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Bent on local lore

St. Petersburg’s Museum of History toasts 90 years with a speakeasy and plenty of Florida rum.

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Celebrating nine decades, the St. Petersburg Museum of History was buzzing Friday evening for the Rum Runners’ Speakeasy, as guests in Prohibition-era garb mingled among poker tables, jazz music and stiff drinks.

As St. Petersburg’s oldest museum, the Museum of History has been collecting and communicating the area’s rich and colorful history for decades, passionately holding on to the stories of Florida’s yesterday.

“This museum has been here for 90 years, on this very piece of property,” said the museum's executive director, Joel Cohen. “I know one member has been coming here since the 1950s, since he was a kid. He’s told me that the two-headed cow and the 3,000-year-old mummy were the things he’s remembered most about this place.”

Those two oddities remain part of the collection today.

The museum recently announced plans for a new permanent exhibit, Schrader’s Little Cooperstown, which is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest collection of autographed baseballs. “There are over 4,600 baseballs here,” said Cohen. “This exhibit will just bring visitors on a journey through time using rare stories and priceless memorabilia.”

Other exhibits feature St. Petersburg and upper Pinellas County Native American and aviation history. The Piering into the Past, Pondering the Future exhibit features a photo collection from the museum’s archives tracing the history of St. Petersburg's piers. The On the Home Front exhibit showcases a colorful collection of World War II posters, while art from the Florida Highwaymen and other local artists fill walls throughout the museum.

Under the giant replica of the Benoist Airboat, museum members and guests swapped poker chips and stories. Florida Caribbean Distillers wet the whistles of the dozens of history buffs with their newest addition, Florida Old Reserve.

Located in Lake Alfred, Florida Caribbean Distillers has been a respected company since 1943, and is the first registered distillery in Florida that uses all locally grown products to create fine crafted spirits.

“All of our products — the sugar, the water, the oranges — come from within a 90-mile radius of our distillery,” said sales manager Dave Steiner.

Steiner says that the recent craft movement in the spirits world inspired this distilled, aged Florida rum. Made in small batches and aged for 18 months in sherry casks using technique handed down by generations, Florida Old Reserve is a unique rum, with deep mahogany hues and robust flavor.

“We make over 10 million gallons of rum per year,” said the distillery's Orlando Garcia. “We are in the top three of the rum distributors in the U.S., and this rum will officially put our Florida distillery on the map.”

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