Going Crackers!

These last few months have been something. Hard to believe another year has passed. Welcome to 2021, it’s about time it got here and I’m thinking it arrived not a minute too soon!

After the year we’ve had, maybe it’s a needed comfort thing, but I’m back looking at menus. Although really, I think that maybe I just might have a genetic predisposition to food related stuff. Recipes, cooking, ingredients, not to mention eating – it all runs deep in my family. Just this past Christmas I gave my children recipe boxes with a few old family favorites tucked inside to help get them started. So, maybe that’s why I have an interest (obsession?) with the Museum’s collection of hotel menus.

Tampa Bay Hotel Menu, January 25, 1903, HBPM Collection

I find myself looking for patterns, and I discovered an interesting thing about the TBH and Plant Line food offerings – in general it is fancy food with lots of sauces until a simple ingredient takes center stage or is served as a last act. Here is a brief observation of an evolution that might require more study – hmmm, I wonder if this could become a dissertation on the cracker.

1899- Crackers

1901- Crackers

1902- Toasted Crackers

1911- Saltines

1913- Hard Water Crackers

1921- Saltine Crackers

1932- Toasted Crackers

Menu from SS Olivette, September 24, 1902, HBPM Collection

Various menus also had other simple offerings. There were delicacies such as Kidney Beans (1903), Lettuce Hearts (1913), Stringless Beans (1903) (Stringless Beans?), Dry and Buttered Toast (1921), Cold Corn Starch Pudding (1913) and of course as noted in a previous post, lots and lots of celery.

This was a Luxury Resort Hotel with fancy chefs managing a large kitchen staff and still, like many of us, they felt a need to always have crackers and celery at the ready. I hope you’ll consider the value of a simple cracker because they’re pretty awesome. This Florida girl likes her Zesta crackers with Apalachicola oysters and a Bloody Mary (dressed with celery of course).

Until next time, don’t get crumbs in your facemask.

Thanks, Nora


Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat…

Good grief it’s still a month to Halloween and here I am writing about Christmas. If I just happened upon this missive I’d probably hit delete, but I hope you don’t. 

The Victorian Christmas Stroll is the Henry Plant Museum’s largest fundraising event. This year we are celebrating our 39th year and man oh man what a year it’s been. We’ve had to pivot and swivel constantly for months. Both my hands and nerves are raw. All of us here are determined to keep our beautiful tradition alive and do it safely. So I hope you’ll keep reading this shameless promotion and maybe even learn a little about how it all comes together.

The Grand Hallway 2019, photo credit: Ian Foe.

Like most museums, closing in March really hit hard. It’s not like we sell a product on Amazon or have a take-out with Uber-eats. We maintain and share a cultural heritage that is unique to Central Florida and we want to share it with you. Even in the best of times that’s not a particularly easy thing to do but this year it’s been extra spicy.

Victorians loved the Christmas holiday and the magic of it all – so do we and because of that we take special pride in trying to make everything as authentic to the period as possible. In a typical year, planning for the Stroll begins in late spring with lots of staff meetings and impromptu gatherings that continue all summer and fall until the day the doors fly open in December. Every year is unique, rooms have themes, loans are secured, we fact check for accuracy and make sure stockings are hung and ribbons tied. The staff does it all and collaborates beautifully. We become designers, decorators, builders, crafters, electricians and model train engineers and then we rush to polish and fluff so we can open the doors to host a month-long party. YAY!  

This year, late spring brought the “thrill” of our first Zoom meetings. We continue having remote gatherings as we discuss how to keep visitors engaged as well as socially distanced and safe. The physical nature of bringing all of this together has always been daunting – this year will certainly be no exception. There will be timed entry with a limit on the number of visitors per time slot along with some amazing virtual experiences. While our planning might bring changes the overall tradition will continue.

You might enjoy viewing some of our behind the scene videos from previous installations. One I recommend is “Dogs Eye Pre-View,” or you can see a compilation of several installation videos here.

This cultural treasure is not going anywhere, it’s weathered pandemics and Yellow Fever and certainly no shortage of elections either. We’re here working to continue making our traditions available for you.  

Postcard from the HBPM archives.

And as to my shameless promotion – well here it is…

Please visit.

Become a member.


We would love to see you. 

Because really, we need you!

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat;

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do.

Seasonal Vacuuming!

Thank you and stay healthy!  



Canicular Days

During these dog days of our pandemic summer here in Florida there are times I might feel Dead in the Water, Chock-a-Block or even Lolling in the Doldrums. And then at times I think maybe I should Batten Down the Hatches and Cut and Run!

Sorry about all the nautical terms but I’ve been filing archives and reading some entries in the Captain’s Log Book from the S.S. Mascotte. The Mascotte was a steamship of the Plant System. It was a beautiful streamlined vessel that sailed a twice-weekly route out of Port Tampa with a stop in Key West before then traveling on to Havana, Cuba – back and forth, back and forth.  

Plant Line Steamship S.S. Mascotte       

The ship might have had a tough crew at times. From the 1893 Log Book, Captain James Decker’s entries note contraband and smuggling in crews quarters, mostly tobacco, stowed away on the trip back from Cuba. One trip noted “Bread, Fish + Poltary [sic] of poor quality purchased fish at Key West.” “Poltary [sic] when cooked hard + dry + tough”. Seems like that’s a pretty strong culinary critique from Captain Decker, though perhaps he was just passing along comments from dissatisfied passengers.

Weather was an issue at times too – falling barometers, gale winds, cyclonic disturbances. Shifting sand bars and active tides could make navigating various channels very difficult. I’ve found that between navigating language standards of the time and nautical terminology the logs can be difficult. Capt. Decker mentions using “Rebecca” or traveled “via Rebecca”. At first I thought maybe there was a female crewmember or perhaps it was some kind of early version of a depth finder or navigational instrument. But with help from my pal the Internet, I figured out that out “Rebecca” is the coral shoal with lighthouse just past the Marquesas Keys, which are about twenty miles due west of Key West. Depending on the tides and weather, the route might have to be diverted around “Rebecca Shoals”.

It all sounds rather exciting, but mostly it was routine, fine weather, calm seas, back and forth, back and forth, though it seems they had their fun, too. The Mascotte’s sister ship was the Olivette. I love it when the entries say they blew their whistles at each other while passing on their respective voyages. The log entry shown here is about decorating the ship with all her bunting to commemorate its 600th voyage.

Ships log entry for S.S Mascotte
Dated Oct. 8, 1893

Thank you Captain Decker for this week’s distraction. Let’s hope going forward that we all can have a Clean Slate with Smooth Sailing, plenty of Fair Winds and a Following Sea.

I for one am ready to Splice the Mainbrace – hope you are too.

Thanks, Nora


Oh by the way, an artist’s rendition of the S.S. Mascotte graces the official seal for the City of Tampa. Another interpretation of the Mascotte can be seen on manhole covers throughout the city.

Just Snooping Around

This morning I was working on our once a year random object inventory that’s required by the department that keeps track of all stuff. Because of “social distancing” I have been asked to find the object, cross check it, and take a picture of it in its location. It’s as if I’m both the resident bean counter and the resident documentarian.

So, I go on a hunt for the specific object. It’s pretty easy to do when you are familiar with the pieces. In museum registration nomenclature there are specific categories, sub categories, object descriptions and information on current location. For example we have a Chairs category and then also Chairs: Teak & Marble (of which there are about 40). All our artifacts are labeled discretely with very specific numbers that are tracked on our database. Because of where the numbers are placed on the object, tracking down a piece and then confirming that it’s the actual one you’re looking for is where it gets fun. It’s sort of like Sherlock Holmes playing Twister after a yoga class. I love to see things from different perspectives; it’s one of the best parts of my job, crawling around looking under, over, in, out, all with my handy magnifier and flashlight. I see things that only a few have noticed. My happy little adventures.

One time I was checking a Chinese bottleneck vase and heard a rattle. With a flashlight and a tiny hooked wire I pulled out a Baby Ruth candy wrapper. A little quick online snooping dated the wrapper from the 1930s. It’s funny to find some 90-year-old litter. Could it be we haven’t really evolved much in the last century – I mean didn’t we bicker about masks in the 1918 pandemic, too?

Original Baby Ruth Candy Bar Wrapper
Circa 1930

So this week you might find me curled in a ball under a table. No, I’m not social distancing in a fetal position (thanks 2020!) or curled up for a nap in a hidey-hole. I’m just enjoying an alternate perspective.

Stay well, stay limber and keep looking for new perspectives – you never know what you’ll find.



P.S.  The Baby Ruth wrapper – litter from nearly a century ago – while the department that keeps track of all stuff hasn’t yet added it to the list, please don’t be concerned, I know right where it is.


Oh Margaret!

Our museum collection is so varied. High art, low art, hotel art, furnishings, decorations. Victorians loved it all. Even the art picture books from the Paris Exposition of 1889 were beautiful etchings reproduced on silk or fine papers bound together. I would love to frame them all. Henry and Margaret Plant had a keen eye, no doubt – there are some jewels here and the revelations continue.

Every day I walk by a large framed print titled, Virtue Fit to Govern the World, a 17th century engraving based on the painting; Alexander the Great by Charles Le Brun, and I’ve just discovered how rare this print is. 

Henry Plant Museum West Hall, 2020

While the Tampa Bay Hotel was being built, I tend to think the interior design and decorating fell on Margaret’s shoulders. Henry seemed awfully busy with other stuff. For example take their famous trip to Europe in 1889, I mean he had to raise the flag on the Eiffel Tower and of course there was all of that shoulder rubbing with the hob nobs. Meanwhile, on that same trip I think Margaret was on an extended shopping spree, or “a European buying expedition” as they say, bringing back “forty four trainloads of furnishings” all for the Tampa Bay Hotel.

Margaret Plant in her office, 1893

From the timeline that I’ve seen, this buying expedition only lasted about two months – how in the world? I suspect Margaret might have had some help. Was there a designer or decorator at her side? What about impulse buys? Was someone there to hold her handbag? Sensible shoes? I love to shop, don’t get me wrong. I once spent 6 straight hours in a mall with 15 nine-year-old girls! To be clear, I can’t say this makes me proud, but somehow I survived. Man, my feet hurt.

Oh Margaret – you and Henry continue to surprise us – all those years ago and here we are, still studying your history. And if you think about it, has there really ever been a better time to participate in studying history.

Thank you for wearing those masks!



Thanks for Writing!

Nowadays someone has something to say about everything – publicly. Back in the time of the Tampa Bay Hotel, reviews were in the form of letters and postcards home. These little snippets expose a glimpse in time and we’re fortunate to have a collection of this correspondence in our archives. All are hand written in beautiful script with pen and ink. Many reference what’s going on at home or they talk about the grounds and the magnificent building. Of course almost all mention the weather. It’s interesting that there’s very little about the quality of the experience or even the staffing – perhaps it wasn’t really polite to mention that sort of a thing.

HBPM archives
January 26, 1908

You may have seen the museum’s Facebook postings of our staff discussing some of these beautiful postcards.  

Watching them got me wondering what a 21st century review of the Tampa Bay Hotel might sound like. So, with a little plagiarizing from actual Yelp reviews – here goes…

Rating : undefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefined

My stay at the Tampa Bay Hotel was life changing. This is by far the nicest hotel I have ever stay at in my life. I had high expectations and it delivered. The customer service never stopped to impress me. From day one, chocolates were laid on my pillow at night and my room and bathroom were spotless and always smelled very nice. Room service was delicious and served right on time. Go early to the pool to get a good spot, it gets crowded. Towels are always ready and a cool drink to enjoy by the river. The amazing gardens are a sight to behold. They have a first rate golf course and you can sign up for lessons with a tennis pro. The Dining Hall boasts excellent world-renowned chefs and be sure to try the pastries, they are to die for. This hotel has so many amenities it’s hard to take advantage of them all in one trip. I look forward to visiting again in the near future. I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a first class experience.

HBPM archives
January 26, 1908

Or like this postcard, your review could always just say; ” Nothing to it down here only climate which is fine now”.

Stay well and put a chocolate on the pillow tonight, you deserve a vacation.




Take a closer look…

We get a lot of repeat questions from visitors to the museum. Basic things like where do I start, where is the restroom, are there ghosts, do you have a favorite object? Some of these questions are easy to answer, some not so much.  

I’d like to think there are ghosts, but of course they’d be friendly spirits, maybe the ghosts of Henry and Margaret Plant, nodding and approving everything we do. As for my favorite objects, I have so many, though sometimes it’s just the way the light falls. There is a bucolic painting in the Reading and Writing room and at certain times of year the light reflects so perfectly that a simple hay wagon takes my breath away. I have dragged people in to see it only to have a “Gee, that’s nice” reaction. Of course the ghosts of Henry and Margaret Plant are blown away.

Today I was alone in the museum working in the garden room, dusting the ceramic stools and I had to laugh out loud.  

Garden Seat
Late 19th Century
Chinese, Qina Dynasty
Height: 22in.
Garden Seat

I had been thinking about the Covid-19 quarantine, and all of the disinfecting that we are doing now. Wash, rinse, and repeat, over and over. I look up and right in front of my nose is a Mudman handing me a bar of soap! Chinese Mudmen are brightly glazed figurines of wise men or sages frequently holding objects of mystical importance or sometimes they’re just fishing.

Henry, Margaret and I got a good giggle out of that, mystical importance indeed!

Maybe I’m losing it during this quarantine, but the little figure is a reminder to me, past to present, we’re going to be okay and hopefully we’ll all be fishing soon!

Stay safe, wash your hands and remember to brighten the corner where you are.




Dominos Anyone?

The Henry Plant Museum has sometimes been accused of displaying too much. At a fast glance that might be true. Do we really need to have 124 chairs, 9 sofas, 40 garden seats and oh, all those vases and jardinières and mirrors and paintings and etchings and tapestries (I could go on) out for display? Everything is wall-to-wall, top to bottom…

My answer to that question has always been – YES, absolutely, have you gone mad?

This week we had a pair of busts return from conservation. Stunning silver heads of the Tudor line – Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. The simple reintroduction of these beauties to our exhibit causes a cascade of changes, a domino effect. You would not believe the adjustments that needed to be made. Luckily, we are a museum ready to handle these changes. We are ready to curate.

You might have to look closely, to see the shifts and changes here; really it works best for us when you don’t notice. You’ll see the Queens right away – they’re pretty flashy. But you might not notice the ripple effect it took to get them where they belong. You might not notice a couple of statues missing, sneaking out the back door to get their own conservation. You might not notice Little Red Riding Hood is now holding her basket or the new shine on the candelabra. Just writing these sentences seems bizarre but then that’s the kind of museum we are – a complete and total surprise where you’ll just never know what you’re going to see. So, remember we are at work, riding the ripples and looking forward to seeing you all real soon. The Queens demand it!

Late 19th century
Signed: Mathurin Moreau
Height: 18 in.
Bronze with silver overlay

Stay healthy and wear those masks.




Celery to the Rescue

Victorians were onto something with celery. It’s featured on the menus from the Tampa Bay Hotel. Personally I love celery, but I haven’t put much thought into it until now. It’s funny what takes up space in my brain lately. It’s an extraordinary time, so why don’t we go ahead and talk about celery.

I read recently that celery was going to take off and start trending like Avocado Toast. While that may seem like an ambitious goal for this humble vegetable, you should know it was a star in Victorian times. If you research menus it seems like most restaurants served it as something really exceptional. They knew it was special. Along with the health benefits of fiber, magnesium and all that, they even considered it a nerve calmer. I know I need celery in my life right now.

In 1910, Victor Hirtzler, a chef from a grand hotel in San Francisco created the recipe “Celery Victor”. It was a sensation. I looked it up, it sounds delicious and you should try it.

I’m all for jumping on trends, I wore crocs, learned to rollerblade and I’m still waiting for everyone to see the brilliance of my cocoon sunglasses. Why not celery?

Why not indeed…

Celery Victor

Stay healthy, eat more of – well – you know what!

Thanks, Nora


Missing the Putti

For those of you who might not know what a putti is, it is plural for putto.

A putto is a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child, usually naked, sometimes with wings. Think of a cherub. My favorite putti are on the clock in the museum lobby. They are a couple of sassy boys with their plump bellies and rosebud lips. I imagine them as impish rascals and I miss them terribly during this quarantine.

When I was little my family lived in Rome for a time. I have a very distinct memory of cold smooth bronze on my lips. Apparently I snuck over to a statue of Romulus and Remus (not putti) to see what those rascal boys were up to. I’m sure all the adults got a kick out of that, but I bet I’m not the only kid to ever try and see what the heck they were doing to that wolf.

Meanwhile, back in the Plant Museum, my crazy putti look like they are wrestling a rooster, a rooster!

Gilded Bronze Clock,
Maker:  Charpentier et Cie, Bronziers, Rue Charlot 8, Paris.
Circa 1880, French
Height:  28 in.
Bronze with a gilded ormolu finish featuring two putti and pheasant

What time is it? It’s rooster wrasslin’ time!

Stay safe and brighten the corner where you are.

Thanks, Nora