For the 26th year, the Henry B. Plant Museum present its Annual Victorian Christmas Stroll. The museum, located at the University of Tampa in downtown Tampa, is festooned with decorations, garlands, wreathes, and of course, Victorian Christmas trees. From Dec. 1 through 23, you can step back into another era and enjoy the pageantry of America’s Gilded Age.
The Henry B. Plant Museum is housed in the former Tampa Bay Hotel. Built in 1891, the museum occupies one wing of the 511 guest room hotel, with the remainder housing the University of Tampa. Each room of the museum reflects a different aspect of Victorian life and is decorated in the same theme.
Before entering the museum, you climb the broad steps onto a deep shaded veranda. Small tables line the porch, where cookies and hot spiced cider are served, complimentary with your paid admission.
Through the double doors, the entry foyer contains a teddy bear tree, a tableau of bears, doll carts and other bear memorabilia. Theodore Roosevelt was a visitor to the hotel and this reflects his association with the teddy bear, that perennial favorite. Straight ahead, across the broad hallway, lies the train room, dedicated to Henry Plant himself.
You enter the broad hall. To the left, at the far end of the grand hallway is the 18 ft tall central tree. To the right, the entrance to the University of Tampa is visible. There are only a few rooms to the right, so let us commence our stroll that way and continue counterclockwise.
The first room is the long reading and writing room. This room contains books and writing tables. Letter writing was an important means of communication in the Victorian age, just as text and emailing are an integral part of ours. In many areas, mail was delivered three times a day, allowing almost instant communication. The tree is festooned with greeting cards and small books.
Across the hall is a room currently dedicated to the 1920's, the era of jazz, flappers and bathtub gin. Women had obtained the right to vote and crossword puzzles were the rage. Victorian corsets contrast with jazzbaby teddies. Fans, garters, pearl necklaces and other froufrou of that time hang from its branches.
Now entering the Henry B Plant room, the 14 ft tree is topped with a railroad crossing sign. Henry Plant owned more than 4000 miles of train track, covering Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Train schedules and small trains hang from the branches, while a large scale toy train sits at the base of the tree.
The adjacent room, containing perhaps a dozen decorated chairs, features a 14 minutes movie about Henry B Plant and the building of the museum, nee the Tampa Bay Hotel. A small Victorian bathroom is visible through the doorway complete with artificial bubble bath.
The next room is the dining room. The feather trees showcase beaded garland and are accompanied by a large statue of a swan. The tables are set for dinner, each place setting different. This reflects the Victorian multicourse dinner, with each course requiring a change of plate and flatwear. A menu completes the display, listing the nine courses offered, the classic soup to nuts.
Around the bend is the stairwell. Garland and stockings lead your eye upward to the second floor. The tree which stands in the crook of the stairwell is laden with Native American dolls. Small toys and treats are in piles on the floor to be given to those less fortunate.
The sports room tree is dedicated to the number one American pastime, the boys of summer: baseball. Souvenirs from Cooperstown, New York, now home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, cover the tree. The room also highlights fishing, croquet and hunting.
Another Victorian obsession was with all things Oriental. The tree is topped with a red parasol, red representing happiness and good luck. Small fans, chopsticks, paper lanterns complete the tree. Antique vases line the room.
Now reentering the grand hallway, you stand before the 18 ft tall central tree. Reflecting Victorian mores and its emphasis on family life, the tree has globes, lights, small toys, minature musical instruments and oddbits. Each family member would include a few items reflecting his or her interests or hobbies, often handmade.
The small private library’s tree has New Year’s postcards clipped to it. A bisque doll sits on a bench, quietly awaiting the return of her owner.
This room leads to the master bedroom, where two mannequins in formal evening wear represent Mr and Mrs Plant. Mr Plant already has his top hat on while Mrs Plant holds her dance card. The tree has small glass ornaments and purple ribbons.
The music room is the children’s haven. Toys, paper dolls and balls are strewn on the floor, while a bear plays the harp. This was considered one to the private room, where children could romp and not disturb the guests.
Entering the garden room is like entering a terrarium: stunning. Garlands of citrus fruits hang from the mantle. Vaguely disturbing garden statutes are on display. The Hotel was proud to be able to offer fresh fruit all year long.
The last display room is the Spanish-American War room. The hotel was the headquarters for the US Army during the war. The trees are covered with cigars, cigar boxes, dominoes and Cuban flags, celebrating nearby Ybor City and its history of rolling and packing cigars.
The gift shop is also enhanced by a white and blue tree. In addition to museum books and souvenirs, the shop sells ornaments, porcelain figurines, silver, candles, baby items, jewelry, beaded purses and maps.
There is musical entertainment each night. A capella singers, soloists and ensembles perform, encouraging sing-a-longs of traditional carols. Museum guests linger, enjoying the interludes, before stepping outside for cookies and cider.
The 26th Annual Victorian Christmas Stroll takes place each day from December 1 to 23, 10 am to 8 pm daily. Admission is $10 for adults, $4 for children under 12. Mondays and Tuesdays, adult admission is $6 and children’s price is $3. Located at 401 West Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, the phone number is (813) 254-1891, or visit them on the web at www.plantmuseum.com.
Published on December21, 2007. Volume 15, issue 25.