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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

A Present Look At The Future Of Our Past

It should be quite a Christmas present to ourselves. Sometime this December, the massive, new Tampa Bay History Center is scheduled to open its doors in the Channelside area of downtown. I did one of those dog-and-pony-show tours of the place last week, putting on the hard hat and climbing the scaffolding stairs to meander through cavernous, empty rooms where cables still snake across the floors and workers seem to be moving faster as deadlines loom closer. You can only guess at something that's still just a shell, but it is one heck of a shell and if it all fits into place as its backers promise it will, this is going to be something really special. The center's president, C.J. Roberts, gave this particular tour and you could tell that inside his mind, this place was already up and running as he drew pictures in the air with his hands of what was going where and why.
From Wild Cat To Cigars One important thing he noted several times was that the center is not going to be a warehouse of "stuff." Not that they don't have plenty of items. They already have so many artifacts that some won't be immediately out in some display case. And they aren't looking for more. I figured they probably wouldn't want a separate room for my collection of softballs from those glorious days when we ruled the city employees' league - or at least had some good excuses for our losses when we talked about the games later at Lums over dogs and beer. Instead, the idea is to be more thematic, with representations of important times and situations in the history of the Tampa Bay region. One big presentation in the main hall downstairs will center around the life of a Seminole Indian by the name of Wild Cat. Wild Cat was a historical figure who seemed to be in the right (often wrong) place when things were happening. As we moved from room to room and floor to floor, Roberts pointed to areas where different themes would be presented, from cigar workers to the impact of the military in settling the area. This place is going to be spectacular and I was especially pleased at the amount of space being left for classrooms and presentations. Our Legacy Awaits I might have missed it, or it may be on the drawing boards, but maybe I was hoping for a little more about who we are today. Maybe that's not history but, the way we're going, we might well soon be and I'm hoping somebody is writing all this down. It was Henry Ford (who probably wouldn't have purchased membership to the museum) who said, "History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today." I'm not so sure Henry would have been as thrilled with the history his once-proud company is making today compared to back in his day, but we do need to be leaving some sort of record. For better or worse, the people of the Tampa Bay region are creating a mark as important as that of Wild Cat or the cigar workers or the first soldiers who came to Fort Brooke. We may not be pretty but we are the ones who are building this history center, not to mention the 3 million of us who are trying to make this a place where people will want to come and live, raise families and make it all work.

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