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  • Henry B. Plant MuseumHenry B. Plant Museum Tampa, Florida
    The Henry B. Plant Museum is set in the south wing of Plant Hall, which was the Tampa Bay Hotel, on the University of Tampa's campus at Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, Florida; which highlights the Victorian lifestyle of the turn of the 20th century afforded the hotel's guests. Focusing on the gilded age and the start of the state's and Tampa's growing tourist business, this museum is open almost every day except Mondays and holidays. There is a wonderful annual Victorian Christmas stroll held there, and the whole building, formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel, is a National Historic Landmark that was designated such in 1972.  The hotel was constructed by railroad baron Henry B. Plant, which was one of eight that were built by Plant to anchor his railroad line, and while this is the best, it did cost $2.5 million. The hotel building sprawls across 6 acres and is a quarter mile long. It contained the first elevator in the state and is still being used today, which means it is the oldest continuously operating elevator in the country. There are 511 rooms and suites, which themselves contain anywhere from 3 to 7 rooms; and the first hotel in the state to have telephones and electricity. The majority of the rooms had private bathrooms, with a full sized tub included. The price for a room was anywhere from $5 a night to $15 a night, when the average hotel in the state only charges $1.25 to $2.00 a night. It was constructed of concrete steel reinforced and advertised as being fireproof. The landscape sprawls across 150 acres with an indoor heated pool, golf course, racetrack, casino and bowling alley. Altogether, there are 21 separate buildings with a Moorish Revival style of architecture, because Plant figured that the exotic look would be more familiar with the traveling Victorians that would be his main customers. It has 6 minarets, three domes and four cupolas, and all of them were renovated to their stainless steel condition. While the hotel was in operation, from 1891 to 1930, there were many thousands that came, with many hundreds of them being celebrities; and when the Spanish-American War erupted, Henry offered the US military the use of his hotel for their base of operations. Thereafter, high ranking officers and generals would stay in the rooms, planning invasions, with the enlisted men camping on the grounds. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders came to the hotel also during this era of war. Teddy had a suite and in the daytime hours would train his troops in the battle exercises right there on the property. Some of the famous people that came here included; the Prince of Wales, Clara Barton, Sarah Bernhardt, the Queen of England and Stephen Crane. This hotel is where Babe Ruth stayed and signed his first baseball contract, right in the Grand Dining Room, and some say that he hit his longest home run from the Tampa Fairgrounds Stadium that was sitting on the grounds. There were many wonderful amenities and attractions, which are now located in Plant Park, and presently, it is part of the University of Tampa and the museum's ground, with many quite visible. Going into the park, you will pass by the Henry Bradley Plant Memorial Fountain that was commissioned by Margaret Plant in 1899, just after Henry had passed on. The fountain is called Transportation, and showcases the system of ships and railroads used in Henry's business and now represented by carved reliefs on the sculpture. The fountain itself was carved from a single boulder by George G. Barnard and is now the oldest piece of public sculpture in the city.  The hotel closed in 1930, and stayed empty for the next three years, and in late 1933, the Tampa Bay Junior College moved into the hotel, using the former suites as classrooms and offices. Since the hotel was so huge, the small college could be enlarged, eventually becoming the University of Tampa, and the Tampa Municipal Museum was started by the city to preserve the hotel in its original state and to co-exist with the new university. In 1941, the city signed a 99 year lease with the university for $1.00 a year, which did exclude the southeast wing to hold the museum. Then in 1974, it was renamed the Henry B. Plant Museum.  

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  • Big Cat RescueBig Cat Rescue Tampa, Florida
    The Big Cat Rescue, located in Tampa, Florida is a nonprofit sanctuary for rescuing and giving a permanent home to exotic, wild, cats that have been abuses, retired from performing acts, saved from slaughter to make fur coats, abandoned, bred to be pets, or waiting to be euthanized; and to educate the public about these marvelous animals and the important issues that face them in the wild and captivity. This sanctuary is home for the most diverse amount of wild cats in the world, with 16 species and subspecies of exotic cats represented in the more than 100 housed here. They include; tigers, caracals, lions, ocelots, cougars, lynx, servals, liger, bobcats, leopards and others; many of them having been threatened, extinct or endangered. The history and start of the big cat rescue sanctuary is one of those wonderful stories that have what we all want, a happy ending. Or at least as could as can be achieved under the circumstances and the way life is. It was a struggle of trial and error, since there hadn't been a place like this before, for the many marvelous animals that now enjoy their lives here. Many were on the brink of destruction by various means, and Carole Baskin, the founder of the sanctuary has saved them, with the help of many delightful and fantastic people, some volunteers and others now working there. It is a special story, and one that has continued to evolve and grow, as the sanctuary and the amount of big cats has grown; as others around the country that are looking for a place for their big cat, or different agencies that have the need to place an animal that would otherwise be put down. Some of the stories will really sadden you if you are an animal lover and the website is well put together for your perusal, with links to other stories about how many of the animals came to live here, as well as opportunities for you to help or volunteer; in whatever way you can. As you can see by the photo to the right, these folks have done a fantastic job of creating the perfect environment for these beautiful animals, that didn't ask to be brought out of the wild and into an exotic animal farm, carnival, zoo, house pet, endangered or hunted species. They are just like most people, wanting to live and let live, raise a family and enjoy those precious few moments with a family that loves you and appreciates all you do. They have come home, to a better place, to a more loving habitat, and it is a special place for you to visit if you are ever near the Tampa, Florida area.

January 11, 2011