After a pandemic-forced hiatus, “Happy Hour with a Historian” is back at the St. Petersburg Museum of History (SPMOH). A perennial St. Pete favorite, now in its ninth year, the monthly happy hour typically sells out and kicked off this season on March 11. This year, only members will be allowed to attend in-person, which means everyone else must livestream the event.
The popularity, however, made me wonder… When and how did history get so cool? Is it just the alcohol talking?
Rui Farias, executive director at the museum, has some answers.
"There's always been a lecture series in every museum since the beginning of time I think,” Farias tells CL. But SPMOH didn’t want its lecture series to give folks traumatic flashbacks of 11th-grade history. “We want it to be a conversation, not a lecture.”
Most importantly, they want it to be fun. And living in Florida, making history fun isn’t as difficult as one might think.
"There are so many strange, unique, really cool fun stories about Florida history,” says Farias. “It's almost like the Florida Man thing is true over the last 200 years.”
One of Farias’ favorite Happy Hour with a Historian moments was hearing about the utopian Koreshan Unity Group’s time in Estero, Florida, about two hours south of the Sunshine City.
"It was basically a cult that went down there and created this whole community, and it's the typical late-1800s/early 1900s type of utopian community that a lot of people, like the Shakers, started joining back then,” Farias explains. "A lot of people don't realize that this huge Koreshan organization started in New York, moved to Chicago, and of course found its way to Florida.
Farias adds that the Koreshan then basically swindled their way into land in Estero and created a huge community. “They were the first people to have electricity, and they would sell it to Fort Myers and other towns around the west coast. They had stores and gas stations and post offices before anybody else did in Southwest Florida, so there's all sorts of cool stories about that," he adds.
But utopian communities and creepy cults are just a couple of the offbeat topics you hear about when you dive into Florida’s history.
"We've had stories about Florida ghosts; we’ve had stories about the mafia and the truth about Al Capone,” Farias tells CL. “We've had a huge different array of topics that have been really entertaining."
A lot of famous artists, musicians and writers have spent time here, too, which lends another treasure trove of stories for the museum to explore.
"A lot of people think there's this divide between art and historic culture, like with museums and things like that,” says Farias. “I can't tell you the amount of art that we have in this building. And it becomes part of our history, especially in this town. There are so many amazing stories that deal with the local art scene that's not local. People came here from everywhere.”
And Farias is learning something new every day, too.
“I just found out the other day that Peter Max used to hang out here in the ‘60s,” he says, referencing the late German pop artist. “We have this really rich, cool art history and it's about time that the history and the art world work together hand in hand on this to share these stories."
This year’s Happy Hour with a Historian topics include Bay Area Ghosts, Egmont Key’s role in Florida’s history, mural-making in St. Petersburg, Florida cuisine, the rise of Tupperware parties in 1950s Florida, archeological digs on St. Pete’s Weedon Island, the Second Seminole War, and the stain racism left on a once-popular Florida Governor’s legacy (see a full schedule below).
Next up, Orlando author Bob Kealing discusses Jack Kerouac’s time in Florida. The last time Kealing spoke at Happy Hour with a Historian, he talked about Elvis’ journey through Florida.
“He was spectacular and the book was really good,” Farias says, “so I'm looking forward to the Kerouac story.”
Kealing’s April 8 talk is also particularly exciting because it’s the first Happy Hour with a Historian that SPMOH is livestreaming. So if you can’t get tickets to this popular series, you’ll be able to stream these online starting April 8.
View the full list of speakers and topics at spmoh.com
Happy Hour with a Historian at St. Petersburg Museum of History
- April 8 Bob Kealing: Jack Kerouac in Florida—Where the Road Ends
- May 13 Dr. John Arthur: Digging Weedon Island
- June 10 Dr. Laura Harrison: Egmont Key—Past Present and Future
- July 8 Dr. Anthony Dixon: Florida's Negro War—The Second Seminole War
- Aug. 12 Bob Kealing: Life of the Party Brownie Wise's Tupperware Empire
- Sept. 9 Dr. Gary Mormino: Millard Fillmore Caldwell—Governing on the Wrong Side of History
- Oct. 14 Dr. Brandy Stark: Bay Area Ghosts
- Nov. 11 Derrick Donnelly: City of Murals
- Dec. 9 Joy Harris: The Joy of Cooking
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