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Sleeping with the dinosaurs

Our reporter lives out a childhood fantasy by spending the night in New York City's Museum of Natural History.

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It's possible that a few children here have read "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," that 1967 E.L. Konigsburg classic tale of stowing away in the expansive marble confines of a museum. Let me tell you, the actual experience of sleeping in a museum is better than any childhood fantasy – even for an adult.

Tonight, the grandfather of natural science museums is relaunching its first sleepover program since 1988. Once the doors have closed to the public and the last visitor has been ushered out, 250 guests will remain behind to spend a night in this sprawling institution overlooking Central Park. At night, the American Museum of Natural History is exquisite.

Of course, this Sunday evening has none of the erudite rebelliousness of running away to test one's tiny mettle in the greatest of educational spaces. No, this slumber party is sanctioned. But little urban campers – and their fortunate chaperones – will still get a chance to peer behind the curtain.

Tonight's event is the first of many at the museum. The occasion also happens to be sharing billing and reception space with the world première of Ben Stiller's new comedy, "Night at the Museum," which was set here. Stiller plays a hapless nocturnal museum guard who discovers that the exhibits come to life.

Flashlights, camera, action!

Despite the red-carpet hoopla, many of tonight's visitors – children of museum employees, trustees, and other VIPs – profess to be more excited about the sleepover than the film. (Though moments after surveying the Hall of Ocean Life, where she'll "camp," an Ugg boot-clad gradeschooler tells a friend, "This is the coolest thing, ever – let's go find movie stars.")

Second graders David Kahana and Michael Bucca have come in from New Jersey. They are excited – and so are their fathers, who won the tickets at a charity auction. On the itinerary tonight is a flashlight tour of the dinosaur wing. David knows they have his favorite dinosaur there: a Triceratops.

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