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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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History comes alive at picnic in Plant Park

TAMPA — Cynthia Green's two boys — Liam and Ethan — each gripped a stick, frantically chasing after a pair of wobbly, rolling hoops along a paved trail inside Plant Park.

The bare-bone simplicity of the game during the Picnic in the Park, hosted by the Henry B. Plant Museum, brought a calming smile to the Riverview mother Sunday afternoon.

“It's good, old-fashioned fun. Back to basics and it's not being this,” she said making hand gestures as if she was plodding away on a smartphone's touch screen. “No electronics. And it gives you an idea of what the past was like.”

In its 10th year, the event has helped people live a bit of history while enjoying the park, bracketed by the Plant Museum and the Hillsborough River and abutting Kennedy Boulevard.

“The whole premise of this is to have an old-fashioned picnic,” Sally Shifke, Museum Relations Coordinator, said. “To relax and enjoy the simple pleasures.”

A stage hosted four musical acts as well as a Mother Goose storyteller throughout the afternoon. In addition to the game of Hoops and Sticks, there was badminton, croquet, a three-legged race, horseshoes, and tiddlywinks, among other activities.

“It's wonderful because in the museum world, we work and work on exhibits and programs, but the Picnic in the Park is immediate gratification, unlike all the other things we plan for years,” Cynthia Gandee Zinober, executive director of the Plant Museum said. “It's just fun. It's happy faces. It's lots of laughter. … We love it.”

Maureen Patrick and Michael McCartin are history buffs who don't just attend the picnics. Patrick and McCartin, who are members of the Tampa Bay Steampunk Society, strolled the park grounds, adorned in 19th century outfits.

They dress up as though they were part of the original clientele who attended functions at the hotel, which opened in 1891.

“This event gives Tampians an opportunity to see what the hotel grounds would have been like when the rich and famous were frolicking here,” said Patrick, a board member of the Tampa Historical Society Inc. and former Plant Museum employee. “At this time of year, the hotel would still be open. It was only open in the winter, of course, but there would be wealthy industrialists and their families, well-known artists, the glitterati of the age would be here doing what we're doing: picnicking and strolling around.”

Patrick and McCartin have been to the event numerous times in the past. Patrick was actually part of a group that helped create the picnic a decade ago. McCartin is a relative newcomer in his third year.

“I just like coming out here because the background is perfect for it,” McCartin said. “You have that lovely old hotel back there.”

There was also an abundance of shade on a sun-filled day and the flowing Hillsborough River nearby.

Sunday's crowd lounged on blankets, folding chairs and at tables provided by organizers.

Zinober said Sunday wasn't about raising funds, but gaining friends.

“It's our ability to make new friends because there are so many families that just simply cannot take their little ones or older ones to expensive attractions,” Zinober said of the function sponsored by Publix and Raymond James. “We are an amazing attraction that costs nothing. You can bring your picnic, you can sit in the shade and read a book, or you can play games, or you can listen to music and do all of those things.”

There was even complimentary ice cream.

In Patrick's view, the picnic plays an integral part in allowing Tampa's history to thrive and swell from one generation to the next.

“I think if local history is to survive, institutionally and educationally, it's only going to survive through the young,” Patrick said. “We see our public schools cutting back on history, especially local history, with the emphasis on technology. But how will we understand where we are now if we don't understand what we were then?”

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