Florida Museum of Natural History wants you

Florida Museum of Natural History wants you

The Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville wants you to see Florida’s natural beauty with fresh eyes. From Feb. 6 through April 25 the Quilters of Alachua County Day Guild have 100 original quilts on display in a juried show. You’ve never viewed Florida quite like this – beauty captured for all seasons in stitches and fabric.

Then you know, or have heard about, about Butterfly Rainforest attraction, an outdoor exhibit attached to the Museum. Wear bright clothing, especially red, and maybe butterflies will land on your clothes as you walk through their environment.

Florida Museum of Natural History has humongous shark’s jaws

Inside the Museum are fossils galore, shark’s jaws, water stories, tales of Calusa Indians and you can even walk through time from the Eocene, 65 million years ago, to the Pleistocene when humans arrive 14,000 years ago (just yesterday!).

Why go visit the museum now? Say it with me – It is time for a change! We are in withdrawal from the Winter Olympics – what? No more curling? Plus, we are weary of winter, a cold season that has stayed on in Florida like an overripe house guest without the decency to leave.

Take charge, leave the house, go someplace with the thermostat set at 72 and a little on the wild side. I recommend the Florida Museum of Natural History. Admission is free and it is family friendly, making this museum my kind of place.

Just inside the entrance is a mastodon in the Central Gallery. Huge is an understatement. His tusks are thick, curved and look very fierce. Just his bones are on display but still, I’m very glad he is yesterday’s news and not coming soon to my neighborhood. His presence does however set the tone for a walk into the past as you go through the exhibits.

How easy it is to forget there was a Florida before Interstate 75. And what a vibrant, diverse heritage we have. The exhibits are clustered in permanent spaces.

Like sharks teeth? click to see a short video on shark jaws at Florida Museum

Florida Museum of Natural History lets you step into different times and places

florida museum of natural history
florida museum of natural history

The exhibits put you in a different time and place. Watch water flow through a hardwood hammock and a limestone cave, see shark jaws so big you’ll reconsider going swimming, experience Indian village life and finally, my personal favorite, the Hall of Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land. Who knew our history went back 65 million years? I did not. It was, and still is, fascinating news to me.

Museum hours are Monday – Saturday, 10-5 and Sunday 1-5. Address: University of Florida Cultural Plaza, SW 34th Street & Hull Road, Gainesville, phone (352) 846-2000. Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas. Website: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu

Florida museum of natural history - sharks jaws
Florida museum of natural history – sharks jaws

A word about exhibits – the Museum is free. Special temporary exhibits, like the quilt show, charge admission, as does Butterfly Rainforest. The quilt show entitled “Quilting Natural Florida II” costs $6 adults, $5 Florida residents, $4.50 seniors and Florida college students and free for youth 17 and under and museum members.

Butterfly Rainforest prices are $9.50 adults, $8 Florida residents, $7 ages 62 and up, $5 ages 3-12. Last admission is 4:30 p.m.

Every Saturday and Sunday Butterfly Rainforest sells butterfly-friendly plants, 10 plants each week plus an unannounced species. A list of what is on sale is under Plant Sales For example, the weekend of March 13-14 has Blanketflower, Blue eyed grass, Dianthus, Fetterbush, Impatiens, Passionflower, Lavender Lady, Plumbago, red, Sage, tropical, Sunshine Mimosa and Turkey Tangle Fogfruit.

March Museum events:
March 8, 10-11 Discover Hour for ages 2-8
March 20, 10-3 Can you dig it?
March 22, 10-11 Discovery Hour for ages 2-8
March 25, 7-9 p.m. Scott Sampson “Dinosaur Odyssey” Lecture & book signing.
March 27, 11-4 From “Vague” to Vision Quilt Workshop

Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the big temptation just inside the front door – the Museum gift shop. Take a deep breath. Resist. Do the Museum first. The gift shop will still do its siren call to you on your way out.

Afterwards, should you not want to go home to dead plants and more freezing weather, just go next door to the Harn Museum of Art. Admission is free. Open Tuesday through Friday from 11-5, Saturday 10-5 and Sunday, 1-5. Closed Mondays and state holidays. In the basement is a delightful lunch spot, the Camellia Court Café open from 11-3.

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Liberty Bell Museum Rings True in Melbourne

Liberty Bell Museum in Melbourne, Florida

The Liberty Bell Museum is pointed out by a small arrow on a city map. Hummm, I thought the Liberty Bell was in Philadelphia and I am in Melbourne, Florida. What’s up?

Curiosity got the better of me. I’m glad it did. Got turned around and lost getting there but hey, you are not really lost if you find what you were looking for, right?

A sign says the museum opens at 10 a.m. I have the pick of the parking lot. It is empty except for me. The museum building looks odd – a round shape with a curved top. Windows are painted on the side. Why no real ones?

Liberty Bell Museum has a replica of the original bell made in 1751

Promptly at 10 a.m. a white-haired woman comes out the museum front door carrying a banner with a flag hanging down that says, “Open”. She looks determined. Maybe because she faces a long walk down a long boulevard, a good city block in length, then onto a lawn bordering a street where she puts the sign into a holder.
Liberty Bell Museum - raising the flag
The Liberty Bell Memorial Museum and Melbourne Military Memorial Park sit together. The grand boulevard reflects that bigger design.

I take it as a good sign someone came out the door and head for the museum entrance. The door opens just as I reach for the handle. A woman holds an American flag. She looks surprised to see me.

“Come in,” she invites. “I’ll be right back to give you a tour.” She too is on a flag mission and puts up the American flag on a pole near the bottom of the museum steps. I wonder do museum volunteers flip a coin to see who gets the long walk flag duty and who gets the short walk?

Inside the main round room, sure enough, there is a liberty bell right in the center. This one doesn’t have a crack.
Liberty Bell Museum has a bell replica

For our nation’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England, the same one that cast the original bell made in 1751, sent a letter to all 50 states asking if they’d like to buy a bell replica.

Melbourne school children raised $13,000 and a bell was purchased. Florida’s replica at the Liberty Bell Museum resides inside a water tower, recycled to be a museum (hence the round shape and no windows).

Liberty Bell Museum actually lets you ring the bell

You can ring the bell using a rubber mallet. The harder you hit, the deeper the sound. It has a lovely reverb that goes on and on, mellow and mysterious.

I felt it was an honor to ring the bell inside the Liberty Bell Museum. With tongue firmly in cheek the docents give me a business card announcing I was now a member of the Ding Dong Society. I am not making this up.

Docents, all volunteers, are gracious and knowing. We walked around looking at glass cases and exhibits on the walls. Lots of memorabilia packed in a small space. Melbourne had a Naval Air Station that was one of seven U.S. Navy operational training bases during World War II. They also had a German POW camp.

A hole was cut in the water tower wall and a long rectangular room added for more museum space. In here are many military uniforms, which brought back memories of my dad dressed in his Navy blues.
Liberty Bell Museum has service uniforms

My docent points out a case full of binoculars. On the wall a small WWII poster says “Will You Supply Eyes for the Navy?” She tells me FDR himself asked the American people to donate their binoculars and include their name and address so the glasses could be returned after the war. The case if full of binoculars never returned because the owners are unknown.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No admission charge. Donations welcomed. The museum sits right next to the Melbourne water tower. Both the museum and the memorial park are part of Wells Park.

The park continues across the street with a huge pond and a walking path all the way around. Nearby are picnic tables and playground equipment.

I loved learning bits and pieces of history here in Florida. Did you know we had a liberty bell replica and a Liberty Bell Museum? Me neither. I’d go back and ring the bell again in a heartbeat.

©2008 Lucy Beebe Tobias. All rights reserved. Lucy is an author, artist, and authentic Florida expert living in Ocala, Florida

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