “cement plastics.” Over a period of three decades, he built 25 exhibits that formed Paul Domke’s Garden and Prehistoric Zoo. The exhibits included individual dinosaurs and active scenes of survival-of-the-fittest carnage, as well as Ice Age scenes of early humans hunting mastodons. He even developed a “secret formula” concrete mixture he called “cement plastics” to make his statues more durable.
An interesting aspect of the park is the giant statue of Jesus Christ holding the world in his left hand at the entrance. Despite being a devout fundamentalist Lutheran, Domke believed in evolution as a divinely guided process and saw the creation “week” as a period that lasted millions of years. This is reflected in the centerpiece of the garden, a huge concrete apatosaurus whose hollow interior includes a painting of Jesus bearing the inscription, “The Greatest Heart of All.”
Domke sold the property in 1960, and it continues to operate as Dinosaur Gardens Prehistoric Zoo. It is not a zoo but remains Domke’s vision of one, populated by dinosaurs guided through evolution by Christ’s subtle manipulation of DNA.
Despite the advancements in science, Domke’s Dinosaur Park continues to flourish. It serves as a tribute to an unemployed church artist who had the conviction to turn his passion into reality. If you plan to visit, Dinosaur Gardens is open from May 24th to October 14th, with operating hours that vary depending on the season.
11160 US Highway 23
Sanborn Township, Michigan, 49766
Photos by rrmi1957/Flickr.