Rushville Republican

Columns

May 13, 2014

Museum once, mu-seen-um all

When a family unit comprised of a mom, a dad, a 16-year old and a 13-year old goes to Florida to indulge in sunshine, beaches and theme parks, you know what the best way is to entertain those two teenagers when it rains and they can’t do any of the aforementioned stuff? Go to a museum filled with antique furniture, clothing and artwork! Yesssss!

“Riiiiight. . .that sounds like an epic fail with MY teenagers, or any I’ve EVER known,” you might be saying. And much to my non-surprise, it prodigiously underwhelmed my teens too.

Nevertheless, we chose this course of action on a recent visit to Tampa to spend time with my wife’s parents. The museum that lured us out of the rain was the Henry B. Plant Museum in the colossal edifice that was once Plant’s extravagant Tampa Bay Hotel.

There should perhaps be such a word as extravagantexpealidocious, because that’s what the Tampa Bay Hotel was. Started in 1888, finished in 1891, with more than 500 guest rooms, the first elevator ever in Florida, the first Florida hotel with electric lights and telephones, a quarter-mile long veranda, and so on and so forth, until you can clearly understand why it cost as much as $15 a night to stay there. Really! (This at a time when the typical hotel in Tampa charged about $1.50.)

You starting to get the inkling that Henry B. Plant was purty darn audacious? Well, get this: at the time he built this joint, Tampa would be possibly best described as little more than a sand swamp; there was no “there” there. The Henry B. Plant Museum website even opens with this further tribute to Plant’s audacity: “When you’re building a railroad to nowhere. . .how do you make the trip worthwhile?”

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