Main | Beaches | Parks | Dining | Theme Parks etc | Hotels
Galleries/Museums | Ybor City | Bars & Clubs | Golf | Zoos
Find out a little about
Tampa History and Historical Places at 

The new Tampa Bay History Center ain’t your grandpa’s museum

Courtesy Tampa Bay History Center
A behind-the-scenes look at the Tampa Bay History Center taking shape.

Published 01.14.09
By Megan Voeller

Part of the buzz surrounding the new Tampa Bay History Center has to do with its forward-thinking approach to the visitor experience. When the museum opens on Saturday, Jan. 17 — in a blitz of celebratory performances, demonstrations and giveaways — prepare yourself to encounter an institution that is emphatically not your grandpa’s history museum. Sure, the place has got artifacts — cool ones, even, like a circa-1908 REO roadster. But along with objects in glass cases, visitors will be immersed in multimedia edutainment experiences, like exhibit designer Jonathan Bean’s take on the life of Seminole war chief Coacoochee.
Now customary in the field of exhibit design, this multi-sensory approach to historical storytelling has been on the rise since the 1980s — and Bean has been at its forefront in his native England. For the History Center, he and a team of fabricators have created a stage upon which two massive, revolving turntables sit behind scrims. As the turntables spin to reveal life-sized dioramas of historical events, four screens situated on and between them display clips from a dramatic film production. Throughout the 16-minute presentation, viewers are bombarded by visuals and SurroundSound as they sit nestled in an environment designed to look like a Florida oak forest.     
Bean drolly likens the experience to “a Disney ride with a lot of historical integrity.
“I think people forget that history is not just about dates and facts, it’s also about emotions and motivations — and stories,” he says.  
When I sat down with Bean several weeks ago inside the theater where Coacoochee’s story will play for History Center visitors, we were literally surrounded by fabricators and technicians laboring to put the finishing touches — like synched sound and naturalistic lighting — on the exhibit.
How many projects similar to this have you done?

I think this is something like my 26th or 27th of these sorts of things. I did another one in America, which is what actually got me this job. I did one at George Washington’s Mount Vernon for the bicentennial of Washington’s death. Lord knows how they got an Englishman — an English company — in to work on that. At the time I had no idea just how prestigious Mount Vernon was. And then the design company, [Christopher Chadbourne & Associates, which subcontracts Bean’s company] … decided that they had this good story to tell [at the History Center].   
Can you walk me through it? People come in and they see the opaque scrim and the view of Tampa Bay. And then what starts to happen?
This man, John T. Sprague, who was Lieutenant Sprague, was the instigation of the whole thing. He wrote a journal during his time in the Seminole War in Florida, or his times in Florida in the 1840s, and some of the best stories running through this journal that he wrote were the stories of Cooacachee, the Indian leader.
[Cooacachee] was directed by the Americans that he must get rid of his people, and he went through a lot of emotional turmoil as to whether he should fight or he should go. In the end, he decides they have to go — basically because the women and children were suffering. So we have this conversation between the two main protagonists in our show (Sprague and Cooacachee, who appear alternately in film and sculptural form) and we then see various stages through the story. For instance, these sets revolve here, and we have a prison scene, which comes in view with Cooacachee and Osceola, the Indian chief, in the prison.
Why were they imprisoned?
Well, the Americans imprisoned them under a flag of truce. Sprague actually says in his journal that their actions were shameful because they brought them in under a flag of truce and then arrested them.
Is that part of the dialog?
Indeed, it is — and it was actually something he wrote. So we see them imprisoned, and then Coacachee escapes from the prison and then directs his band to wage war against the Americans. And actually they were remarkably able soldiers, because the Indians knew the terrain; they knew the landscape; they knew how to fight in swamps. The Americans were all the time encumbered by their armaments and their uniforms, and they were wearing these ridiculous uniforms with a big white cross on the chest.  
[Laughter] A target!
Exactly, great target. It’s crazy. The Indians, of course, were very well developed guerilla fighters — they knew how to do it, with the result that the Americans actually suffered an awful lot of losses in this war. It was a very, very expensive war in manpower and in cost as well.   
Just having heard you describe the story, it seems safe to say that it’s rather tragic.   
It is. It’s tragic. In a way, it’s more about the emotion than the history. Every fact is correct and researched, and every word that is said … basically it’s all from Sprague’s journal. … We’ve got these two men on opposite sides of the same war but with a lot of sympathy for each other, actually. What I enjoy most about my job is cheating the eye, actually. I would say that’s my favorite bit of the job.
Do you find, in the time that you’ve been doing this, does it get harder to convince people?
No. I think people always react to a good story. The funny thing about this, though, is that it’s actually very old-fashioned. It’s theatrical techniques; it’s Victorian theatrical techniques. Painted scrims is something the Victorians did. We forget that sometimes the simplest idea well done is as good as all that technology can produce.


  What is that thing off
  I-275 in Tampa?


     Photo By John Tillman
    It's the.....
    Sulphur Springs Water Tower

    To serve his rapidly growing
 Sulphur Springs ventures, real
 estate promoter Josiah Richardson
 built a water tower on the banks of
 the Hillsborough River near Florida
 Avenue between 1925 and 1927.

   Constructed of Poured-in-place
 concrete, the 210-foot tower stood
 over a boiling spring. An elevator
 carried people up the cylinder to the
 observation balcony, which provided
 a panoramic view of this bucolic river
 setting. Richardson's original hope
 of club rooms occupying the floors
 between the spring-feed base and
 the storage tank never materialized.

  (Book Excerpt)
 The Burgert Brothers Tampa, Florida
 Robert E. Snyder and Jack B. Moore


 Suphur Springs Water Tower
 Parcel To Become A Park
 by John Tillman

Click to enlarge pictures

   Incase you didn't know, the city
 of Tampa is planning to turn the
 13 acre parcel into a wonderful
  "passive Park".
    < Full Story > 




This Months Feature
    Henry B. Plant Museum
   at the University of Tampa
   Formerly the
   Tampa Bay Hotel, 1891

   "The moorish arches, with graceful
 horseshoe curves everywhere...
 Thirteen marble columns support a
 balcony forming the second story.
 In public rooms paintings of late
 French school stand side by side
 with faded old masters.
  Everywhere mirrors in golden frames
 antique and modern - massive doors
 in beveled glass leading to parlors,
 halls, libraries and writing rooms."
  The parlor was furnished with
 beautiful old antiques, and in the
 dining room the waiter brought "beef
 on a bit of French porcelain, your
 salad on an old Vienna plate, ice on
 a saucer designed by Moritz Fischer
 and coffee in a Wedgwood cup."
  The hotel, one of the finest resort
 hotels in the world, also offered a
 club house, large swimming pool,
 double bowling alley, and a
 shuffleboard room. 
 (From The Tatler, 1893.)

  For more information on the
  Henry B. Plant Museum.
  Check out our
Art Galleries & Museums page.

 Baylife On Planet Earth

 Tampa is a city of History. Founded in
 the early 1800's as Fort  (George Mercer)
 Brooke, at the mouth of the Hillsborough
 River where it empties into Tampa Bay,
 its original reason-for-being was to quell
 the "Seminole Menace", but afterward it
 became central to activities both military
 and civilian. From there Tampa City has
 grown into a sprawling metropolis of
 huge proportions. To learn  more about
 Fort Brooke as the beginning of Tampa,
 visit .

 < Tell Me More >