Chiselers stage annual market Saturday on UT campus
March 12, 2010
Yeah, there is the airport and the stadium and all those new museums. Tampa has the shimmer of a city of the New South.
But the minarets always will define us. Since the close of the 19th century, the domes and towers of Henry Plant's storied Tampa Bay Hotel, now part of the University of Tampa, have been the symbol of our city. Even the new downtown Curtis Hixon Park was designed to take advantage of the view across the Hillsborough River of the great structure that is like no other.
It is dripping in history, from Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to entertainers and royalty. It is where Babe Ruth signed his first contract to play baseball. The list of names, from Stephan Crane to Booker T. Washington, is staggering. It is our treasure, our identity.
It also is why Saturday's Chiselers Market (from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) inside this incredible structure is such a big deal. And it is a big deal, one that takes an entire year to assemble.
The story of the Chiselers dates to 1959 when Sonny Delo, wife of the university's then-president, suggested a group of volunteers chisel some old mortar from tiles around the fireplaces in the hall.
Out of that came what has to be one of the largest volunteer organizations around - more than 300 women - dedicated to preserving a single structure. They have raised more than $3.5 million, completed dozens of projects and restored much of the 1891 building to its glory.
The biggie is Saturday's 47th annual flea market. I meandered over to one of two warehouses where volunteers take in and sort donated items. One warehouse is dedicated to furniture, but it is the other where you find the real treasures.
I found men working on donated electric gadgets from radios to lamps. They seemed to be competing to see who would get electrocuted first, but they claimed they knew what they were doing. Up on the second floor, some 20 women were looking over goodies on tables. Right away, I knew I had to have the coffee mug with ceramic mermaid inside, staring fetchingly up at whoever was drinking coffee. For a knickknack-oholic the room was a gold mine.
A volunteer called me over to show me several large black-and-white photographs. She was wondering about one of them and pondering whether they were worth anything.
It was the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again." I quoted the opening lines of sportswriter Grantland Rice's story about Notre Dame's epic football win over Army in 1924.
"Oh, I would say if you have any Notre Dame fans show up at the flea market they might give you two or three million bucks for this photo," I said. She likely thought I was exaggerating and probably will sell it for two or three bucks. I looked into the pile and saw a photo of Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne and one of the DiMaggio brothers standing with Babe Ruth. I was ready to buy the place out.
You get the idea. There are thousands of treasures for sale Saturday. You might not find a mermaid in a coffee mug, but you will find something, and in the process help this great organization preserve this living symbol of our town.
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